Multiple Russian media outlets have vowed to cease all coverage of the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament, also known as the State Duma, a day after its ethics commission exonerated a lawmaker who had been accused of sexual harassment by several female journalists.
According to the New York Times, about two dozen publications have declared a boycott against the 14-member ethics commission and the lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, while some organizations, such as the popular radio station Echo Moskvy, have decided to take further action and have removed reporters from the Duma altogether.
In the aftermath of the allegations, lower house speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, advised Slutsky’s victims to “change jobs” if they feel unsafe. In response to the statement, Echo Moskvy has pulled all personnel and the station’s editor in chief Aleksei A. Venediktov released a statement claiming that “the State Duma an unsafe work location for journalists of both sexes.”
This boycott is Russia’s first public action intended to draw attention toward the issue of sexual assault and harassment since the #MeToo movement erupted last fall. While a small fraction of Russia’s population supported the movement, the majority of the public response was to condemn the West as an overly liberal society in which men and women cannot serve their “natural roles.”
When the accusations against Slutsky went public, the lawmaker denied every one and proceeded to mock his accusers on Facebook where he and other political figures, including Volodin, speculated that the allegations were a part of an anti-Russia campaign.
“Attempts to make a Russian Harvey Weinstein of Slutsky look very much like a cheap, shoddy provocation,” Slutsky wrote in a Facebook post.
One member of the Parliament, Oksana V. Pushkina, sided with the journalists and has promised to submit an amendment to Russian law that would call for a legal framework for prosecution of sexual harassers.
The ethics panel evaluated the case against Slutsky, which included evidence of a conversation in which the accused suggested that a BBC reporter become his mistress. After sifting through the transcription, the panel ruled that they had not observed “any breaches in the standard of conduct” and Slutsky was cleared of all charges.
One of the alleged victims, Ekaterina Kotrikadze, has said that while she was not surprised by the outcome, she was appalled by the language used when delivering the verdict. “I was astonished by the tone and the words and attitude demonstrated yesterday,” Kotrikadze told CNN. “They were trying to attack the journalists, including myself. They called us liars, they called this a political campaign timed before the elections in Russia.”
While the legal outcome may not have been ideal, Kotrikadze was deeply touched by the media’s response. “I really think that the reaction of my colleagues, and lots of Russian media outlets, is the best thing I could imagine. This is the first time in Russian history that the journalists have not obeyed the decision of the state,” she said.
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