20 Июня 2013 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 619

17 June 2013



State Duma deputy from Belgorod claims 1 million roubles from newspaper for criticism

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

State Duma MP Yuri Selivanov from the region of Belgorod is claiming 1 million roubles from the newspaper Golos Belogorya (GB) for publications that he wants a court of law to officially identify as “extremist”.

In late 2012 – early 2013, GB published four articles that criticised some land deals involving Selivanov and named several local farmers allegedly deceived by Selivanov’s company through the conclusion of unfair land sale agreements with them. Enraged by those publications, the deputy turned first to the regional Jury on Media-related Disputes and then to the Central Federal District Public Chamber, asking to assess the articles in terms of their compliance with established ethical norms. Both boards concluded that the author had violated some norms of journalistic ethics. In both cases, though, the hearings proceeded in the absence of GB representatives.

Still unsatisfied, Selivanov filed with the Sverdlovsky district court of Belgorod an honour-and-dignity defence claim, asking the court to declare the critical publications not only untrue and smearing, but also extremist. First, he demanded 100,000 roubles in moral damages from GB and its owner and reporter, Tatyana Dubinina, and then increased the claimed amount to 1 million roubles.

Judging by the text of his legal claim, the plaintiff was hurt by the author’s comparing him with “a mature predator, killing his prey straightaway, without bothering about their rights or other such trifles”; calling him “an oligarch”; and illustrating her texts with a caricature featuring a mole with an MP’s badge on his chest. Selivanov claimed the articles were “extremist” inasmuch as they “fanned social strife”. It may be noted, though, that many of the statements challenged by Selivanov were either evaluative or else altogether unrelated to the plaintiff.

“The claim is legally inconsistent, and Selivanov has only a slim chance to win, provided the court takes an unbiased approach and a good defence lawyer is found,” said Galina Arapova, director and senior legal expert at the Media Rights Centre in Voronezh.

“The claim is overloaded with enumerations of the deputy’s merits, which is actually an argument in favour of his opponent,” she explained. “The plaintiff is a public figure, which means he should be more tolerant toward criticism, as clarified by the European Court of Human Rights.” The call for identifying the publications as extremist looks particularly arguable, since this is impossible in a civil-law trial, Arapova added.

Besides, the Belgorod Region Jury on Media-related Disputes breached its own rules of procedure by not inviting GB representatives to attend; Selivanov had no moral right to sue his critics after the Jury passed its decision (as a mandatory part of a pre-trial settlement of a media-related dispute); and the Public Chamber “went far beyond its official range of authority” when considering the conflict, Arapova summed up.

Word “khokhol” (Ukrainian) gives rise to inter-ethnic dispute in Karelia

By Anatoly Tsygankov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

The Kalina Ukrainian Culture Society in Karelia recently marked its 20th anniversary, and one of the local news websites featured a big publication in which Kalina activists described some of the achievements they had scored over the years. The otherwise “typical” publication had a catchy headline: “Khokhols Make Good in Karelia”, which unexpectedly sparked off an inter-ethnic dispute.

Two Kalina leaders claimed insulted by the word “khokhol” [reference to an ethnic Ukrainian that some people of Ukrainian origin find slighting, although half as derogatory as “nigger” in respect of a Black person – Translator.] and demanded the editor’s apology. This kind of reaction perplexed the journalists, who honestly thought they had done a good thing by calling public attention to the Ukrainian Society’s successes. In response to what they thought to be “groundless” claims on the part of the Kalina leaders, they described this “queer” dispute on the pages of the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets v Karelii (MKK) and suggested, while one was about it, to accuse a group of great Russian classical writers of xenophobia for using “khokhol” in their works [in the 19th-century Russia, the word did not have any derogatory connotations at all – Translator.].

Yet the Ukrainian cultural activists kept insisting that “khokhol” is an insulting and xenophobic word disparaging all Ukrainians and shuttering the inter-ethnic balance in Karelia. Finally, the parties appealed to the regional branch of Roskomdanzor [federal agency overseeing the sphere of public communications], asking its Consultative Council to answer two questions: whether the publication contained any statements disparaging representatives of any nationality or ethnicity, and if it contained any calls for actions that might trigger an inter-ethnic conflict.

Of the nine council members, only one said the word “khokhol” did sound insulting to the Ukrainians, but none found anything in the disputed article that might cause clashes between the two ethnic groups.

To be on the safe side, though, Roskomnadzor sent notices to both MKK and Kalina with “explanations regarding today’s ethno-cultural situation in Karelia and modern linguists’ attitude to some words and expressions used in the publication”, and advised the conflicting parties to be more tolerant toward each other.

Traffic accident statistics hushed up in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The Sakhalin traffic police department’s press service on 11 June refused to provide the Sakh.com news agency with data about road accidents occurring in the region.

Prior to that, journalists had borrowed such information from the department’s website – until it vanished from the site altogether; but since road accidents are deemed to be a socially important theme, Sakh.com had asked the department’s press service to provide relevant data either by telephone or in writing, which traffic police had continued doing, although reluctantly, for some more time.

This time, Department Chief Eduard Ri being away on holiday, Sakh.com Chief Editor Ksenya Semyonova met with his deputy, Col. Yuri Zhdanov, who said information on road accidents is “in-house information”, and providing it to the media is “beyond” the range of his agency’s duties. Asked why such data had been provided before, the colonel said that “analysis of the experience of colleagues in other regions shows they only report road-accident statistics to media at special requests”. He did not specify the regions he referred to; in neighbouring areas, such as Vladivostok, relevant statistics are updated regularly.

Zhdanov suggested that the news agency should file requests for information about “specific accidents that may be of interest to you”, and said replies would be furnished “within 30 days or maybe earlier”. Despite all this red tape, he described the regional traffic police department as a “more than open agency”. But who would ever need information about traffic accidents that occurred a month ago?

Sakh.com informed its readers about that meeting and asked them if they want to know the road accident news. If they do, the news agency will file daily information requests with the traffic police department. If they don’t, it will refrain from taking part in this theatre of the absurd.

It is not for the first time that Sakh.com, the largest Far Eastern web news agency, is denied information by officials at different levels – unlike pro-government media that have so far enjoyed unrestricted access to information.



Beaten-up journalist urged to settle conflict “quietly”

As we have reported, Tamara Vaal, a reporter for the Kazakhstani newspaper Liter, was beaten up by security guards at the Palace of Peace and Accord in Astana on 8 June while fulfilling an editorial assignment. She had the traumas she suffered certified by medics and complained about the beating to the police.

After a number of media carried reports on the scandalous incident, Vaal was invited to the Astana akimat (mayor’s office) and urged to “settle the conflict without undue publicity”: the journalist would withdraw her complaint from the police, and the mayor’s office would help to hush up the scandal in the media and internet. Mayoral officials reminded the reporter that Liter is a state-supported newspaper and, should its journalists continue pressing for an in-depth investigation of the beating, they themselves might be declared the guilty party.

She would not follow the akimat’s “recommendations” and would meet with a police investigator on 12 June, Tamara Vaal told the Adil Soz Foundation over the telephone.

[Adil Soz Foundation report, 12 June]



Some statistics cited

Last week, the Glasnost Defence Foundation was referred at least 10 times in the internet, including at:

RIA Novosti: Analysts criticise ban on media reports about private life

Izvestia: Investigative Committee to take journalists under special protection

Civitas.ru: Larissa Yudina, chief editor of newspaper Sovetskaya Kalmykia, was killed in Elista 15 years ago

Lenizdat: Investigative Committee develops journalist protection concept




Omsk governor proclaims freedom of expression but fails to tell the public about it

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Omsk Region Governor Viktor Nazarov, appointed to his post a year ago, has issued a decree spelling out a revised version of the region’s information policy concept. Analysts who took the trouble of reading this decree (published in the newspaper Omsky Vestnik) found many of its provisions strikingly progressive – even if viewed against the backdrop of positive changes kick-started by the previous regional leader’s resignation.

The new information policy concept boils down to the following:

  • Equal respect for the interests of all information users regardless of their social position or the form of property ownership they have chosen;
  • Everyone shall have the right and feel free to express one’s opinion about ongoing social, economic and political processes in the region, and about executive power’s performance;
  • Any socially significant measure taken by the authorities may be subject to open discussion;
  • The attitude of the public to any issue of regional importance shall be carefully analysed and taken into account in the process of decision-making thereon with the participation of public activists and specialists;
  • All federal and foreign-based media shall have free access to information about the actions of government, etc.

Under Governor Leonid Polezhayev, who stayed in power for 20-odd years, the concept was much simpler, as can be gathered from instructions for the local media that used to be circulated by the Chief Administration for the Press and TV/Radio Broadcasting. One of those, which we cited in digest 549, read as follows:

“We specially stress that the theme of the regional government’s assize sitting in a municipal district should not overshadow reports about Governor L. Polezhayev’s larger-scale activities; it should receive extensive coverage (on two to three pages of a district newspaper) in the light of Governor Polezhayev’s overall performance… We recommend that each report on Governor Polezhayev’s working visit and on the regional government’s assize sitting be coordinated with the Chief Administration’s district media development unit.”

In the new edition of the concept, the word “governor” is mentioned only once – under the heading “Decree”. Reading the document, one may get the impression that the Omsk Region has lately moved from the Asian to the European part of Russia and even further – to a place where governors serve the people, not vice versa. Yet this concept is unlikely to become known to the people: Omsky Vestnik is printed in only 800 copies, and no other media – not even the regional administration’s official website – have so far made it public, for some unclear reason. Nor is this document likely, ever, to be brought home to the public servants, since it does not specify what particular agency is to translate it into reality, or within what period of time.

“Unless a particular agent is charged with a particular mission, the concept will remain mere verbiage – it’ll never come true of itself,” Human Rights Committee Chairman Valentin Kuznetsov commented.

“People must feel it is they who are in charge; that they aren’t subject to manipulation by anyone,” Viktor Nazarov said taking over as governor one year ago. But Omsk Region residents have so far been reluctant to take the helm, and most official positions in the regional apparatus are still held by people to whom the previous information policy concept seemed clearer and cleverer, and who are unwilling to orient it toward local people’s needs: the ex-governor’s servants don’t want to become public servants in real terms.



Voronezh-based Media Rights Defence Centre holds summer webinars for journalists

The Media Rights Defence Centre (MRDC), jointly with the Media Law Bureau, is planning to hold a webinar about the handling of confidential information.

The webinar will take place on 27 June 2013 at 12:00-15:00 Moscow time. The trainer is Galina Arapova, a media law specialist and the MRDC’s senior legal expert.

The trainees will learn what restricted-access information is; what kinds of data are deemed confidential and how they are to be handled in line with effective legislation; what personal data are all about; what data constitute private information and what the restrictions are on its disclosure; who is affected by the secrecy of investigation and justice administration; what the difference is between official and commercial secrets; and what data are subject to classification as professional secrets.

PC monitors will feature the trainer making a presentation and providing explanations. You may type a question into the in-built chat box and see the trainer answer it orally. You will not even have to leave your workplace to participate in the webinar. The only things needed are a PC connected to the internet, some free time and a desire to get new practical knowledge or to brush up what you already know.

For details about participation in the webinar, see www.mmdc.ru

Russian journalist receives prestigious international award for investigating Magnitsky case

Novaya Gazeta journalist Roman Anin on 12 June received a prestigious international award for investigating alleged cases of large-scale misappropriation of budgetary funds that had been highlighted by the late Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

“This international award goes to a Russian journalist fearlessly investigating systemic corrupt practices discovered by our colleague Sergei Magnitsky, in recognition of Roman Anin and other Novaya Gazeta journalists’ courage and adherence to the principles for which Sergei Magnitsky gave his life,” Hermitage Capital’s representative said.

The Knight International Journalism Award is conferred on journalists whose publications have impacted in real terms the lives of people anywhere in the world. The Jury includes world-renowned journalists and International Journalism Centre experts. The goal of the competition is to improve the standards of journalism and step up governments’ responsibility to society.

In a series of articles published in 2011-2012, Roman Anin described the findings of Novaya Gazeta-initiated independent probes into suspected thefts of Russian budgetary funds by a criminal group exposed by Magnitsky, resulting in the illegal transfer of those funds to bank accounts in Austria, Switzerland, Cyprus, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and other countries (see www.novayagazeta.ru). His investigations also pointed to the fact that after Magnitsky’s death, too, Russian tax inspectors and Interior Ministry officials continued stealing budgetary funds under the disguise of “returning overpaid taxes” – a total of 800-odd million dollars (see www.novayagazeta.ru).

Although Anin’s findings were published more than 12 months ago, no official investigations into those illegal practices have ever been held in Russia – unlike in other countries, where some of the stolen monies have already been frozen due to the criminal proceedings started there in connection with Anin’s publications.


This digest was prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation in Moscow. The digest has been issued once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.

Currently it is distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

Editorial board

  • Editor-in-chief, Alexei Simonov
  • Boris Timoshenko, Head of Monitring Service;
  • Svetlana Zemskova, GDF Lawyer;
  • Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy, translator.

We welcome the promotion of our news items and articles but if you make use of any information from this digest or other GDF materials please acknowledge the source.


Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 432, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
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