The Russian constitutional court decided to amend the law on mass media. The law provides property restriction for foreign citizens and overseas entities. Under the law the person with foreign citizenship (even if the second citizenship is Russian) or legal entity, incorporated outside of Russia or directly/indirectly owned by the overseas entity (more than 20%), can own or control not more than 20% of Russian mass media. Such provision of law restricts the property right in order to “protect national security” claimed legislators.
The Russian constitutional court after duly and comprehensive consideration of the case has prescribed the Russian legislator to amend this law. The case concerned the article 191 of the Russian law on mass media. In 2014 the Russian law on mass media has been amended in such way that the foreign citizens have been prohibited to be incorporators of Russian mass media and the participation of foreign entities in share capital of Russian mass media has been restricted to 20%. These amendments have been adopted in order to exclude any other indirect impact on TV and radio broadcasting organisations.
The claimant has double citizenship and owns 49% share in capital of legal entity “Radio Chance”. He filed lawsuits in commercial court in order to object the members’ decision of “Radio Chance”. According to this decision the second owner of “Radio Chance” – Joint Stock company “Russian Radio – Eurasia” with 51% share in capital of “Radio Chance” has received the broadcasting license (the only assets of company) for Saint-Petersburg gratuitously. The commercial courts held that the claimant, due to his double citizenship, is not eligible to be member of broadcasting organisation and has no right to object the decision of management body of organisation.
The claimant believes the person, who has double citizenship and does not comply with new law requirements, is to be restricted only in the right to possess, manage and control the property only in that part, which exceeds 20% capital share of mass media. But the law provisions, being not explicit, create opportunity to deprive citizens with double citizenship of private property (assets) and restrict their right to protect property in court. Therefore the claimant asked the constitutional court to examine the article 191 of Russian law on mass media. The experts believe this law, regulating foreign participation in mass media, is “legal anomaly”.
The court decided that the restrictions, provided in law, are necessary and justified. Such restriction in relation to 20% share in mass media (broadcasting organisation) should prevent the persons, who have foreign citizenship, from strategic control and impact on mass media. Such impact and control can be a threat to informational safety of the state (i.e. Russia). Therefore such restrictions are constitutionally justified. But regulation must comply with the requirement of legal certainty. The examined provision does not met such requirement, concluded the court.
The examined provision contains two definitions: “incorporator of mass media” (the founder of mass media) and “the member of mass media” (the owner of mass media). The use of these two definitions hampers the determination of person, who is to be subject to restriction provided in law. It is not clear whether the person – Russian citizen who also has foreign citizenship – able to exercise his corporate rights within the scope of 20% capital share. The object of regulation is also not clear – 20% capital share in company-member of mass media (broadcasting organisation) or 20% capital share in company-owner of mass media (broadcasting organisation)?
The legal uncertainty causes unforeseen risks for property rights of mass media co-owner and for capacity of company itself. The legislator did not provide in law the procedure regulating how the subject of regulation, who is not eligible to own or control mass media, has to sell off its share in capital. Such approach does not correspond to requirement of trust to the law and stability of civil legal relationships. Besides the objection of the deal between “Radio Chance” and “Russian Radio – Eurasia” is not linked with control and impact on broadcasting policy of organisation.
Therefore it is not permissible to justify the restriction of judicial protection for company member by purposes of law regulation. Taking into account all arguments and circumstances of the case presented before and by the court the examined article does not comply with Russian constitution. The federal legislator should amend current Russian law on mass media in accordance with court decision. All decisions of commercial courts on this case are to be considered de novo after the relevant amendments of law on mass media enter into force.