Дайджест
31 Января 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 645

27 January 2014

 

RUSSIA

Regional sports ministry takes “special precautions” to secure passage of Olympic Torch through Astrakhan

By Dmitry Florin, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

While shooting sequences of the regional Sports and Tourism Ministry building in Nikolskaya Street in downtown Astrakhan on 23 January, Caucasian Knot news agency correspondent Yelena Grebenyuk was approached by three sturdy plain-clothed men, who did not identify themselves but demanded that she turn the camera off immediately. Her protests and reference to the Media Law provisions prohibiting interference with a journalist’s lawful professional activity had no effect on the men: one of them attempted to knock the camera out of the lady reporter’s hands.

Grebenyuk reported the attack to law enforcement, asking the police to start criminal proceedings against the bully. Her report was registered at Astrakhan’s Police Station No. 4.

According to Grebenyuk, the attackers did not affiliate themselves with any organisation; they said they were acting as “private persons”. Yet they were vigorously defended by a deputy sports minister, who went out of the ministry building to tell the journalist that the regional premier, Konstantin Markelov, had ordered the introduction of a special security regime “not allowing strangers to hang about here, the less so to videotape the entrance to the sport festival’s headquarters, especially in view of preparations for the run of Olympic torchbearers”.

Asked by Grebenyuk if the three sturdy men were ministerial employees, the deputy minister said nothing – but law enforcement officials at the police station shook hands with each of those “private persons”.

Police deter TV journalists from filming Olympic event in Rostov-on-Don

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

During a news conference in Rostov on 23 January, journalists complained to the regional police chief, Andrei Larionov, about his subordinates who had not allowed them to shoot a report about a public event in the central square, Teatralnaya, dedicated to the passage of the Olympic Torch through the city.

“We’d received from the organising committee accreditation to attend all events that were to be held that day, along with badges featuring Olympic symbols,” Yuzhny Region TV channel reporter Vladimir Savelenko told the GDF. “However, neither my cameraman nor I were let through the police cordons, although many people were standing inside, near the stage. I approached several police officers of different ranks asking them to let us through, but none of those either issued appropriate orders or at least attempted to contact their superiors to decide the matter.”

The journalists who failed to fulfil the editorial assignment may consider themselves lucky: during the news conference, Gen. Larionov was asked a few “awkward” questions about the arrest of several civil activists on the eve of the Olympic Torch’s arrival in Rostov. The detainees were sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest – allegedly for “swearing in public and ignoring official warnings”.

Cases of this kind have been trumped up in the past, too: civil activists were similarly detained en masse on the eve of dissidents’ marches and the RF President’s visits to Rostov – as if they all went out into the street at one and the same time in different parts of the region to start swearing badly in public. The precautions taken by the authorities before the scheduled run of Olympic torchbearers through the city, and their orders to bar journalists even from attending a festive concert, fit accurately into the general policies pursued by the authorities and law enforcement in Rostov.

Trial over journalist Aleksandr Tolmachev resumes at Kushchevsky district court

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Rostov-based journalist Aleksandr Tolmachev was arrested on 20 December 2011 on charges of extortion (see digests 550, 553 and 580). After an 18-month investigation, the RF Supreme Court, in response to pleas filed by defence lawyers and public advocates, ruled to relocate court hearings from the Rostov Region to the Kushchevsky district court in the region of Krasnodar.

The latter court, however, decided to hold assize sittings at the Leninsky district court in Rostov – in view of the fact that most victims and witnesses live either in Rostov or in neighbouring Novocherkassk. Tolmachev was transported under guard to the Rostov pre-trial prison and placed in a tight-security unit for dangerous special offenders – next to the cell where the so-called “Amazons” (a gang of women accused of killing police officers in the Rostov Region) were kept, Tolmachev wrote in his blog. “Other cells were occupied by gangsters whom riot policemen in face masks took out for a stroll in handcuffs,” he wrote.

Tolmachev was placed under round-the-clock surveillance. In response to his repeated protests, he was told by the guards that “even the prison director was puzzled by your transfer to the tight-security unit for trouble-makers”. Whatever the reasons, Tolmachev had to see the New Year in locked into a tight-security cell. In the Novocherkassk pre-trial prison during the investigation, he had been locked into the “sweat box” several times, too – despite suffering from high blood pressure and from post-surgery haemorrhage.

Now that the assize sittings are over, the next hearing is to be held at the Kushchevsky court on 28 January. Tolmachev’s sympathizers – those who came to support him in Rostov – may not make it to the Cossack village of Kushchevskaya: bloggers have reported that in the run-up to the Olympic Games, outsiders’ entry to the Krasnodar Region will be limited.

Journalist barred from covering mayoral conference in Petrozavodsk

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

The administration in Karelia’s capital Petrozavodsk has done its utmost to prevent reporters from learning how it has slipped its hand into the pockets of socially vulnerable city residents.

City mayors have been coming and going, but bureaucratic mentality remains unchanged. The incumbent mayor, Galina Shirshina, pledged during last year’s elections to make municipal power transparent to the people; the slogan helped her win the mayoral race. Yet nothing has changed since her predecessor’s times: municipal officials have sought to withhold information by closing the door to the press even when holding “open” mayoral conferences.

 

Georgy Chentemirov, a reporter for the newspaper Karelia-Moy Petrozavodsk, has been assigned to report on how the mayor’s office supports families with many children and those with handicapped or disabled children. Until recently, socially vulnerable families received municipal budgetary support in the form of free kindergarten care for their kids. Now word has gone around that this benefit has been cancelled. Chentemirov was sent by his editor to find out why. However, deputy mayor Rimma Yermolenko, who is also head of the city’s social development committee, refused to admit the journalist to the conference room where the issue was to be discussed. Asked why – it was to be an open sitting, and social programmes could not be classified as state secrets – she told Chentemirov he might “cover the conference from the wrong angle”; instead, she said, she would send the text of the would-be decision to his newspaper’s office.

The true reasons for the journalist’s non-admittance to the mayoral conference became clear a while later. As it turned out, the free kindergarten care benefit simply could not be applied because municipal officials had failed to prepare the relevant documents in due time and submit them to the city Council for approval. Why they had neglected this duty is a different story; what matters now is that the mayor’s office deliberately attempted to conceal its bad work from the public.

Since barring a journalist from an official conference does not mean the event would receive no press coverage at all, municipal officials hastened to post on the mayor’s office’s website a note saying the benefit for the socially unprotected families would be restored, even if behindhand. They did not say anything, though, about whether or not compensation would be payable for the months during which the relevant category of parents paid for the kindergarten from their own pockets. Nor did the note indicate whether any mayoral officials would be held answerable for their negligence. The Karelia Journalists’ Union, meanwhile, has its own question to ask: Will Petrozavodsk Mayor Shirshina ever punish her deputy, Yermolenko, for her flagrant violation of the law “On Access to Information about the Performance of Government and Local Self-Government Bodies” (No. 8-FZ of 9 February 2009)? We have sent Shirshina an official written inquiry regarding this matter.

Moscow court denies cassation to editor of Demagogiya.ru news website

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Moscow city court has refused to review a primary court’s decision on a legal claim lodged by actor Nikolai Burlyayev against Nikolai Vinnik, editor of the news website Demagogiya.ru. Vinnik’s prior appeal to a lower-standing court to cancel that decision was turned down, too.

Burlyayev filed his original legal claim with the Simonovsky district court in Moscow after Demagogiya.ru [Russ. for “demagogy”] posted the actor’s biography illustrated with his photo portrait in the website section “Heroes”. The plaintiff, with reference to RF Civil Code Article 152.1 (“A person’s copyright to his/her visual image”), claimed that the photograph had been posted on the website unlawfully, without his consent, which he took as an insult, because “I am not a demagogue and do not engage in demagogy”. Burlyayev wanted Vinnik to remove his portrait from the website and to pay him 500,000 roubles in moral damages.

The court satisfied his claim partially, slashing the claimed compensation amount to 10,000 roubles. The defendant turned to an appellate court, but the decision was left in force.

Now he has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. Vinnik’s defence lawyer Svetlana Kuzevanova of the Voronezh-based Media Rights Centre said the primary court’s decision “creates a precedent that may negatively affect future decisions to be passed in cases of this kind”.

 

KAZAKHSTAN

Adil Soz Foundation’s freedom-of-expression monitor for December 2013

The Adil Soz Foundation, a Kazakhstan-based international freedom-of-expression watchdog, registered a total of 73 reports in its monitor in December 2013, including:

  • Ex-director of equestrian school for youth accused of attempting to kill journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov;
  • A convictive sentence passed in the case of a participant in a gang attack on journalist Igor Larru;
  • The Panorama centre searched by police;
  • The issue of Pravdivaya Gazeta again suspended for 3 months;
  • Journalist Zhanna Zuyeva acquitted of libel charges.

Throughout the year 2013, a total of 79 legal claims in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation were lodged against media and individual citizens in connection with their exercising the right to freedom of expression and to receipt and circulation of information; and 14 persons were charged with defamation and insult.

 

UKRAINE

Russian TV journalist wounded during Kiev riots

“Amid renewed mass riots in Kiev last night, REN TV correspondent Stanislav Grigoryev was seriously wounded by a flash-bang grenade that exploded under his feet during the shooting of a televised report,” the TV channel’s press service reported.

The journalist is in hospital with a suspected compound fracture of the leg bones, the press service said.

“We were standing between the Ukrainian riot police columns and the protesters, and shooting a report,” it cited Grigoryev himself as saying. “One take, another take – and finally, the explosion.”

Grigoryev is the 30th journalist who has been injured during the riots in Kiev, the REN TV press service said.

[Interfax report, 21 January]

Journalist Vitaly Portnikov compelled to leave Ukraine

Vitaly Portnikov, a prominent Ukrainian journalist and television anchorman, has told the newspaper Ukrayinskaya Pravda he has left Ukraine.

He said his Russian sources had warned him the authorities were planning to make him “a new Georgy Gongadze” [a Georgian-Ukrainian journalist kidnapped and killed in 2000], and he had every reason to trust that information.

He also said three unknown athletic-looking young men tried to break into his apartment on Tuesday. “That was part of the general plan,” Portnikov noted, adding that he had received the warning right after the meeting with European Union representatives, at which he and some oppositionists told the guests about problems facing Ukraine – specifically, about attacks on journalists.

Currently Portnikov is staying abroad; the country of his refuge remains unknown. He is planning shortly to make an official statement about what happened to him. “I’m alright – you needn’t worry,” he wrote on his Facebook page late on 21 January.

[Ukraine Daily report, 21 January]

 

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

This intangible asset: reputation…

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

We all agree that glasnost suffers a lot coming under attacks from government officials, politicians and businesspeople. But who has ever tried to figure out how much it suffers from internal strife and discord within the media community? By insulting one another on newspaper pages and in radio and TV shows, with the connivance of colleagues, journalists engage in continuous litigations severely damaging their own reputation and undermining public trust in the media and glasnost as a whole.

As we have reported, Yelena Suslova, a correspondent for the independent regional newspaper Otkrytaya Gazeta, filed an honour-and-dignity protection claim against a colleague, Tatyana Malysheva from the Cossack newspaper Lik Kavkaza, in connection with her publishing a story titled “Detailed Instructions on How to Write Smearing Stuff” (see digests 615, 629). Disagreeing with Suslova’s critical assessment of the allegedly improper privatisation by Cossacks of land in the famous spa region of Stavropol, Malysheva forgot all about professional solidarity and resorted in her publication to really insulting phrases and figures of speech, such as “a cesspool filled with slops”, “a journalist’s prostitution urge”, “a paranoid reporter’s imagination”, “crazy paranoiac”, “those venal journalists, Judas’ offspring”, and the like.

Despite the clearly insulting language of that publication, the plaintiff found it pretty hard to prove this in court. Finally, however, the “Detailed Instructions…” were declared outright defamatory, and the author was required to pay Suslova moral damages and to reimburse the cost of her lawyer’s services. The decision entered into full legal force back in August 2013, but the defendant has not paid anything at all so far: as the litigation was in progress, she lost her job and has not been able to find a new one ever since. She saw this as a reason for complaining to the prosecutor’s office about her colleague who’d won the case in court.

The former Cossack editor wrote in her complaint that she had found herself jobless because of the “damage done to my reputation by Suslova”, who also “violated my personal rights and freedoms”, and so on… Malysheva asked law enforcement to “take measures of prosecutorial response” in respect of Suslova.

Justifying her complaint, she blamed the court for not taking into account – when passing its decision in favour of her opponent – the fact that “criticism by definition does not provide for any positive assessments”, and for its disregarding the peculiarities of her target audience, the Cossacks (who are presumably in the habit of “firing from the hip”, or, rather, “slashing the sabre right and left”), an ethnic group she herself belongs to, as confirmed by the unrestrictedly passionate language of her publication. In Malysheva’s view, the court failed to take those points into consideration because it was influenced by the “negative public opinion” created by Yelena Suslova, who kept reporting in her newspaper about every stage of the litigation, allegedly with a view to “putting pressure on the judges” – in other words, who “misused the justice system in pursuit of personal benefit”.

As material “proofs” of her own good reputation, the plaintiff attached some letters of thanks and commendation, as well as her card of a member of the ruling United Russia party. She noted that working at one time for the newspaper Pyatigorskaya Pravda, she used to cover “sensitive political topics”, including “decisions and activities of Russia’s top-ranking leaders”. In her opinion, “despite my having no degree from a school of journalism or any other institution of higher education”, those are proofs “of my commitment to high moral and ethical standards”, and evidence of “positive assessments of my business qualities”.

It is not clear what exactly the former Cossack editor wants from the prosecutor’s office. But one point is certain: we don’t speak or write much about reputation. If we did, everyone would know that reputation is always something intangible, something that is passed on verbally from one person to another – and that a good reputation, just as human life, is lost once and for all…

 

NEWS FROM PARTNERS

Karelia Journalists’ Union sends open letter to Governor A. Hudilainen

Dear Mr Hudilainen:

In the past few months, you have often been heard making strong statements about the republic’s media community. When publicly discussing media-related topics, you have typically used negative epithets to describe the way journalists work in Karelia. You have attempted to figure out the degree of factual inaccuracy of publications critically assessing the performance of the republican government, and have labelled those journalistic assessments “nonsense” and “garbage” (these are your favourite expressions), or else “yellow press schemes”.

Addressing the republican conference of the United Russia party in early December 2013, you said the percentage of press reports misinforming the public (or, as you put it, “the spread of falsehoods”) amounted to 95%. If this statement is to be taken seriously, one can infer that only 5% of Karelia’s media provide truthful news coverage, while the other 95% circulate rumours or information that is not true to life.

During a big news conference shortly afterward, as you summed up the republic’s performance in 2013, you said that 90% of the information published by online media “distorts reality” – that is, 10% of that is truthful information, and the rest, as you put it, “sheer conjectures”. From that, one can deduce again that 90% of the press reports are not trustworthy – this is at least your personal opinion. What makes you think so: are there any facts behind this? Your assessments of Karelia’s media discredit journalists. If the regional leader is citing specific figures assessing the degree of the media’s “reporting inaccuracy”, who would ever risk saying you are spreading untrue information?

Yet in our own view, by characterising Karelia’s media the way you do, Mr Hudilainen, you misinform the public. We are stressing the point that this is the way we [Karelia Journalists’ Union members] look at the situation, since we have no public opinion poll data showing the degree of respondents’ trust/distrust of the republican media (and, for that matter, it is unclear what media you have been referring to – government-owned or private?). We believe that the republican media provide accurate and diverse coverage of life in the republic. There are no media outlets in Karelia that would want to deliberately distort reality – although each pursues its own editorial policy as prescribed by its owners, and therefore their news agendas differ, as do journalistic assessments and judgments.

The repeated – unfair – assessments you have felt free to make in respect of Karelia’s media community have caused us to publicly object to you by stating that the leader of the Republic of Karelia has spread falsehoods about the republic’s media, thereby discrediting journalists. We decided to raise this public objection after yet another statement of yours, which you made addressing a session of the republic’s government: “People need to be informed objectively and truthfully, so they don’t read this online media garbage or the stuff written by those amateur statistical analysts.” Journalists across the republic have been getting the impression that the governor classifies any viewpoint other than his own as “misinformation”, “nonsense”, or “garbage”. Such an unfair, biased and even haughty attitude by Karelia’s head to the journalists’ work is also misleading personally to you, Mr Hudilainen (you are finding yourself in a make-believe information environment that fails to reflect people’s real life); nor does it add to the incumbent administration’s authority. People are well aware of the problems facing them; they do not learn about those from media reports. Media outlets only follow the developments and are by far not always able to report on everything that has happened.

A governor’s yearning for colouring the truth (deliberately or involuntarily) is your personal choice; you are free to evaluate your professional performance higher than what is allowed judging by the actual results delivered by your administration. We do not rule out you see some rational point in colouring the truth the way you do: you may think excessive criticism may deprive the people of their sense of social optimism. Without encroaching upon your right to assess life events in the republic, we urge you to show equal respect for the stands adopted by the journalists and media outlets whose viewpoints you personally do not share. Karelian journalists are well capable of gathering facts, analysing them and publishing for everyone to judge for oneself.

We suspect you do not see the difference between the PR support provided to the government authorities by their press services and the work of journalists who ideally should be at the service of society (unfortunately, this goal, too, is yet to be attained in full). It may be this lack of understanding of the social role of the media that has led you to make the rash and careless kinds of statements that you have made in respect of Karelia’s journalistic community.

In our view, a rationally-thinking leader should encourage competition in all areas of life, building on his understanding that competition-based production, public and political activity, culture and media reporting are all essential prerequisites for the republic’s development. The media – in line with the role delegated to them – must cover life events as comprehensively as they can, giving as different people as possible the opportunity to speak out. That is what the public really needs. Otherwise, we may find ourselves again and again at political and economic deadlocks. Media singing the government’s praises are dangerous to society.

 

As it publishes this open letter, the Karelia Journalists’ Union (KJU) counts on your understanding and expects to cooperate with the state and municipal authorities and with you, Mr Hudilainen, in person. Journalists are not opponents of the authorities; theirs is a different function – to inform the public, give early warnings, analyse facts, and make evaluative judgments.

We, journalists, are interested in maintaining a dialogue. Society wants the authorities to demonstrate managerial professionalism and transparency.

Signed by:

  • Anatoly Tsygankov, KJU chairman and editor of Politika Karelii news website;
  • Natalya Meshkova, KJU executive secretary and chief editor of Litsei web magazine;
  • Grigory Voyevodin, KJU board member and head-manager of the internet project “64th Parallel Online” (city of Kostomuksha);
  • Nikolai Abramov, KJU board member, journalist and writer;
  • Aleksey Smirnov, KJU board member and chief editor of Petrozavodsk newspaper;
  • Yevgeniy Belyanchikov, KJU board member and chief editor of TVR-Panorama newspaper;
  • Ilona Rumyantseva, editor of Vedomosti Karelii news website;
  • Armas Mashin, editor of Karelia magazine;
  • Lyubov Gorokhova, founder and chief editor of independent newspaper Severnyye Berega;
  • Andrei Tuomi, KJU member;
  • Nadezhda Vassilyeva, veteran journalist, correspondent for Severnyye Berega newspaper;
  • Tatyana Smirnova, veteran journalist

 

Letters

Dear Mr Simonov:

I was surprised to read a report about the criminal prosecution of my husband, Aleksandr Pirogov (the convictive sentence in his case was passed on 25 December 2013), featured in the “Monitoring” section on your organisation’s website. I was particularly surprised by your reference to The Moscow Post, a publication that regularly carries materials spearheaded against Voronezh Region Governor A. Gordeyev.

I would like to point out that throughout the 4.5 years of judicial proceedings, persons deemed to be close to the investigators tried hard to persuade us and the general public that the criminal prosecution of the former chief editor of the newspaper Molodoy Kommunar (MK) was initiated by the governor. Aleksandr, though, has never shared this view. He named the person behind his prosecution in his testimony in court, and the full text of his speech was published in the media. I have reasons to believe the “gubernatorial” version plays into the hands of those who ordered the pressure campaign against my husband in real terms. Apart from sentencing Pirogov to four years in a general-regime penal colony, the judge fully satisfied the 20-million-rouble moral damage claim lodged against my husband by Molodoy Kommunar’s legal successor – the news agency RIA Voronezh. According to human rights activists connected with the regional administration’s press service, many of them – just as the MK staff – learned about the claim already after the sentence was passed. The victim’s representative said an investigator had insisted on the claim’s filing.

Based on my personal monitoring of criminal proceedings against journalists and other media workers in the past 2-3 years, I can see a trend toward journalists ever more often coming under prosecution on economic charges, which in the present climate of lawlessness can easily be advanced against anyone engaged in economic activity. Cases of this kind are likely to be started against journalists who happened to affect the interests or pride of some law enforcement officials. Civil claims in defence of honour and dignity, and even prosecution on libel charges are less effective than sending reporters to jail on economic charges. I may be mistaken, though.

Sincerely, Natalia Pirogova

 

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.

We acknowledge the assistance of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

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.

Contacts:

Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 438, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
119992 Moscow, Russia.

Telephone/fax: +7 (495) 637-4947 and +7 (495) 637-4420
e-mail: boris@gdf.ru , or fond@gdf.ru

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Архив
ФЗГ продолжает бороться за свое честное имя. Пройдя все необходимые инстанции отечественного правосудия, Фонд обратился в Европейский суд. Для обращения понадобилось вкратце оценить все, что Фонд сделал за 25 лет своего существования. Вот что у нас получилось:
Полезная деятельность Фонда защиты гласности за 25 лет его жизни