Several media outlets have pulled their correspondents from the Russian parliament's lower chamber after a parliamentary Ethics Commission exonerated Leonid Slutsky, a senior State Duma lawmaker who is facing sexual harassment allegations from at least three journalists.
Ekho Moskvy radio "is withdrawing its journalists from the State Duma," the prominent Moscow-based station's editor in chief, Aleksei Venediktov, wrote on Telegram on March 22. He said the station "is disappointed with the parliamentary ethics commission's decision” and "considers the State Duma an unsafe place for journalists to work."
The RTVI Television channel's chief editor, Aleksei Pivovarov, also announced his decision on March 22 to withdraw his correspondents from the State Duma.
Sergei Dorenko, the editor of radio station Govorit Moskva, condemned the Ethics Commission's ruling to clear Slutsky and called on all media outlets in the country to boycott the lawmaker.
Oksana Pushkina, a Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party and a former journalist, expressed support for the media outlets.
"The problem [of sexual harassment] exists in this country and it must be tackled through legislation," she told state-run news agency RIA Novosti. "I will do everything that depends on me."
The State Duma Ethics Commission concluded on March 21 that Slutsky -- who was accused of making crude, unwanted advances toward the women, including trying to kiss them and touching them inappropriately -- had violated no "behavioral norms."
Commission Chairman Otari Arshba said that public allegations from three women were timed to create controversy ahead of the March 18 presidential election, in which incumbent President Vladimir Putin's victory was never in doubt.
The commission concluded that accusations against Slutsky were "selective, targeted, and planned," Arshba said.
He said the women -- Yekaterina Kotrikadze, a deputy editor with New-York-based RTVI television: Darya Zhuk, a producer with independent Dozhd TV; and BBC Russian correspondent Farida Rustamova -- accused Slutsky "almost simultaneously and on the eve of the presidential election and a significant period of time after the alleged harassment."
Slutsky, 50, is a Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) deputy who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Duma. In one of the exchanges in question, which was caught on audiotape, he is heard saying, "you don't want to kiss me, you've hurt my feelings," and later suggesting that the engaged journalist could be "my mistress."
Slutsky asked for forgiveness on Facebook on March 8, which Russia and other countries mark as International Women's Day. But he has denied wrongdoing and threatened to sue his accusers for defamation.
Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin's former chief deputy of staff, told a group of female journalists that if they believed it was "dangerous" for them to work in the legislature they should change jobs.
Zhuk and Rustamova were invited to the commission's closed-door session. They reportedly declined to talk to journalists.
The text of the commission's final decision says that the commission is not authorized to perform forensics or tests of audio and other materials presented by the women as evidence.