Russia’s lower house has officially demanded an apology from the popular tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets after a column criticized three female MPs, using especially harsh language and unflattering comparisons.
The scandal broke over the weekend as one of the leaders of parliamentary majority United Russia party promised the editor-in-chief of Moskovsky Komsomolets and one of its authors would “answer harshly” for an opinion piece published in the newspaper’s Saturday issue.
The article entitled ‘Political prostitution changes its gender’ attacked three female MPs - Irina Yarovaya, Olga Batalina and Yekaterina Lakhova - for changing positions several times in the course of their political careers (sometimes this meant also switching from one political party to another).
Top United Russia official general council Andrey Isayev replied by two Twitter posts, saying he and his comrades did not intend to forgive or forget the journalists, and promising that the response will be harsh.
The tweets were immediately widely circulated by various Russian journalists who understood them as direct threats and an attack on the freedom of speech.
Moskovsky Komsomolets owner and Editor-in-Chief Pavel Gusev, who is also the chairman of the Moscow Union of Journalists, has demanded that the Prosecutor General’s Office check Isayev’s statements and make a conclusion as to whether or not these can be seen as threats.
Gusev insisted that the article contained not a single insult and the ‘political prostitution’ phrase was “a quote from the works of great [Vladimir] Lenin,” who used it to describe certain politicians who also changed their views with time.
The head of the All-Russian Union of Journalists, Vsevolod Bogdanov, supported his colleague, but said that the situation must be discussed by a public panel, not a law enforcement agency.
Isayev replied with a statement that he was protecting the dignity of three women, felt nothing wrong about it and was ready to defend his position before any institution.
The female MPs described in the column agreed that the article was an insult, but held differing opinions as to what the appropriate reaction to it should be. They also said that they saw clear signs that reporters were working on an order from some unspecified forces that were apparently unhappy with the women’s political stance and activities in the Duma.
The conflict eventually reached the lower house. MP Valery Rashkin (Communist Party) addressed the State Duma chairman with a request to give an appraisal to Isayev’s statements. The head of opposition parliamentary party Fair Russia, Sergey Mironov, also said that the MPs must be ready to answer for their statements and be more careful when addressing mass media.
On Tuesday the State Duma approved an official address demanding that Pavel Gusev apologize for the article and also that he be purged from the Moscow Union of Journalists. In the address the MPs also stressed that it was unacceptable for the mass media to abuse their right for the freedom of press.
The statement reads that the Moskovsky Komsomolets article was “overstepping all boundaries one can think of in its cynicism, lack of objectivity and downright rudeness.” It also said that insults to MPs were at the same time a challenge towards the citizens who voted for them.
Gusev, however, remained adamant in his position.
“I am not going to apologize before anyone because I have not insulted anyone. Andrey Isayev must apologize before the journalistic community. I have nothing to apologize for,” ITAR-TASS quoted Gusev as saying.