16 Июня 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 664

9 June 2014


Media summit held in Vladivostok

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The First Grand Media Forum opened on Russky Island in Vladivostok on 3 June, bringing together several hundred media community representatives from the Maritime Region, as well as from Moscow, Sakhalin, Yakutia, Kamchatka, the Jewish Autonomous Region, Khabarovsk, and even Chukotka. There were guests from neighbouring countries – Japan, Korea and China. In parallel, Acting Governor Vladimir Miklushevsky held a big conference with journalists that so appropriately coincided in time with the media forum. Naturally, the forum was attended by regional administration officials, Far Eastern Federal District executives, and representatives of the country’s largest business companies, such as RusGidro, Rosneft, Gazprom, Rostelecom, and others.

The discussion of the forum’s main topic, “Russian Media’s Mission: Informing or Interpreting Information?”, opened with reports by Moscow guests – Nadezhda Azhgikhina, vice-president of the European Federation of Journalists; TV journalist Maxim Shevchenko; Rossiya TV Channel’s anchorman Ernest Matskievicius and others. The forum programme envisaged work in sections to discuss such topics as “Freedom of Expression: Keeping It within Bounds”; “New Framework for Media and Bloggers: How to Avoid Breaching the Law?”; “The Journalist’s Eighth Precept: Plagiarism and Copyright”; as well as a training in media-law judicial practices, with case studies and instructions on methods of defending in court against charges brought against journalists, conducted by Galina Arapova, legal expert from the Voronezh-based Media Rights Centre. Press service officials explained methods of holding journalists’ attention, shared their work experience, and described RusGidro’s policy of working with the media. A series of master classes taught journalists about effective legislation and efficient methods of getting access to information.

As it turned out, however, those sections, roundtables and master classes were too many for journalists to attend them all and discuss the really wide range of issues from patriotism to the public images of different regions. Therefore, some of the most essential topics, including professional mastery, remained undiscussed, and a range of special issues raised by participants in the run-up to the summit found themselves beyond the forum’s framework – for example, ways of securing provincial newspapers’ survival.

“I think there were too many round-table and other discussions that focused on less important issues to the detriment of the most burning ones facing the Maritime media community – in the first place, the future of the local press,” prominent journalist Valery Bakshin commented. “Among other drawbacks of the summit, one could point to the prevalence of Moscow speakers during the opening ceremony, the pretty inarticulate ‘congress’ of the Maritime branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union, and so on. But the main goal was achieved: the media summit in Vladivostok brought together many regional journalists, offering them the opportunity to meet with colleagues and see the regional capital. I very much hope next year’s summit will be more businesslike.”

“The Grand Summit is over, but many problems remain outstanding,” journalist Aleksandra Nabokova from the Maritime city of Dalnerechensk said. Nabokova not only highlights different unlawful practices but also sends her investigative reports to the regional governor and his administration, as well as to Moscow. Sometimes, her appeals remain unanswered, and measures of official response are increasingly often not taken at all. She took the floor at the Grand Hall to describe those who send her back purely formal and meaningless replies as “accomplices in law violations and crimes”.

“I reminded the high-ranking officials attending the media summit that I’ve been sending almost all of my critical materials to the competent agencies, expecting them to take appropriate response measures,” she told the GDF. “Journalists need to pool their efforts to have the authorities respond to criticism in a competent and meaningful way. Otherwise, our work would be pointless. I’ve been meeting with readers a lot, and people have been asking me, ‘What have the authorities been doing in response to your critical writings?’ Well, colleagues applauded my speech, which I found inspiring and a reason to think that there will at least be fewer letters giving me the runaround in the future… In that event, our discussion of the media mission will be more productive and to the point.”

The overloaded programme prevented the majority of forum participants to hear many specialists – not only journalists and bloggers but also economists, ecologists and psychologists.

The Grand Media Summit is over. Its results have been summed up, and the winners of the journalistic contest have been named and honoured with awards. The next big conference of Far Eastern journalists on Russky Island is scheduled for next year.



Crimean self-defence unit detains and beats journalists in Simferopol

Two journalists from the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) were detained by members of a self-defence unit in Crimea’s administrative centre Simferopol late on 2 June.

Sergei Mokrushin and Vladlen Melnikov were detained near the Trade Unions House in Sevastopolskaya Street, where the CIJ offices are located, and were taken to the self-defence force headquarters for questioning, during which they reportedly suffered bodily harm inflicted by their captors.

CIJ chief editor Valentina Samar called the self-defence force commander Dmitry Prostakov on the phone to find out why the journalists were being held in custody. “He said my employees had allegedly disparaged the honour and dignity of Russia’s top government officials,” CIJ cited its editor as saying. “He did not specify what was so insulting about the reporters’ behaviour but promised to find it out.”

The two journalists were then handed over to the police, and toward the morning Mokrushin and Melnikov were reported to have been released from the Central District police department of Simferopol. They had been questioned with no protocol made and no charges advanced against them, Mokrushin said later, adding that he had filed a report on his unlawful detention and on having been beaten by self-defence fighters. He turned to a medical station for assistance and was diagnosed as having a serious chest trauma with likely rib cracks.

“I can’t see why they detained us,” the Crimea.Realities (ru.krymr.com) news website cited Mokrushin as saying. “Why did they question us at the self-defence headquarters? Who gave self-defence the right to detain and interrogate people without first calling the police?”



Regional Press Institute head detained in St. Petersburg

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

Regional Press Institute (RPI) director Anna Sharogradskaya was detained at Pulkovo airport in St. Petersburg on 5 June as she was leaving for the United States to deliver a series of lectures. She was escorted to an inspection room and told to submit all information carriers she had on her.

At first, it was not clear which government service ordered Sharogradskaya’s detention. Representatives of the FSB and border guard service (which is part of the FSB), as well as police and security service officials, denied their involvement. As it turned out, it was customs officers who decided to seize the journalist’s notebook PC, iPad and flash-memory cards as alleged storages of “illegal” information. No one could explain, though, what such information had to do with the customs routine.

As a result, Sharogradskaya was late to board her airplane and had her equipment seized, after all. To the journalistic community’s merit, its reaction to a colleague’s arbitrary treatment was fast this time: the hot news hit the headlines and attracted close attention from the news agencies, online media and even television channels, all of which agreed the incident was nothing but an attempt to intimidate the prominent human rights activist – at a time when her institute has lodged legal claims against the prosecutor’s office and a number of other government agencies in a bid to lift the pressure they have been putting on the media rights watchdog (for details, see digest 662).

Leaving her notebook and iPad with eleven flash-memory cards behind, Anna nevertheless flew away to America. Many have asked her if she intends to return to Russia after the incident. “Yes, I will return by all means,” she said, which sounded inspiring. Meanwhile, the RPI is preparing to sue the customs service for Sharogradskaya’s unlawful detention.

Karelian prosecutor’s office insists on editor’s punishment for publication that might “give rise to extremist comments”)

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

The prosecutor’s office in Karelia has penalized Yevgeny Belyanchikov, chief editor of the republican newspaper TVR-Panorama, not for breaching the law but for creating a situation in which such a breach of law might have hypothetically occurred (sic!). The agency officially warned the editor in the wake of his publishing excerpts from correspondence between relatives living on both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian border. Belyanchikov posted the excerpts on his newspaper’s website with the authors’ consent and with some harsh-worded expressions edited out.

The publication caught the eye of the prosecutors, who first called him on the phone to say they suspected him of breaching the law, and then issued an official warning (by that time, the publication had already been removed from the website). It might have ended at that, unless the editor challenged the prosecutorial warning in court on the grounds that nothing unlawful had occurred as a result of that publication (see digest 658).

Belyanchikov succeeded in persuading the Petrozavodsk city court that the prosecutors were wrong in penalizing him for a law violation that had not actually taken place. The judge ruled to cancel the prosecutorial warning as unlawful.

The oversight agency, though, decided to challenge the ruling before the appellate authority of the Supreme Court of Karelia, and its complaint is still under review. The prosecutor’s office continues insisting that the article “Letters from Ukraine: Sasha, Pray Open Your Eyes!” might have provoked readers to post extremist comments, which it saw as a valid reason for issuing its official warning to the editor. It is a prosecutor’s right and duty under federal law to do so, the prosecutorial complaint says.

Citing the International Convention of Human Rights, the prosecutor’s office pointed to a journalist’s liability for the spread of information potentially threatening national security or the observance of law and order. In line with the same convention, a journalist must base his reports on accurate factual information, whereas “TVR-Panorama has substituted fact reporting with private individuals’ subjective judgments the trustworthiness of which is doubtful”, the complaint says. In other words, the prosecutor’s office is charging Belyanchikov with circulating “average people’s evaluative judgments that are based on rumours”.

Almost every phrase in the text of the prosecutorial complaint causes bewilderment. If there were no comments at all to the publication, what in particular does the plaintiff refer to as “Panorama-provoked extremist reader comments”? Why should the oversight agency qualify an evaluative judgment based on a person’s own life experience as one based on rumours, i.e., on unreliable information?

Now the Supreme Court of Karelia is to pass its judgment both on the subject matter of the dispute between the prosecutor’s office and TVR-Panorama, and on the Petrozavodsk city court’s ruling. That might be a difficult thing to do, considering the vague language of the provisions of the federal law on countering extremism.

Tomsk-based television channel TV2 back on air due to public solidarity campaign

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The TV2 channel resumed broadcasting in Tomsk after Vladimir Yurshin, director of the regional Radio/TV Transmitting Centre (RTTC) announced that the television tower’s burned-out feeder, the main cause of the technical disruption, had been repaired. That happened on 6 June, poet Alexander Pushkin’s birth anniversary, which was very symbolic.

The station had stood idle since 19 April (see digest 622). After several appeals from TV2, the RTTC named the tentative deadline for the completion of repairs – 15 June. Yet on 15 May, as the channel was marking its 23rd anniversary, Roskomnadzor [federal agency overseeing the sphere of public communications] warned TV2 that it might be stripped of its broadcasting license unless it resumed operation within five days’ time. As it happened, two government agencies, acting either independently or in collusion, created the prerequisites for the channel’s closure.

The technical problem might have remained unsolved, but thousands of Tomsk residents took to the streets to express their support for the broadcaster. Significantly enough, the picketing actions and rallies largely involved youth, contrary to common assumptions that the younger generation is “not interested in politics” at all. Nearly 1,500 residents signed an appeal to Governor Sergei Zhvachkin, and students and faculty members of Tomsk University’s school of journalism sent him a separate petition asking to protect TV2.

Among the channel’s other supporters were the Tomsk branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union; prominent media representatives, such as TV Academy member Vladimir Posner; and RF Human Rights Ombudswoman Ella Pamfilova, who urged the Prosecutor General’s Office to check the lawfulness of Roskomnadzor’s warning to TV2.

All those factors combined to bring nearer the completion of the feeder’s repairs. The company’s lawyers intend to challenge Roskomnadzor’s orders in court and have prepared a legal claim demanding compensation from the RTTC for the material damage incurred through the transmitting centre’s failure to duly carry out its contractual obligations.

Police information gets increasingly hard to obtain in Rostov Region

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Utility service problems are the single most popular topic for discussion in the Don River Region’s media. Rostov has accumulated a debt of more than a billion roubles to resource-supplying organisations: utility companies have collected water-supply and heating fees from the population but, instead of paying to suppliers, they have pocketed that money to finance their own needs. Local residents and law enforcement have fought those arbitrary practices to the best of their ability, relying on the media for keeping those issues in the focus of public attention.

Only a year ago, to get updates on the criminal proceedings started against abusers by the police service countering economic crime (OBEP), it was enough to call the police department’s press service and appoint a date for an interview with OBEP commanders. That typically took a couple of days to arrange. Today, the police only provide written replies to written questions – a procedure that may be dragged out for two or more weeks. For example, a written inquiry filed with the police press service by the newspaper Bolshoi Rostov on 23 May has ever since remained unanswered, with service officials all the while promising to furnish a reply “tomorrow”.

Meanwhile, a fresh issue of the newspaper has been released – without valuable information from the police department. Why have the police spokespeople ceased granting oral interviews to journalists?

To get an answer to this question, one has to file yet another inquiry…

Selective lodging of legal claims in Moscow amounts to “pointed” censorship

By Dmitry Florin, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Moscow’s court of arbitration is reviewing legal claims lodged by AlphaBank and its co-owner Mikhail Friedman against the newspaper Izvestia, its correspondent Anastasia Kashevarova, and Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the Yabloko party. Last December, Mitrokhin said in an interview for Izvestia that opposition activist Alexei Navalny was consulted and financed by “one of AlphaBank’s top managers”.

The plaintiffs want 250,000 roubles in moral damages from Koshevarova to be paid to AlphaBank and as much to Friedman; and from Izvestia – 500,000 roubles to AlphaBank and an equal amount to Friedman. Also, they want Mitrokhin to pay 3 million roubles for his statements each to AlphaBank and Friedman.

The hearings in essence started with a motion by AlphaBank and Friedman’s seven lawyers to withdraw their claim against Izvestia, while leaving in force the claims against Mitrokhin and – strange as it would seem – against journalist Kashevarova. The court satisfied their request, causing Izvestia’s defence lawyer to fall into a stupor: Mitrokhin’s lawyers and he had intended to reject the claims as legally inconsistent, since the publication was presented in the newspaper (and on its website, too) in the form of an interview, in which Mitrokhin spoke about what different media had many times discussed over the past three years – namely, blogger Navalny’s leaked correspondence with the-then high-ranking AlphaBank manager Vladimir Ashurkov.

According to Mitrokhin, no one has ever – over the past three years – voiced doubts as to the authenticity of the correspondence published in the internet; so he cannot see why AlphaBank would want to lodge its claim against him at this particular time. Izvestia’s defence lawyer, for his part, described as “absurd” a situation where there is a claim against a journalist who recorded and transcribed an interviewee’s statements, but there is no claim against the journalist’s employer – the newspaper which carried the text of that interview.

Also, he said that AlphaBank’s claims in their current form, if assessed on the basis of established world practices, are nothing but graphic instances of censorship prohibited by Russia’s constitution.

The next arbitration court hearing is scheduled for 20 June.



MPs claim offended by critical publication

A group of City Council deputies in Karaganda – Tatyana Kravchenko, Adiy Alimbayev, and Kabdygali Ospanov – have accused Sergei Perkhalsky, editor of the newspaper Vzglyad na sobytiya, of insulting them by his publication “MPs from Another Planet”, which described a parliamentary raid to inspect the work of public transport.

A legal claim filed with the city police department by Council Secretary Ospanov reads, “This is to ask you to start legal proceedings under Republic of Kazakhstan Criminal Code Article 320.2 (“Insult to a public official involving the use of mass media”) against Sergei L. Perchalsky, whose publication in the Karaganda-based weekly newspaper Vzglyad na sobytiya, No.57 of 9 May 2014, featuring my photo picture, publicly insulted me as a government servant performing his official duties.”

The MPs are claiming hurt by the following passages:

  • “For them to go on a raid is like for ordinary people to take a limousine ride: everything seems clear but feels unusual and exciting, causing an outburst of emotions. This time, too, our MPs caused many people to laugh heartily looking at them make a public appearance”;
  • “The most curious thing is that council deputies take all those omissions for granted and keep repeating like a mantra, ‘This is a point that needs to be taken into account… This issue needs to be brought up… Measures need to be taken…’” , and
  • “Is it too much for our MPs to share a public bus with their electors when going on business about the city?”

The author, Sergei Perkhalsky, is insisting he did not mean to hurt anyone or disparage anyone’s dignity, and that the article only reflected his personal viewpoints. He has already been questioned by the district police inspector on the subject. Police are currently conducting a pre-investigation check-up of the facts.

[Adil Soz Foundation’s Monitoring Service report, 5 June]


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.

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