Media freedom in Russia is to be further tightened under news measures signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
Denying Nazi war crimes or the Soviet Union’s role in crushing fascism will become an offense punishable by up to 5 years in jail.
New fines are also being introduced to curb swearing on television, radio and movies. Music CDs and movies on DVD and other formats that contain expletives will have to carry a warning label.
The laws, signed by Putin on Monday, come in the wake of violent unrest in neighboring Ukraine that Russian blames on neo-Nazi group Right Sector that played a prominent role in February’s toppling of President Viktor Yanukovych.
In January, independent TV station Rain was ditched by leading cable operators after it ran a viewer poll that suggested the WWII defense of Leningrad was pointless and not worth the heavy cost in human life, both military and civilian. The northern city, now known as St Petersburg, held out during a 900-day siege by German forces that resulted in more than 600,000 deaths.
Tighter rules on popular bloggers will impose control over those who log more than 3,000 visits per day. The rules, proposed by Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, are also likely to be made law soon.
It has also emerged that two weeks ago more than 300 Russian journalists had been honored by Putin for their “objective coverage” of the seizure of Crimea for Russia.
The awards, made under a decree to television, radio and newspapers loyal to Putin, demonstrate the importance of pro-Kremlin coverage of events in Ukraine to Russia’s leadership.
Russia’s media has been criticized in the West for what is seen as pro-Putin propaganda and a failure to report objectively during the current crisis in Ukraine.
Questioning Russia’s role in defeating fascism in WWII has become an increasingly sensitive matter.
Russia marks the 69th anniversary of the end of the war on Friday. Known as Victory Day, the May 9 public holiday is the country’s only national commemoration that unites all Russians regardless of faith or ethnicity and, under Putin, has become a Holy Cow that venerates Stalin’s achievements while downplaying his errors.
Vladimir Posner, the veteran Russian television presenter who was employed by NBC as a commentator during the Olympics, has criticized the new law.
In comments posted on his website when the legislation was first introduced, he said he believed its aim was to “shut the mouths of journalists, historians and writers.”
Separately, the head of Russian public TV, Konstantin Ernst, has been forced to deny Internet rumors that he had attempted suicide after a difficult telephone conversation with Putin.
In comments published on his official website, Ernst said the rumors were lies, although Russian bloggers were quick to note that the photo the website ran with the comments dated back to 2010.
The dismissal of the long-serving head of Channel 1 has been the subject of speculation for months. In February, Ernst was criticized for mistakes in the televised opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, which included the failure of one of five Olympic rings to light up.