Дайджест
17 Сентября 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 674

15 September 2014


STORY OF THE WEEK

Elections in St. Petersburg: Hardly as proper as can be

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

Last Sunday’s gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg went without any intrigue: Oksana Dmitriyeva, the sole serious potential rival to the incumbent governor, Georgy Poltavchenko, had dropped out from the race because of failing to collect the required number of municipal deputies’ signatures. Yet even in as favourable an environment as it had, the ruling United Russia party did not hesitate to show once again “who the boss is”. As a result, the election transparency suffered, as did some representatives of the press.

Election-related problems in St. Petersburg started piling up long before the voting day, 14 September. The early vote system, [once cancelled but] re-established by a strange decision of the Constitutional Court, was what most analysts described as “yet another vote-rigging technique giving advantage to those at the helm”. This was checked and confirmed by two journalists – Aleksandr Garmazhapov of Novaya Gazeta v Peterburge and Andrei Yershov, chief editor of the St. Petersburg edition of Kommersant – who deliberately went to vote twice. Provocation as a special journalistic method causes mixed feelings in the media community; some see it as a breach of professional ethics. The City Electoral Committee’s reaction to the situation, however, explains much if not everything: the supreme St. Petersburg authority in charge of “honest and fair” elections has called to punish not only the heads of lower-standing electoral committees, “whose negligence allowed repeated voting to occur”, but also the two journalists themselves – yes, the particular persons who showed to everyone that machinations with votes are possible! Indirect evidence of this is strong, too: the share of those in the Northern capital who had voted earlier than due went beyond all reasonable limits.

Indeed, few in St. Petersburg, with its fairly strong tradition of “protest” voting against all candidates, and with the generally pro-opposition mood of its population, had thought that no political struggle would be permitted at all – at least during the gubernatorial elections. Oksana Dmitriyeva had been barred from the race, with four candidates staying, two of them purely nominal.

Yet it was the municipal elections that turned out to be a real hotbed of scandal: courts and the St. Petersburg and Central (Moscow-based) Electoral Committees were repeatedly compelled to interfere [to prevent still more serious violations]. And such a situation didn’t seem to trouble anybody except the liberal public and the press!

The press found itself a hostage to electors’ low interest in the proceedings: on the one hand, highlighting violations was a “must”; on the other, why do that if no one really cared? To the merit of journalists and media in St. Petersburg, they did a pretty good job covering preparations for the elections, and the voting itself, rather objectively and with special focus on scandals. Of course, the media controlled by the Smolny [the seat of the governor and city administration] did not forget in the process to devote still more page space to the “day-to-day work of the acting governor and his team”, and to promote Concept 2030, a city development plan presented on the eve of the elections [but harshly criticised by experts as a nonspecific and generally impracticable plan].

On the voting day, the City Electoral Committee head, Mr Puchnin, reported “no elector complaints about the voting process”, while “modestly” keeping silent about scores of complaints coming from observers, electoral committee members, and journalists. By most optimistic estimates, over a hundred violations were witnessed on 14 September; of those, more than 30 were documented. Hardly all the witnesses are willing to go to court, but what they say they saw at the polling stations sounds rather depressive.

The tricks resorted to by electoral committee officials can roughly be divided into three groups:

Trick One. Don’t let reporters inside. To justify the limits on press admission to the polling stations, most electoral committees cited some internal regulations that had little to do with law or even with the detailing memo circulated by the RF Central Electoral Committee. For example, they required a reporter’s editorial assignment to be written in strict accordance with an internal circular issued by a local electoral committee (LEC). At least five journalists were not admitted on that pretext, two of them to Polling Station No.18. As regards Territorial Electoral Committees, most of them kept their doors shut to the press altogether: “No polling stations here – nothing to look at!”

Trick Two. Kick the press out, if possible. Typically, reporters were ousted from polling stations on two pretexts: they were either “getting in the way” or “taking pictures of people’s personal data”. At Polling Station No.1401, though, the officials showed a journalist the door based on a more exotic formula – for his “failure to prove his right to be present at the polling station”. They picked on another reporter, who had already got down to work, claiming his editorial assignment was “wrong-formatted” and at odds with their mysterious “internal regulations” again! Why not spell out all existing requirements in advance?

Trick Three. We’re deaf, dumb, and blind. The officials stubbornly ignored reporters’ complaints and demands – specifically, their requests to be present during the vote counting. Officials at Polling Station No.60 would not listen to press references to federal or local laws, and attempted to simply push the journalists out. With the help of observers and those LEC members who looked sane, the reporters did manage to defend their right to watch, but committee officials found an antidote against glasnost in forbidding the press to come nearer than 15 metres to the vote-counting table. Evidently, a journalist needs to have an eagle’s eyesight to do his job.

The conclusions to be drawn based on all of the above, are pretty sad: in a society where people are tolerant to electoral law violations and do not wish to see politicians competing for power in real terms, the press is unable to fight for fair and honest elections – and this not even mentioning the fact that many Russian media are apolitical and many others pursue “don’t-trouble-trouble” types of editorial policies. Now judge for yourselves whether [CEC Chairman] Churov, Puchnin and their likes are right in saying that the latest elections in all of their aspects, including the journalists’ working conditions, “were as proper as can be”…


RUSSIA

Radio show anchorman suspended on eve of elections in Samara Region

Lada FM radio station anchorman Sergei Melnik has been suspended for asking an interviewee an “awkward” question about pending elections.

Arkady Estrin, a former vice-mayor of the city of Togliatti, Samara Region, and ex-director of the regional Construction, Architecture and Land Tenure Department, wrote in his Facebook blog on 9 September, “There’s no censorship in this country, you say? Yesterday I spoke live in the Fifth Hour talk show on Lada FM, and the anchorman, Sergei Melnik, asked me if I’d go to the polls. I told him I wasn’t going to take part in this gubernatorial election farce. Today, Sergei was barred from going on the air.”

What happened to a winner of numerous prestigious journalistic awards is a story about reprisals to which a person is subjected for daring to voice his opinion. It ended in the suspension of a radio talk show, meaning that censorship is as active in this country as it used to be [in Soviet times].

ParkGagarina has not been able to contact Sergei on the phone. His colleagues at the radio station confirmed that he was no longer conducting live radio shows. The scandal with one of Togliatti’s lead journalists is unfolding against the background of Lada FM’s changing hands: the Volzhsky Auto Factory sold the station to Media Gallery Togliatti Co. All the staffers have been laid off, and who of them will be re-employed is not clear for the moment.

[Based on ParkGagarina news agency reports]

Failed attempts to oust reporters from polling stations in Tyumen Region

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

At a number of polling stations in rural areas across the Tyumen Region on 14 September, electoral committee officials claimed that reporters were “meddling” in their work. In Yalutorovsk, where a new governor was being elected along with a new body of the city Duma, district electoral committee head Anastasia Sedova attempted to oust Maksim Karpikov, chief editor of the newspaper Slovo Naroda, after he asked her why she was refusing to register an elector who had shown his military card, which under the law is as a valid identification document as one’s passport. Sedova demanded that the journalist leave. He protested, asking her for an official committee decision – done in writing – that might cause him to go away. The chairwoman cooled off a little and let him stay, Karpikov told the GDF.

He was treated much the same way also in the Tyumensky district, where elections to the municipal Duma were in progress. The district electoral committee chairman’s oral orders for the journalist to leave did not work, whereas issuing written orders to the same effect seemed to the man “too risky” a thing to do.


Security use force to prevent journalist from entering municipal office in Moscow

By Dmitry Florin, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Tenants of a dilapidated apartment house came to the Housing Policy Department in Moscow’s South-Western administrative district on 9 September to stage a picketing action against utility companies’ neglect of their problems. When municipal MP Aleksandr Popov, a candidate for a seat on the Moscow City Duma, attempted to enter the department building to speak with officials on the angry people’s behalf, security guards would not let him through, citing an instruction they had allegedly received from their bosses.

The protesters called the police, but the law enforcers said they were at a loss what to do: breaking the door was too harsh a measure, in their view. After Popov said he would complain to the prosecutor’s office about this instance of police inaction, the officers decided to go in and were let through by security, along with Popov the MP. Yet the guards left journalist Igor Bakirov outside – despite his insistent calls to be let in to do his job as a reporter.

Moreover, they threw him out into the street, swearing badly and kicking away at his legs. Bakirov reported his becoming subject to such appalling maltreatment to law enforcement.


Mayoral officials hold the press at arm’s length in Moscow

By Dmitry Florin, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Toward the end of a recent action in support of small businesses, staged by the Yabloko Party outside the Moscow mayor’s office at 13, Tverskaya St., activists and businessmen went to hand a petition to Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. They walked into the mayoral headquarters along with reporters covering the action. Yet they had problems filing their petition at the reception counter.

Lady officials behind the glass window started shouting that the use of cameras inside the building was prohibited by some “internal instructions”. They could not show any such instructions in written form but said they would “not accept” the petition until the reporters switched their cameras off and put them away. In the process, they said they had already called the police.

Indeed, several patrolmen appeared; they stood watching the proceedings silently. The journalists were meanwhile explaining to the mayoral clerks that the ladies were breaching the Russian Media Law by forbidding them to use cameras. After several minutes of bickering, one reporter asked the police officers to help restore law and order by making the receptionists do their job – accept the petition and stop preventing the reporters from shooting video sequences.

A reprimand from a police officer finally caused the mayoral officials to quit talking and get busy doing their work.


New trial over Rostov-based journalist and blogger Sergei Reznik

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Sergei Reznik, who was sentenced by the Pervomaisky district court in Rostov last November to 18 months in detention, is now facing new charges of insulting three government officials – the regional deputy prosecutor, Mr Klimov, and two police officers, Mr Ishchenko and Mr Glinkin. Andrei Glinkin has separately charged Reznik with filing an a priori false report with the police about a grave crime he [Glinkin] had allegedly committed. All the four episodes currently under scrutiny by the Leninsky district court are related to Reznik’s postings in his blog in the LiveJournal social network.

Before the first open hearing began, all those present in the court could observe how the two state prosecutors in charge of the new cases against Reznik walked into the judge’s office to stay there for the following half an hour, although they are not entitled under the law to contact the judge anywhere except the courtroom. The journalist’s defence lawyers filed a petition challenging Judge Vladimir Strokov, but the latter, “upon consulting with himself”, dismissed the motion. (Under Russian law, judges may themselves consider petitions challenging them.)

He then dismissed a motion challenging one of the prosecutors, Ms Kashubina, on the grounds that she had already been the state prosecutor in the first trial in the Pervomaisky court, which ended in Reznik’s conviction. And finally, Judge Strokov turned down the defendant’s request to have one more defence lawyer, Irina Dergunova, defend his interests in court.

Just as he did during the first trial, Reznik is again pleading not guilty, and again pointing to the fact that the criminal charges against him have been trumped up in retaliation for his activities as an oppositionist.


Justice Ministry refuses to register Krasnodar Region Journalists’ Union’s new charter

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Krasnodar Region branch of the Journalists’ Union of Russia (JUR) held an extraordinary conference in Krasnodar in June to adopt a new charter proclaiming the organisation (in Section 1.1) as an “independent, non-for-profit public association”, while also saying (in Section 1.3) that, “in line with the Charter of ‘OOO Journalists’ Union of Russia’, the Krasnodar Union is a regional branch thereof”.

These obvious discrepancies notwithstanding, the conferees passed the new charter by a majority vote and, unwilling to “let the grass grow under their feet”, elected a new secretariat and a new presidium there and then.

As became known last week, the regional Justice Ministry Department refused to register the amendments made to the Krasnodar Region Journalists’ Union (KRJU) because, in line with Article 23.1.1 of the Federal Law “On Public Associations”, the new charter contradicts Russia’s effective legislation.

From the legal point of view, the decisions of the 26 June 2014 conference are all null and void, meaning that the old charter of the Krasnodar Region branch of the RJU remains in effect, and the previous management bodies of the organisation stay in power. However, no official information on the subject has been available from the Union’s leadership – either old or new.


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Maritime Region electoral committee says journalists have no right to comment

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Since the beginning of this autumn, the Vlaldivostok-based radio station Vladivostok FM has been drawing close attention from the Maritime Region Electoral Committee (MREC). The station runs a daily talk show, Vash Reportazh (Your Own Reports), in which listeners from across the region call the studios to share their problems and comment on events. Their reports, comments and opinions are regularly published in the newspaper Dalnevostochniye Vedomosti, which along with the radio station is part of the ZAO PARI media holding.

The 1 September talk show was dedicated to Maritime Acting Governor Vladimir Miklushevsky’s pre-election tour of the region to meet with voters and discuss regional development prospects and residents’ current needs. As usual, there were phone calls from listeners, who assessed the governor’s performance, voiced their needs and, naturally, made predictions for the forthcoming gubernatorial elections. It was those vox-pop comments that caused the MREC to call a meeting that day to discuss suspected electoral law violations by Vladivostok FM.

Reviewing one listener’s comment on the acting governor’s campaigning trip, MREC Chairwoman Tatyana Gladkikh identified it as “an administrative offence so far”, adding that [still harsher criticism] might amount to an “offence punishable under criminal law”. She was right: starting the following day, more people began calling the studios one after another, voicing criticism and even calling to boycott the elections.

“Typically, these kinds of showdowns are initiated by some of the losing candidates,” correspondent Zina Sidorova wrote in Dalnevostochniye Vedomosti. “Yet the current one was triggered by MREC Chair Tatyana Gladkikh’s whistle-blowing.”

“Calls for non-participation in elections are qualified as attempts to prevent citizens from exercising their electoral rights, which is an offence … entailing criminal liability,” Gladkikh warned.

For the following four days, MREC members sat scanning Vladivostok FM programmes for potentially “seditious” content. “They gathered 16 pages of quotes, printed out in small fonts, containing … about a dozen suspicious utterances regarding either the acting governor or one of his rivals,” journalists told the GDF.

Some MREC members went as far as suggesting that the media have no right at all to assess a government official’s work. “A journalist’s job under the law is to inform – and here we have an example of a reporter actually assessing an acting governor’s performance. I never come up with any such assessments – who should he feel free to do that?” lawyer Roman Okhotnikov exclaimed indignantly. Fortunately, not all of the experts shared his opinion.

The MREC panel’s reaction to criticism of the acting regional leader was rather painful on the whole; Chairwoman Gladkikh in person was enraged to hear someone saying that “people generally don’t trust Acting Governor Miklushevsky much”.

“You stoop to personal evaluations… that smear the entire region. In line with the law, the media should cover government activities objectively, truthfully, but without commenting. Or do you think the governor hasn’t done anything worthy at all?” the regional electoral committee head, a lawyer by training, was heard lecturing journalists.

The MREC’s “verdict” was tough: the radio station had systematically violated the law by carrying content looking much like campaigning materials. The panel submitted its conclusions to a court of law for consideration.


NEWS FROM PARTNERS

Moscow-based Sreda (Medium) Foundation starts reviewing media bids for financial support

On 2 September, the Russian Media Support Foundation Sreda (Medium) invited media bids for newsroom financial support for the period until 2017.

Public and political media meeting Sreda’s criteria and needing financial assistance may file their proposals at fondsreda.ru . The selection process will cover two stages. At the first stage, proposals will be assessed by an Expert Council of media market professionals – media owners, workers, functionaries, officials, practitioners and professors of journalism, and public activists who all share the Foundation’s mission and work principles. At the second stage, the Foundation Council, which involves authoritative representatives of culture and the arts, civil society, and education, will hold an open debate to name three finalists – the media outlets eligible for the requested financial assistance.

As decided by the Foundation Council, each of the three selectees will receive in 2014 a package of assistance worth 7 million to 20 million roubles (for three years), depending on the media type and the applicant’s geographical location.

The deadline for filing the proposals is 15 November 2014. The two Councils expect to sum up the results of their work before the year’s end.

The Sreda Foundation was established earlier this year by businessman Boris Zimin. The Expert Council involves, specifically, such journalistic celebrities as Aleksandr Arkhangelsky, Leonid Parfyonov, Andrei Kolesnikov, Arina Borodina, Viktor Muchnik, Nikolai Svanidze, Irina Yasina and others.

For additional information about the contest, click on info@fondsreda.ru .


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;
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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