Russian President Vladimir Putin vetoed legislation today that would have sharply reduced the news media's ability to report on counterterrorism operations and rebel activities.
The legislation -- amendments to the country's media laws -- would have prohibited the media from reporting any information seen as hindering anti-terrorist operations, including descriptions of tactics. It also would have banned the broadcast or publication of rebel statements and any propaganda perceived as justifying extremist activity.
During a meeting with senior Russian media leaders, Putin said he asked both houses of parliament to form a conciliation commission to work on new legislation governing terrorism coverage.
"It's important to find a balance between restrictions and providing full information to society," Putin was quoted as saying.
Major Russian media outlets had vigorously protested the measures, which both houses of parliament overwhelmingly approved in the wake of the hostage-taking by Chechen rebels in a Moscow theater last month. Thirty organizations, including Russia's two main state-controlled television channels and their independent rivals, signed a letter last week urging the president to reject the measures.
Many journalists said the restrictions could have been used to shut down any news organization that irked authorities. They also complained that the restrictions could have been used to further restrict coverage of the war in Chechnya -- which Russian officials routinely refer to as a "counterterrorist operation."
The Kremlin had bitterly criticized some Russian news media's reporting of the Moscow theater siege, saying it had been favorable to the rebel cause and threatened rescue operations.
"Television pictures from one channel a few minutes before the storming, when the movement of special forces was shown, could have led to an enormous tragedy," Putin said today in televised comments.
He accused some media of acting irresponsibly to "boost their ratings" and make more money during the theater siege.
"The main weapon of terrorists is not grenades and bullets, but blackmail, and the best means of such blackmail is to turn a terrorist act into a public show," Putin said, according to the Russian Tass news agency.
Chechen rebels seized the theater on Oct. 23, and Russian special forces stormed the building three days later, killing 41 militants. At least 129 hostages also died from the effects of a narcotic gas used to knock out the rebels.