Дайджест
9 Мая 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 658

28 April 2014

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Media forum in St. Petersburg supposed to highlight Russian media community’s burning problems turns into purely formal event

By Roman Zakharov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

The All-Russia Popular Front (ONF) on 23-25 April held a media forum in St. Petersburg under the high-sounding title “Truth & Justice”. The event attracted nearly 400 journalists from all across Russia and quite a few VIPs with President Vladimir Putin at the head. Now, where might the road lead along which Russian journalism is encouraged to evolve?

It would seem bringing together regional journalists to discuss some of the media community’s burning problems was a good idea. But, as it so often happens, reality produced a sobering effect. The fairy tale about a gathering of independent media representatives on the banks of the Neva would have been easy to believe in – but for the fact that the majority of conferees represented media directly or indirectly built into the ruling elite’s “propaganda vertical”. One of the truly independent participants, the owner and editor of a small newspaper, came up with a rather naïve comment: “I thought they would invite those who pay for their media’s existence from their own pocket. But I see people like me are very scarce here.”

The forum organiser (ONF)’s ideology is clear: to support those at the helm while criticising some of their actions, especially at regional and local level. That said, Olga Timofeyeva, co-chair of the ONF Central Headquarters, opened the conference with a dashing phrase about “independent journalism’s conventionality”. She was seconded by Aram Gabrielyanov, who did not forget, though, to point out that “There should be no government-controlled media, either,” causing many to wonder if plurality of opinion in the media space is acceptable, after all. The question hung poised in midair; it was only Konstantin Remchukov, chief editor and owner of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, who attempted to place on the agenda the issue of what the mission of journalism is and whether journalists are responsible for what they say or write.

Behind the scenes, delegates mostly discussed who might survive and how, and censured the ONF for speaking out against the allocation of budgetary funds in support for the regional media. The group of critics included representatives of both state-controlled and private media. As the GDF noted in the course of its Glasnost Map research a few years ago, what kills media at grass-roots level is not so much direct or indirect government pressure as local authorities’ widespread tampering with them. It appears that “the carrot” is more harmful than “the stick”.

Very predictably, Vladimir Putin’s visit became the central event of the forum programme. Arriving on the second day of the conference, he said some words of praise to regional journalists and to all journalists in general, placing them on the same footing as human rights activists – but quickly bringing them back to earth by upholding the notorious bill that equates bloggers with journalists, which has drawn a very negative reaction from the media community.

But then, there are no swings without roundabouts: the ONF may rejoice at the president’s promise to restore subscription subsidies for [the national postal service] Pochta Rossii. If he walks the talk, the print media – especially at local level – may give a sigh of relief. Most likely, that will happen as early as next year.

As if responding to the forum majority’s dissatisfaction with funding shortages, the ONF presented its initiative to provide grant assistance for journalists investigating alleged corrupt practices within local governments, and pledged legal support for reporters who might come under pressure from local government officials or oligarchs. “Local” is the key word here: support would be provided for journalists affected by local officials’ unlawful actions. And what if federal officials were to mount an attack on the media?

 

RUSSIA

Journalists in Chelyabinsk barred from attending ceremony to honour best workers

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Reporters for the chelbusiness.ru news website have been barred from attending a ceremony to honour best workers, organised by the apparatus of the acting governor of the Chelyabinsk Region.

The black-tie reception was to start at Malakhit Hotel in Chelyabinsk at 7 p.m. The parking lot was crammed with luxury cars guarded by a specially assigned traffic police officer. In the lobby, a man with an “Organising Committee” badge on his chest, who presented himself as an official of the regional Ministry of Industry, told the journalists the party was private, and they were not on the list of those invited; he then told security not to let them through.

“We showed our passports and press cards to the police officers in the lobby, explained the purpose of our visit, and asked them to see we were admitted,” journalist Stas Vakhrushev told the GDF. “But the policemen didn’t move a muscle to interfere. I think they didn’t let us through fearing we might see something nasty at that VIP party, where there no ordinary workers at all, and report about it. Also, if that was a ‘private’ party, why was it guarded by a traffic police inspector and police officers?”

The police refused to accept the journalists’ written report about the incident. Regional Deputy Culture Minister Yana Komissarova – there and then, in the lobby – confirmed that it was a closed event, but could not explain the reasons why it was closed.

 

Newspaper editor in Karelia challenges prosecutor’s office’s warning in court

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

For the first time in Karelia’s history, a newspaper editor has gone to law to challenge a warning issued to him by the prosecutor’s office in the wake of a presumably “extremist” publication.

During a preliminary hearing in the Petrozavodsk city court on 22 April of a legal claim filed by Yevgeny Belyanchikov, chief editor of the newspaper TVR-Panorama, the claimant and defendant stated their cases.

Belyanchikov rejected the prosecutorial warning as a “vaguely formulated document” that did not cite any excerpts or phrases from the publication that might be identified as extremist; for this reason, he could not see what in particular he was warned against. In other words, the interested party (which judicial status the prosecutor’s office bears in the case) failed to explain what it meant by mentioning “signs of extremism” in the disputed text, although this notion, as prompted by logic, should have been explicated in concrete phrases.

As it happened, the prosecutor’s office detected signs of extremism in the very fact of TVR-Panorama’s publishing excerpts from correspondence between Ukrainian and Russian citizens, with their consent. Indeed, “objective” would be too far-fetched a description of the publication. Omitting a few “excessively emotional” passages, the editorial board simply made public the authors’ judgments without adding any personal comments. The authors’ position is clearly pro-Ukrainian; the editors’ position is left for the reader to guess, although quite transparent, too. Yet Belyanchikov insists that apart from noting the general tonality of the text, the prosecutor’s office should have clearly pointed to the phrases that struck it as extremist (see digest 656).

The disputed text itself was not read out during the preliminary hearing, which is odd: how can one possibly argue about something without knowing the subject matter of the dispute? TVR-Panorama insists that a linguistic expert study be ordered to see what in particular the prosecutors call “signs of extremism”.

In its official warning to Belyanchikov, the Karelian prosecutor’s office explained that his actions as chief editor might, for example, provoke readers to post comments the content of which might be identified as illegal. It recommended removing the publication from the newspaper’s website, which the editor promptly did, unwilling to exacerbate the conflict.

TVR-Panorama did not cross the red line. Actually, it did not do anything wrong at all, since publishing someone’s subjective judgment is not prohibited under the law. What freedom of expression is all about is that the world of ideas is very diverse and identity of views hardly ever occurs in it.

The judge is to pass a difficult decision. The subject matter of the dispute is rather vague, and by yielding to the temptation of going “the easy way” about it, the judge may restrict the editor’s constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of imparting information.

The GDF will follow the developments in Karelia closely.

Perm-based MP representing Fair Russia party pellets media with legal claims

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Sverdlovsky district court in Perm on 23 April started reviewing an honour-and-dignity protection claim lodged by Alexei Lukanin, leader of the Fair Russia party faction in the regional Legislative Assembly, against the newspaper Permskoye Vremechko (PV). Between 24 March and 8 April, the opposition MP filed with that and the Motovilikhinsky district court of Perm seven similar claims against media outlets belonging to a media holding said to be close to Governor Viktor Basargin.

Judge Viktor Tonkikh held a preliminary hearing to consider the publication “Clone Attack” carried by PV on 11 December 2013. The story was about management companies “controlling up to 70% of the housing stock in Perm”. “Each of those is somehow or other connected with Alexei Lukanin,” the newspaper reported, citing multi-million amounts of budgetary funds allegedly spent on housing capital repairs [but actually misappropriated with the help of] forged documents. The deputy demanded that a number of passages in the publication be disclaimed as “untrue and smearing”.

The claimant did not appear in court in person but sent a representative to act by proxy. Learning the defendant’s opinion turned out impossible, since there was no one representing either PV’s former owner, OOO Prime Time, or its new owner, Ural-Inform Group (the company changed hands on 3 March). The next hearing is scheduled to be held on 20 May.

Numerous media reports about those alleged abuses caught law enforcement’s eye, and police on 12 February started criminal proceedings on charges of fraud attended by deliberate non-fulfilment of contractual obligations by OOO PermGazEnergoServis which declared itself bankrupt. OOO Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Perm was identified as the victim. The “80 million roubles” collected in gas payments from residents were fraudulently transferred by PermGazEnergoServis, in which Lukanin was head of the Board, to OOO Kramor, a company under the former’s control, investigators said. On 11 March, law enforcement officials searched Lukanin’s apartment in Perm, along with eleven other places.

The Fair Russia MP responded by his seven claims against media, a move already dubbed “fire-shooting” in Perm; two district courts have appointed hearings of his other 6 claims, including one against the pro-governor media company Ural-Inform. The GDF will closely follow the judicial proceedings.

Regional court in Omsk slashes moral damages payable to regional culture minister to a minimum

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

A panel of judges of the regional court in Omsk has neglected the “moral damage” which the regional Culture Minister Viktor Lapukhin claimed to have suffered as a result of Yevgeny Shestakov, former senior conductor of the Omsk Academic Symphony Orchestra’s listing him among “the dregs of [ex-Governor] Polezhayev’s regime”, i.e., the group of local officials who retained their posts, or even went still higher up the career ladder, after the previous regional leader’s replacement.

As we have reported, for that and 8 other phrases that struck the plaintiff as insulting, he claimed nearly a million roubles in damages from Shestakov and the weekly Biznes-Kurs which carried the conductor’s open letter to Governor Viktor Nazarov (см. digest 648). The Kuibyshevsky district court satisfied the minister’s claim partially by requiring the defendants to disclaim two phrases from the letter and to pay Lapukhin about 1/30th of the claimed amount – only 35,000 roubles. The higher-standing regional court cancelled compensation payment altogether on the grounds that the first-instance court had failed to order a linguistic expert study of Shestakov’s phrase, “V. Lapukhin as culture minister is worse than a mistake – he’s a farce”, while agreeing that the phrase did sound insulting to the culture minister.

The appellate court then decided that only one phrase needed to be disclaimed, which said that by acting the way he did, the minister had “ruined the reputation of some Omsk-based creative groups, which were well known and even glorious in the Soviet Union, Russia and Europe”. At the same time, the court did not find that the phrase inflicted any moral suffering on the plaintiff.

The defendants were required to pay 2,700 roubles each to cover the judicial costs. The minister, in his turn, was required to pay Shestakov 50 roubles in partial reimbursement of his legal expenses.

Rostov Region Assembly complains to Russia’s communications minister about monopoly-holding postal service (Pochta Rossii)’s doubling newspaper delivery tariffs

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Newspaper delivery tariffs in Russia have nearly doubled as of 1 April. “Contrary to market expectations, the company managed to avoid a still more serious increase of the end price… Pochta Rossii expects the latest measures to keep print runs at the current level during the subscription campaign for the second half of 2014,” a note on Pochta’s official website says. According to the agency management, raising the prices is seen as the only way out after the State Duma’s approval on 12 March of the first version of a Postal Service bill cutting short the subsidies to offset losses related to the delivery of newspapers and magazines.

What has the postal service to do with that, one may ask, if the government has decided so? The media community, however, looks at the situation from a different angle.

“Subscription prices for the second half of this year have increased 70% to 100%,” Irina Samokhina, general director of Krestyanin Publishers’, told the GDF. “For example, the price of subscription to the newspaper Krestyanin grew from 370 to 500 roubles, which is a major increase in the eyes of our price-sensitive subscribers. Of that amount, 297 roubles – over half of the total – goes to Pochta for delivery services.”

Is that possible at all? Can newspaper delivery cost more that the entire process of media issuance – including payments to the authors and the cost of newsprint and printing services? This is an absurdity, of course, but Pochta Rossii and the lobby behind it think this is the way things should be. Evidently, no one has ever bothered to seriously audit the real and perceived costs incurred by the postal service.

Regional and local newspapers and their readers in rural provinces, where there are no press kiosks, are likely to suffer the most from the monopoly-holding agency’s inordinate appetites. “Postal tariffs have increased 150% and the price of subscription has grown 40.98%,” said Svetlana Alipova, editor of the Belaya Kalitva-based district newspaper Perekryostok. “The subscription price for the first half of this year was 366 roubles, including a 100-rouble delivery service tariff. For the second half of the year, a subscription costs 516 roubles, including 250 roubles charged for the delivery. For rural residents, that’s a very notable increase.”

As a result, it is rural residents who will be affected the most by the price increases: the subscription price of newspapers, magazines and other publications has doubled or even tripled compared to their retail price. Analysts are predicting a further shrinkage of print runs and subscriptions that will have a backlash on the postal service itself with inevitable payroll cuts and layoffs.

“It seems Pochta’s incumbent managers do not care about local employees at all. Evidently, they want to restructure their business; that’s why they are interested in buildings, facilities and the prospect of establishing Pochta’s own bank,” Vera Yuzhanskaya, chairwoman of the Rostov Region Journalists’ Union and editor of the newspaper Nashe Vremya, told the GDF. “At our initiative, Rostov Duma deputies have sent Russia’s Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov a letter urging him to review the latest decisions and take steps without delay to change the price-setting principles in the subscription sector.”

According to analysts, over just three years – from January 2011 through January 2014 – the prices of newspapers and periodicals rose 32%, versus the average 19-percent growth of the prices of other consumer goods. Against the background of this growth-rate discrepancy, quite out of the blue, Vladimir Putin promised to the recent media forum in St. Petersburg to have funds allocated in support for the regional media. According to informed media sources, at the first stage Pochta’s subscription tariffs are to be frozen, and subsequently subscription subsidizing is to be restored.

The presidential apparatus is reportedly preparing a package of top-level orders reducing the risks the regional press is exposed to. Pochta Rossii has so far refrained from commenting on those reports.

 

KAZAKHSTAN

Adil Soz Foundation’s freedom-of-expression monitor for March 2014

The Adil Soz Foundation, a Kazakhstan-based international freedom-of-expression watchdog, has published the reports documented in its March 2014 monitor, including:

  • A warrant was issued for the arrest of journalist Natalya Sadykova on charges of libel;
  • A legal claim worth 500,000 tenge was lodged against blogger Askar Shaigumarov; and
  • Adil Soz and the Journalists’ Union of Kazakhstan made public a joint statement to protest the suspension or closure of independent media.

Five new legal claims in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation were filed against Kazakhstani media and citizens in March, and court decisions were passed in 5 judicial cases started earlier, including 2 decisions in favour of media outlets and individual defendants.

Since this year began, a total of 28 legal claims in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation have been lodged, and 4 libel charges have been brought, against media and individual citizens in connection with their exercising the rights to freedom of expression and to gather and impart information.

 

UKRAINE

OSCE calls for an end to attacks on journalists in eastern Ukraine

In Vienna on 22 April Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, expressed deep concerns over new detentions of, and attacks on, journalists in eastern Ukraine, the OSCE website reported.

She said she was concerned about journalists’ safety in Ukraine, and called on all authorities to stop abusing and attacking reporters and to allow them to work freely.

According to media reports, Simon Ostrovsky of Vice News (U.S.) was detained by men in military uniform in Slavyansk on 22 April. In Lugansk one day earlier, Maxim Danilchenko, a reporter for the news website Tochka Soprotivleniya, became the target of an assault. Later in the day, unknown uniformed individuals briefly detained Belarussian journalist Dmitry Galko and Italian journalists Paul Gogo and Cossimo Attanasio. Ostrovsky was released on 24 April.

 

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Authorities in North Caucasus creating new media communities

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The constituent assembly of a North Caucasian Media Association has been held in Pyatigorsk, Stavropol Region. The participants formed a Board, defined the major goals, approved a work plan, and adopted a North Caucasian Media Code that says, in part, “We are open to contact and cooperation with anyone sharing our proclaimed basic principles.” These principles generally boil down to “support for constructive processes” in the target area. The proclaimed goals include “consolidating the work of shaping the regional media space; adopting a region-wide media agenda; and collectively identifying the threats posed to the media in and beyond the region”.

The vague language of all the documents adopted by the new association gives rise to many questions.

Are there media in the North Caucasus that do not share “the basic principles”? Are there any media that stand for destruction, rather than construction, or for a negative public image of the region? Personally, I don’t know any. But evidently, there must be some, if the association’s goals are such as described above. And clearly, the Russian Journalist’s Code of Professional Ethics is not exhaustive for North Caucasian journalists if they decided to adopt for guidance a regional, local version of the code.

There are reasons to suspect, though, that the above-mentioned “media space shaping” is being planned with large budgetary input, considering the fact that all these journalist gatherings are proceeding under the aegis of Aleksandr Khloponin, President Putin’s personal envoy to the North Caucasian Federal District, and his office; and that it would be pretty difficult to estimate the end results because the proclaimed goals are too vaguely formulated.

One would be eager to put all those questions to the organisers and participants of the newly-established association, but reporters for independent media (of which there is just a handful in the region) are not invited to attend these kinds of gatherings.

Authorities buying up media in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Goluber, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

With municipal elections in the offing, the State Duma has launched yet another unintelligible reform aimed to persuade municipalities with million-plus populations, and generally, the larger cities across the country, to refuse to elect their mayors. This means the public would not be able to have its say in choosing government heads in the relevant areas. The idea is clear, too: the more you break up the electorate, the more manageable it will be.

Meanwhile, the number of independent media in the regions has been rapidly shrinking, and problems of regional importance have been shifting off the focus of public attention. This is anything but a market-led process – it is a trend encouraged by arbitrary rulers.

One example is Yekaterinburg, the Urals capital, where only three print media outlets have been left – the newspapers Uralsky Rabochiy, Vecherniy Yekaterinburg and Oblastnaya Gazeta. When glasnost was on the rise, Uralsky Rabochiy had a daily circulation of more than 600,000; but those times are gone, and Oblastnaya Gazeta has led the way in Russia for several years with a daily print run of only 77,000.

Everyone in Yekaterinburg knows that Oblastnaya is the governor’s official newspaper, and the other two are the city authorities’ mouthpieces. Attempts to launch alternative newspapers have been disrupted through economic pressure, as shown by the cases of Vecherniye Vedomosti and Podrobnosti. Media outlets established in the run-up to municipal elections – Kommunalka, Metro and others – have been drawing a strongly negative reaction from the city public.

On television, independent news coverage has been reduced virtually to naught. The once-popular Channel 4 has been bought up by the regional administration to promote its interests, as has been the Oblastnoye Televideniye channel. Local oligarchs, namely the Urals Mining and Metallurgical Company, control Channel 10, which still enjoys a degree of popularity due to the company’s focus on social issues or, as a minimum, on sports.

The internet is completely different. Yekaterinburg is one of Russia’s leaders as regards independent online news reporting. We can boast of about two dozen web-based media outlets, half of them pretty large. The topics they cover aside, the plurality of views they allow helps the web users to formulate their independent attitude to developments in and outside this country.

With the Duma again attempting to bring to a head the unending chain of quasi elections, one may forecast the appearance of hundreds of short-lived media outlets that would again start promising a whole world of happiness to the poor people habitually called “the electorate”.

 

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