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MOSCOW (AP) — The lower house of Russian parliament on Friday approved a bill that would limit foreign ownership in Russian media to 20 percent amid a severe strain in Russia-West ties regarding Ukraine.
The Kremlin-controlled State Duma on Friday voted 430-2 to pass the measure, which is widely seen as the Kremlin's move to further stifle media freedom. The bill needs to be approved by the equally pliant upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law, steps considered to be a mere formality.
The current law limits foreign ownership of broadcast media to 50 percent and doesn't restrict print media.
While all nationwide television stations are controlled by the state, and most print media are full of adulation of Putin, some print outlets with foreign ownership, including the Vedomosti business daily and the Russian Forbes magazine, often have been critical of the Kremlin policies.
Alexander Viknokurov, the main investor in Dozhd, a leading independent TV station, said Friday that Vedomosti and Forbes were the top targets of the new legislation.
Lawmakers said limitations on foreign ownership of the Russian media were a necessary response to what they described as a Western "information war" against Russia. Critics of the measure argued that it would deal a devastating blow not only to political media, but also the entire industry, as most glossy magazines in Russia have foreign ownership.
The Duma ignored such complaints. An amendment seeking to make an exemption for non-political media, such as sports and advertising TV channels, was rejected during Friday's debate.
Observers see the new bill as a reflection of increasing isolationist trends in the Kremlin's policy as relations with the West have plunged to their lowest level since the Cold War. The U.S. and the European Union have introduced several rounds of economic sanctions to punish Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and support of the pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
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