Дайджест
9 Января 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 690

29 December 2014


STORY OF THE WEEK

New Year’s greetings from GDF

Our warmest New Year’s greetings to all our friends, authors, clients, correspondents and readers!

Honestly, the past year was by far not the best one ever since we started releasing our weekly digests. May the year 2015 be at least a little happier!

We wish to you all that we have fewer bad news to review in the coming year, and may the content of our digests cause you ever more often to smile, rather than to feel sad.

Happy New Year to you, dear friends!

GDF Team


RUSSIA

Petrozavodsk mayor loses three judicial cases in a row to journalists

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

Toward the end of last September’s election campaign, Nikolai Tarakanov, a candidate for a seat on the City Council of Petrozavodsk, called a news conference to tell journalists a payroll had fallen into his hands showing that a local businessman, Vasiliy Popov, was running a “black fund” from which money was paid to different persons, including to Petrozavodsk Mayor Galina Shirshina. (Tarakanov had withdrawn from the race by that time, so a meeting with an ex-candidate could not be seen as a campaigning action.) To prove he was telling the truth, he presented the payroll he was referring to.

The news agency Karelinform reported the information which had surfaced during the conference, and illustrated it with a photo of the secret payroll without commenting. After the story “Exclusive News: Vasiliy Popov’s Black Fund. Copy of the Document” was published, Shirshina, whose name had been mentioned at the news conference, lodged a legal claim against Karelinform, demanding a disclaimer, the story’s removal from the news agency’s website, and 1 million roubles in moral damages (see see digest 677-678).

The city court in Petrozavodsk, upon reviewing the case, cleared the agency of the charges of spreading “untrue” information. The judge said the story’s author merely summed up the main points of the news conference, saying “And I quote…” before each fact cited by Tarakanov. Oddly enough, Shirshina the plaintiff failed to pay attention to those references to the conference’s organiser and pointed in the text of her claim to Karelinform as the source. The district judge turned her claim down as ungrounded, noting that the claimant had “distorted the content of the publication being challenged”.

With reference to international law norms and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, the judge wrote in the final decision that “The mayor of Petrozavodsk as a public official should be more tolerant to criticism”, and that “officials of government bodies and local self-governments may be subject to public criticism which makes their work more transparent. Moreover, they should be prepared to be open to broader criticism than ordinary individuals are”.

Mayor Shirshina challenged that decision before the Supreme Court of Karelia and lost again: the Court left the first-instance court’s decision in full legal force.

She likewise lost in court to the news website Respublika, which had, too, published a report on Tarakanov’s news conference. It is still unclear whether the court litigations will end at that or if Shirshina will challenge the Supreme Court decision as well.

The court decisions passed in favour of news outlets have triggered debates over whether or not the journalists were justified in publishing information from Tarakanov’s news conference and in publishing the secret payroll’s copy. They had not checked the authenticity of that document and had spread information the accuracy of which was not obvious. This may give rise to more legal claims against them, since they circulated Tarakanov’s assertions about Shirshina’s taking money from the “black fund”, although it is not written anywhere that she took it from Popov. This can only be inferred from reading the text which, however, does not contain any direct references to her having ever done so in reality.

Court in Omsk awards 13,500 roubles to photographer in compensation from news agency that violated his copyright

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

A prominent Moscow-based web designer, Artemiy Lebedev, highly values his artistic endeavours, including his works as a photographer. He has lodged a legal claim against the news website OmskInform for reposting a photo from his web journal without his authorisation, and demanded half a million roubles in damages. The website used his photo as an illustration to an article on road accidents. Levedev claimed the same amount of compensation also from Mail.ru Company for reproducing the article along with the photo illustration on one of its web resources. The case was heard in the Savyolovsky district court in Moscow.

Having received the plaintiff’s claim, the management offered Lebedev 300 roubles in compensation for the uncoordinated publication, OmskInform’s representative told the court. “That’s the average amount we pay for a photo picture in Omsk,” he said, explaining that since Lebedev’s photo picture, in the editors’ view, was “nothing out of the ordinary”, it was not subject to copyright protection. Besides, the editors considered the picture to be in the public domain, because it had been used by many media.

Mail.ru representatives, for their part, said they neither knew the photo’s origin nor were interested in learning it: the company has contracts with many websites from which it borrows and reposts photo images without the right of editing.

The court turned down the plaintiff’s legal claim against Mail.ru, finding it ungrounded, while recognising some damage inflicted on him by OmskInform, and awarding him a modest 13,500- rouble compensation. The decision may be challenged before a higher-standing judicial authority.

Police litigation with local newspaper in Rostov Region ends in amicable settlement

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Two traffic policemen described in the story “Double Trap, or Taxi Drivers Wanted” by Nikolai Shchulkin, a court reporter for the Belaya Kalitva-based newspaper Perekryostok, have lodged against it legal claims in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation, demanding a total of 3 million roubles in moral damages. One of the claimants, Mikhail Mikhailichenko, was under prosecution in a criminal case in which the other, Stanislav Prishchepa, posed as a witness.

Mikhailichenko had already been fired from the traffic police by that time and sentenced by the Belokalitvinsky district court to a suspended 3-year term of imprisonment. The convicted officer claimed hurt by the author’s words, “Many have known him [Mikhailichenko] as a good guy who had served for several years as a police operative, but his subsequent career as a traffic police inspector was rather brief: in less than a year’s time he was caught taking a bribe of 8,000 roubles.”

During the trial, Mikhailichenko told the court he was not regretting his expulsion from the police in the least, because he was now “earning even more than before”, although without signing an official contract (see digest 687). The newspaper, for its part, presented documents proving the accuracy of the information reported in the article. Judge Tashlykova’s question whether or not the claimant was willing to pay for a linguistic study of the text if one were ordered, caused Mikhailichenko to think hard, for he had very few chances to win the case.

As a result, he agreed to sign an amicable settlement with the newspaper.

Court in Perm reads out criminal code article on glasnost to prosecutor

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Sverdlovsky district court in Perm has turned down a prosecutor’s demand for the press to be ousted from an open court hearing that considered a police request to prolong the term of a former city administration official, Denis Ovchinnikov’s, stay under arrest.

Ovchinnikov, ex-director of the Perm Administration’s Vehicle Fleet, was detained on 8 September on suspicion of mismanaging municipal property – namely, stealing the assets of the already-liquidated auto company. As the district court held a sitting on 25 December to consider Police Investigator Ivan Sterkhov’s request to keep the accused under arrest for a longer term, Yevgeny Paul, the city’s senior assistance prosecutor, demanded that the media reporters be shown the door.

He cited Article 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (“Inadmissibility of preliminary investigation data disclosure”), and the relevant provision of the Personal Data Law. The prosecutor insisted that to attend a court hearing, a journalist had to obtain the investigator’s authorisation first, and then sign an obligation to keep mum in line with Criminal Code Article 310 envisaging criminal liability for any preliminary investigation data disclosure. In addition, Paul said, the media were not permitted to report any details of the hearing, unless with the accused man’s consent.

The GDF correspondent instantly responded by reminding the prosecutor of the existence of Criminal Procedure Code Article 241 (“Glasnost”), and of the Personal Data Law’s Article 2.5. The first norm regulates when open and when closed court sittings are to be held; the second exempts from non-disclosure any information on the performance of Russian courts. In other words, a court hearing’s openness is not to be determined by investigators, prosecutors, or people in the dock.

After about 30 minutes in the retiring room, Judge Yekaterina Kaznacheyeva turned Paul’s request down and, citing Article 241 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, she confirmed the press’s right to be present at the current hearing because no matters related to state or other secrets protected by law were under discussion there.

News website director in Voronezh fined 20,000 roubles for violating advertising law

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) department in Voronezh has fined the director of the city news website 36.on.ru for a violation of the federal law “On Advertising”.

A local resident asked the FAS in November to check the legality of the news website’s billboard featuring an animal against the background of the Ukrainian flag, with the text “How much is Ukrainian blue fox in Voronezh?” printed below [the Russian equivalent of “blue fox” is a common euphemism for a Russian curse word – Translator.] (see digest 688).

Having reviewed the administrative case, the FAS department found the advertiser had committed two advertising law violations: (a) the use of an official state symbol; and (b) “the use of curse words, or obscene and insulting images, similes or expressions in relation to official state symbols”, and fined the advertising company’s CEO 20,000 roubles.


KAZAKHSTAN

Guljan Yergaliyeva, chief editor of Adam Bol magazine, attacked

As Guljan Yergaliyeva, chief editor of Adam Bol magazine, was returning home late on 23 December after a regular court hearing that was discussing the possible closure of her media outlet, unidentified thugs attacked her on the porch of her apartment house.

She fainted after the very first blow and came to when the attackers were gone. Since they hit her in the face, Yergaliyeva said the assailants’ likely goal was to paint her face black and blue so she wouldn’t take part in the pleadings scheduled for the following day.

She would participate in the court proceedings anyway, Yergaliyeva told the Adil Soz freedom of expression watchdog. That is why she decided neither to report the beating to the police nor to turn to medics for assistance.

[Adil Soz report, 24 December]


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

State concert management association in Chelyabinsk introduces censorship

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The five-year confrontation between public activists and construction industry officials has ended in the long-awaited inauguration of an Organ Hall at the renovated Rodina cinema in Chelyabinsk. Celebrity organist Vladimir Khomyakov gave his first concert there on 24 December.

However, he had not been invited to speak at a news conference devoted to the start of the concert season at the Organ Hall, although he was widely known as leader of a public movement in defence of the organ. The conference was presided over by officials of the Culture Ministry – the very same people who never dared under the previous omnipotent governor, Mikhail Yurevich, to say or do anything to rescue the organ. They would have eagerly obeyed whatever orders the regional leader might issue. To scrap the organ? Yes, sir! To throw it away? No problem! And only Khomyakov publicly stated five years ago that storing the dismantled organ in some random warehouse [during the cinema reconstruction period] would kill the instrument.

Chelybinsky Rabochiy columnist Ayvar Valeyev, one of the first to have joined the movement to save the organ, went to check why Khomyakov was barred from the news conference. To his surprise, here is what he found out:

Khomyakov cannot comment on the fact of his absence at the conference because of “new office regulations recently adopted by the Chelyabinsk State Concert Management Association (Goskontsert). The 40-odd-page document includes a chapter entitled ‘Corporate Ethics’ containing a passage that reads, ‘The staffers are prohibited to give interviews or hold meetings or negotiations discussing Association activities, without prior authorisation from the Association management. In their contacts with the media, the staffers are prohibited to negatively assess the Association’s performance.’”

This means the Goskontsert management has introduced direct censorship, leaving the public to wonder how long this draconian directive will remain in force and whether there are lawyers in Chelyabinsk who will be able to bring the Goskontsert bosses to account.


Invitation to Pskov to attend round table on freedom of expression in Russia

Dear colleagues:

On 23 January 2015, the radio station Ekho Moskvy v Pskove, with support from the news website Pskovskaya Lenta Novostei and the newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, will hold a round table in Pskov, entitled “Freedom of expression in Russia: How to live, how to work, how to stay true to the profession”.

On behalf of the organisers, I invite colleagues to come and take part in the round table’s work.

Audience: journalists from federal and regional media, politicians (representing all political parties), and possibly journalists from foreign-based media.

The participants are expected to bear their travel expenses themselves.

The initiators will defray the organisational expenses, including the costs of the round table and reception.

Apart from discussing the media-freedom and freedom-of-expression situation nationwide, the organisers plan to focus on the regional aspects of problems facing Russia’s journalism. The proposed topics for discussion may include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • The institutions of freedom of expression at the regional level have been destroyed almost completely.
  • Ties between the federal and regional press have been weakened; most correspondents have been laid off on the pretext of regional media “optimisation”; regional news reports get through to the federal level with difficulty and often get distorted en route.
  • The official regional media (and not only those controlled by the state) have become a replica of the official federal media.
  • The media community itself is crisis-stricken in terms of both its independence and financial resources.

It would be interesting and useful to discuss these and other issues particularly in a regional-level format, with maximum possible participation of representatives of independent federal and regional media, as well as freelance journalists.

Pskov as a region that has often hit the media headlines lately as one where different news-making events with broad public repercussions have taken place is a perfect venue for such a discussion.

I ask everyone who is ready to attend the Pskov round table to confirm their participation by emailing a note to shlosberg.lev@gmail.com .

I will then send you official invitations on behalf of the organisers.

See you in Pskov!

Best regards,
Lev Shlosberg
Pskovskaya Guberniya director


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