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Bloggers provide election coverage in Russia, Malaysia and Iran

28 February, 2008
By Allison Orr

Russia

Russians are due to go to a presidential election on 2 March, and while it appears that Putin-backed Dmitry Medvedev is set to win, there are some voices out there questioning the fairness of the election and raising critical points that are not being raised elsewhere.

According to an article at MediaChannel, savvy and politically interested Russians are increasingly turning to the Internet for information, and finding that blogs are providing “sometimes barbed, frequently satirical and always unfiltered” coverage of the election.

The media has become increasingly controlled in recent years in Russia, with Reporters Without Borders reporting there is a glaring lack of diversity in the media and that the government fails to punish those responsible for murdering journalists.  They list Russia 144th of 169 countries in their index of press freedom.

The uncontrolled nature of the Internet allows bloggers more freedom to express opinions unfavourable of the government.  However, according to the MediaChannel article, the Russian parliament’s upper house is considering introducing legislation that would make websites with more than 1000 readers daily subject to the same regulations as print media.  It is also believed by some that the Kremlin is using the popularity of the Internet for its own purposes and has organised teams of its own bloggers to attack and rebut government critics.

Malaysia

Malaysia will go to the polls for a general election on 8 March and, with many major newspapers and television stations being owned by members of the ruling coalition, opposition parties are turning to the Internet to spread their campaign message.

According to an article on Yahoo News, mainstream media outlets are generally supportive of the government and its achievements while opposition parties barely rate a mention.  So the Internet opens up new possibilities for an alternative voice for voters.

Parliamentary opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang, uses the Internet extensively for campaigning, including running three blogs which are updated every day.

Says Lim, "Blogging is one way to get word out and an opportunity to circumvent media control."

The Malaysian government has reacted harshly to bloggers, and is listed as one of the countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index to have fallen in the rankings last year particularly because of repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.  Malaysia, who fell to 124th out of 169 countries, has arrested bloggers and news websites were closed or made inaccessible.

Iran

Legislative elections will be held in Iran on 14 March, and like Russia, the results will be hardly a surprise.  According to the New York Times, the voters will only be able to choose between different conservative candidates, as 70 per cent of reformist candidates have been disqualified from standing.  Candidates are vetted by local boards in each province, who are chosen by regional governors appointed by the president.  Among those disqualified include two members of parliament, one of whom has been an outspoken critic of President Ahmadinejad.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a member of the reformist opposition party, the Islamic Participation Front, is a regular blogger, and uses this as a means to voice opinions that would not otherwise be heard.  According to a Financial Times article, tens of thousands of Iranians log onto his website every day to read his opinions from the opposition, including his frustration over the number of candidates who have been disqualified. 

The media is tightly controlled in Iran. Reporters Without Borders list Iran near the very bottom of their index of press freedom, 166th of 169 countries.  Web logs have become a popular forum for dissent in Iran, but the Iranian government has tried to control bloggers and many have been arrested.

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