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Russian media boycott lawmaker cleared over sexual harrassment

March 22, 2018

Top Russian media have launched a rare boycott of a senior lawmaker after a parliamentary commission cleared him of sexual harassment despite claims from several journalists.

Several reporters including one of the BBC Russian Service have accused Leonid Slutsky, head of the foreign affairs committee in parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, of making lewd sexual comments and groping.

But on Wednesday a parliamentary ethics commission said it had not found any violations in the behaviour of the 50-year-old lawmaker from the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party.

The commission questioned the journalists’ motives, saying their claims had appeared in the runup to a presidential election.

The boycott is a rare campaign of solidarity in a country where all major television channels are state-controlled and toe the Kremlin line.

RBC media holding said Wednesday evening its journalists would no longer work in the State Duma, while Kommersant publishing house said it would no longer quote Slutsky.

Echo of Moscow liberal radio, Dozhd (Rain) TV independent station and RTVi, a New York-based international Russian-language television network, also joined the boycott.

“Echo of Moscow now considers the State Duma an unsafe workplace for journalists of both sexes,” chief editor Alexei Venediktov wrote Thursday.

Dozhd quoted its chief editor Alexandra Perepolova as saying that after the meeting of the commission “it had become clear that it’s simply dangerous for women to work in the State Duma.”

RTVi chief editor Alexei Pivovarov said his channel would also have nothing to do with the Duma while Slutsky remained there.

Kremlin-friendly online news portal Lenta said it would from now on ignore Slutsky’s existence and would delete “all materials about him” except those covering the sexual harassment claims against him.

The women journalists broke the silence on a subject that remains largely taboo in Russia as the “#MeToo” movement swept across the globe.

Slutsky was widely supported by his colleagues, including his party’s leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who accused the women of “receiving orders from the West”.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.