Putin said during a meeting with Russia’s main chiefs on Monday, ”This federal law, if adopted, will not enhance the efficiency of the struggle against terrorism. Moreover, prerequisites may arise for unfounded limitations on a citizen’s right to receive information.”
Putin said he had sent the bill back to the upper and lower houses of parliament, asking leaders of the two chambers to set up a conciliation commission to rework its language.
“We need to strike a finer balance between curbs and fully informing society about the actions of the state so that the state does not start seeing itself as infallible,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.
Both chambers of parliament had quickly approved the measures earlier this month, shortly after the crisis in which Chechen rebels took some 800 people hostage in a Moscow theater. At least 129 hostages died after Russian troops pumped an opiate gas into the building to end the siege.
The proposed legislation — amendments to current mass media and anti-terror laws — would have prohibited the press from disseminating any “propaganda or justification” for “extremist” activity, including interviews with those involved in rebel or terrorist activities.
The bill also sought to block the media from publicizing information that could undermine counter-terrorist operations, such as revealing “special tactics and technology” used in operations or details about people involved in them.
The Kremlin had roundly criticized the reporting by some Russian news media of the Moscow theater siege, saying coverage favored the rebels’ cause and threatened counter-terror operations.
During his briefing, Putin referred to the Moscow theater incident while cautioning against reporting irresponsibly during emergency situations.
“Television pictures from one channel a few minutes before the storming, when the movement of special forces was shown, could have led to an enormous tragedy,” Putin told the journalists.
Putin also accused some members of the media of trying to “boost their ratings” and earn more money during the hostage crisis.
“The main weapon of terrorists is not grenades and submachine guns and bullets, but blackmail, and the best means of such blackmail is to turn a terrorist act into a public show,” Putin said, according to the official ITAR-Tass news agency.
During the hostage situation, the Russian Media Ministry issued warnings to several Russian news providers, and shut down the Moskoviya television station for its “flagrant violations of the existing legislation” by broadcasting an interview with a hostage who called for an end to the war in Chechnya. The station was allowed to resume its broadcasts the next day.
Last week, nearly 30 international media organizations strongly urged Putin to reject the media curbs, which they said were too vague and could be used to censor the press in general.
“The amendments significantly broaden the Media Ministry’s authority to censor or close media outlets,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a letter. “This is particularly disconcerting because the ministry has a history of enforcing media regulations arbitrarily, selectively targeting outlets whose coverage does not correspond with the Kremlin’s views.”
In general, the measures would have most dramatically limited news coverage of fighting between the Russian military and separatist rebels in Chechnya — encounters officials consider “counter-terror” operations. Media access there is already restricted.