Дайджест
10 Апреля 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 703

6 April 2015

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Yet another journalist attacked in Dagestan

In Derbent, Dagestan, on 5 April, four masked men seized Vyacheslav Starodubets, owner of the news website My Derbent, near his home, forced him into a car, pulled a sack over his head and drove him to the city outskirts.

They then beat him severely, demanding that Starodubets leave the republic, unless he wanted his parents to fall victim to violence.

As a result of the attack, the journalist was taken to the city hospital with numerous bruises and haematomas.

Starodubets links the assault with his professional work – specifically, with his publications criticising local authorities and exposing corrupt officials and extortionists in their ranks. Some of his publications have led to the sacking of those responsible.

The journalist reported the beating to the Derbent prosecutor’s office which has started an investigation.


RUSSIA

Court in Tomsk finds TV2 broadcaster’s closure “legitimate”

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The Regional Court of Arbitration in Tomsk has turned down the TV2 broadcaster’s legal claim against the Russian TV/Radio Broadcasting Network (RTRBN) whose regional branch unilaterally terminated its signal-transmission agreement with TV2 – allegedly because of the latter’s “behaving unethically by politicising a technical problem”. The reference is to the sudden breakdown of the transmitting antenna’s feeder in April last year, which was not fixed until a whole two months later and largely owing to a series of protest actions organised by public activists, not by TV2 staff (see digest 687).

The channel’s lawyers insisted that RTRBN as a monopolistic organisation (TV stations in Tomsk have no opportunity to broadcast skirting the federal network) had no right to withdraw from the agreement.

The press was barred from the courtroom because the court decided that documents presented by the defendant constituted “a state secret”. So far, only the operative part of the decision has been announced. The court’s motives for deciding as it did are still unclear; TV2 wrote on its website that it would comment on the decision upon receiving its full text – naturally, without disclosing the “classified” information – and would certainly challenge it before a higher-standing judicial authority.

Media Defence Centre stands trial in Voronezh

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

A magistrate court in Voronezh on 2 April started reviewing an administrative case against the local Mass Media Defence Centre (MMDC). As we have reported, the RF Justice Ministry on 26 February, based on the findings of an unplanned inspection, put MMDC on the list of “foreign agents”. Now, in line with Russia’s Administrative Code, the Centre may be fined 300,000 to half a million roubles for failing to register as an “agent” voluntarily.

MMDC Director Galina Arapova told journalists it is for the first time in the 18 years of her organisation’s operation that she is standing trial herself.

Media lawyers from more than a dozen Voronezh-based media came to the court to support their colleagues; the magistrate courtroom barely contained them all. No barriers were placed in the way of reporters covering the trial.

The hearing involved three officials from the NGO Affairs Division of the regional branch of the Justice Ministry. Apart from Arapova, MMDC interests will be defended in court by Yelena Pershakova, head of Legal at the Moscow-based foundation “Public Verdict”. She already has had experience in advocacy for NGOs listed as “foreign agents”.

At the beginning of the court sitting, MMDC representatives made two motions – to have minutes of the proceedings taken, and to have the hearing postponed in view of the need for the defence to read the nearly 500-page case files. The judge granted both.

The next hearing is due on 7 April.

Vesti.karelia.ru website owner requires journalist to rewrite critical report

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

A picketing action attracting at least 500 people has been held in Petrozavodsk to protest the arrests of Olga Zaletskaya, a municipal company director, and Aleksandra Kornilova, general director of the trade company Lentorg, charged with underpaying at least 10 million roubles into the city budget when purchasing a piece of municipal realty. The mass protest was largely against the detention of Zaletskaya, a mother of two minors, who attends to her disabled father, 84, and whose husband, a sea captain, is away on a cruise. Picketers called for substituting arrest with any other restrictive measure that would enable Zaletskaya to remain with her family.

Vesti.karelia.ru correspondent Valery Potashov wrote a report about the action and posted it on that website. The publication was anti-governor in its tonality, as was the position of the picket organisers who believe law enforcement is fulfilling a political order from the head of Karelia by prosecuting Zaletskaya and Kornilova. Yet few could actually read the report, since the news portal was instantly blocked, and when it was unblocked later, Potashov’s text happened to have been thoroughly edited, losing its critical message. Notably, it was the author himself who had rewritten the report, since the website owner had warned him he would unblock the site only after the critical publication was reformed into an ordinary news report about a past event.

It is not for the first time that the web resource owner meddles in editorial policy by correcting the ideological content of reports and mitigating their critical tonality.

But then, Potashov published his original text anyway on the Forest-karelia.ru website, of which he is the full and single owner.

Sakhalin newspaper accuses colleagues of pro-government bias

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The newspaper Sovetsky Sakhalin, which has faced many lawsuits brought by individual officials and organisations claiming to have suffered reputational damages through its publications, does not usually publicise its court victories: staffers see a warded-off legal claim as nothing out of the ordinary, and a case won in court as a norm, rather than a victory worth celebrating.

Last year, the newspaper successfully defended itself against two legal claims lodged by the Sakhalin government. Both were over critical publications about the dubious multi-million purchase of the passenger ship Polaris. The authors – in the first case, a newspaper correspondent, and in the second case, the head of the regional Public Council on Countering Corruption – asked one and the same question: Did it really make sense spending millions of budgetary roubles on an old and decrepit vessel purchased in the Murmansk Region?

The regional administration demanded disavowal of the information that in its view created “a negative public image of the government”. In the first instance, the court rejected the government’s claim, finding nothing that could “undermine the regional administration’s business reputation”. The second trial lasted longer and ended in the claim partially satisfied.

While the author and the editorial office prepared appeals against the primary court’s ruling, the plaintiff hastened to celebrate its victory by circulating the decision (which had not yet come into full legal force by that time) among the local media, of which about a dozen published it. Yet the regional court’s panel of appeals took the defendant’s counter-arguments into consideration and agreed that the first-instance court had applied the substantive law norms wrongfully, without considering the legal position of the European Court of Human Rights or the clarifications made by the RF Supreme Court. The panel turned the administration’s claim down, and noted that the critical article about Polaris was of considerable interest to the public and hence a topic for open debates.

With the appeals panel decision on hand, Sovetsky Sakhalin appealed to the media which had trumpeted the government’s victory over the independent newspaper ahead of the game, and asked them for nothing more than announcing that the earlier-circulated negative assertions about the newspaper and its author were rash and not true to fact. Yet most of those media refused to, causing editor Vladimir Sorochan to publish his January 2015 article “Sakhalin Media Show Non-independence and Fear of Dissent”.

“I would never have written these notes if you had shown reciprocity and allowed us to make the truth known to the public,” he wrote. “I asked colleagues to publish [disclaimers] as required by the Code of Journalistic Ethics – just for the sake of objectivity that we all support in word, while in practice, some of us recognise as such only what has been officially approved ‘at the top’.”

We might as well skip this story altogether if it did not get a continuation. Everyone knows where Sakhalin Region Governor Aleksandr Khoroshavin, the initiator of the vessel’s purchase, currently is [under arrest on suspicion of corruption – Translator.] It is quite possible that the questions that our newspaper once asked him may now be asked again by the investigators.

Well, sooner or later, public officials go – quite often, they go ingloriously. But the media stay – some of them to make independent probes into alleged corruption schemes, others to cringe before corrupt officials. Their reputation is different: the first group’s is spotless while the second group’s is so dirty they can’t really hope to wash it clean, ever. And it is indeed sad that in the eyes of the public, the general reputation of the journalists as a professional community is comprised of the reputations of both these categories of media.

Criminal proceedings against website owner closed in Murmansk in line with statute of limitations

By Aleksandr Borisov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

The RF Investigative Committee Department for the Murmansk Region has announced on its website “the termination of legal proceedings against Aleksandr Serebryanikov in view of the expiry of the period of limitations”. The reference is to the owner of the popular Murmansk-based website Bloger51.com, who found himself in the summer of 2013 involved in a criminal affair on charges of Criminal Code Article 282.1 (“Actions instigating hate and hostility based on a person’s religion, ethnicity, or belonging to the social group of Islam worshippers”). The “extremism” case was opened in the wake of a publication that had appeared on his website, as Serebryannikov insists, after the site was hacked and DDoS-attacked.

“In the course of preliminary and judicial investigation, it was established that Serebryanikov, being at home and performing as the sole administrator of the Bloger51.com web resource, … that is, having the opportunity to access the website using personal data known only to him and to perform administrative functions such as adding, editing, changing the content of, and deleting posts and publications, in the time space between 4:52 p.m. on 5 March 2013 and 2:06 p.m. on 27 March 2013, posted in the Internet (i.e., for public use by means of media) an extremist article entitled ‘Ex-head of Moscow Office in Murmansk Region Gunned Down’, with two photo illustrations attached,” the Investigative Committee said in an official comment.

At the final sitting on 30 March 2015, in response to a plea by the defence and with Serebryanikov’s consent, the judge closed the case in line with Code of Criminal Procedure Article 24.1.3. This is not an exonerating ground though, meaning the website owner is not entitled to claim any compensation – not even moral damages – from the Investigative Committee. It may as well be noted that Serebryanikov himself said in a comment for the GDF: “It’s too early to rejoice: the decision on the closure of the criminal case hasn’t yet come into full legal force.”


GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Media-related conflicts registered by GDF Monitoring Service on RF territory in March 2015

Attacks on journalists – 3 (Alexei Semyonov, freelance journalist, Moscow; Arkady Dunayev, journalist and creative producer, Teledom HD channel, St. Petersburg; Yelena Morozova, journalist, Kasparov.ru, Moscow Region)

Instances of censorship – 6 (media in Kopeisk, Chelyabinsk Region; newspaper Novaya Kondopoga, Karelia; website Pravoslaviye I Mir, Moscow; Radio Ekho Moskvy v Permi, Perm; district newspapers in Omsk Region; NTV channel, Moscow)

Criminal charges against journalists and media – 3 (Anna Andriyevskaya, journalist, Centre for Journalistic Investigations, Simferopol; Pavel Shabanov, freelance journalist, Vologda; Valery Brinikh, freelance reporter for independent newspaper Zakubanye, Adygei Republic)

Illegal sacking of editor/journalist – 2 (Maksim Tikhonov, director, Respublika Kareliya news agency, Petrozavodsk; Anastasia Sechina, chief editor, Radio Ekho Moskvy v Permi, Perm)

Detention by police, FSB, etc. – 6 (Polina Petruseva, Readovka.ru correspondent, Smolensk; Natalya Kokorina, editor, Centre for Journalistic Investigations, Simferopol; Tomasz Kulakowski, Polsat News correspondent (Poland), detained in Simferopol; Leonid Yuldashev, freelance journalist and Open Russia’s video coordinator, detained twice in St. Petersburg and once in Novosibirsk)

Legal claims against journalists and media, registered – 22

Denial of access to information (including bans on audio/video recording and photography; denials of accreditation; restrictions on visits to or presence at events held in government agencies, at industrial enterprises, in state institutions, etc.) – 41

Threats against journalists and media – 5 (Ksenia Sobchak, freelance journalist, Moscow; Sergei Parkhomenko, political observer with Radio Ekho Moskvy, Moscow; Aleksandra Garmazhapova, journalist, Novaya Gazeta v Peterburge, St. Petersburg; Karina Orlova, Radio Ekho Moskvy anchorwoman, Moscow; Yevgeny Shevnin, videographer, 7x7 web magazine, Kirov)

Interference with internet publications – 3 (website Stolitsa na Onego, Karelia; website of radio station Govorit Moskva, Moscow; Grani.ru website, Moscow)

Seizure of, or damage to, photo, video and audio apparatus and computers – 3 (telephone of Yelena Morozova, Kasparov.ru journalist, Moscow Region; PC of Natalya Kokorina, editor, Centre for Journalistic Investigations, Simferopol; PC of Valery Brinikh, freelance reporter for independent newspaper Zakubanye, Adygei Republic)

Other forms of pressure/infringement of journalists’ rights – 45


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Maritime Region media market as seen by chief editor of Zolotoy Rog Publishers’

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Newspaper print runs in the Maritime Region, as in the whole of the Far East, have been steadily shrinking, and some outlets have been suspended, Yelena Barkova, a veteran editor-in-chief who has survived many shocks within the media community in recent years, told the Glasnost Defence Foundation. For example, the regional supplements to Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Izvestia have been scrapped; the Millionka television guide has been suspended; and the popular weekly newspaper Dalpress has become much thinner, as have quite a few other publications.

The daily newspaper Vladivostok has lost a quarter of its print run, and the business newspaper Zolotoy Rog a fifth, though these are claimed to be only temporary reductions. Actually, 25% of the Maritime Region’s newspapers have reduced their numbers of pages and are now released once – instead of thrice – a week. With magazines, the situation looks still worse: of the 137 magazines registered in the region, only 12 actually continue to be released, nine of them less frequently and all of them having become about one-third shorter. That’s how the world of the Maritime press looks today.

What’s the outlook for the near future? According to Barkova, only media having municipal or regional administrations among their founders are capable of surviving. They are wholly dependent on the governor, she said, so their future is rather grim too, considering the current budget deficit. Among the commercial media, inter-regional outlets have the best chances to stay afloat.

Regional newspapers are unlikely to unite, even under the threat of closure; they might prefer closure to unification, Barkova said. Yet they might change hands, getting businessmen-turned-government officials, MPs, or mayors dreaming of governors’ careers as their new owners. Commercial advertisements are no longer able to feed media in the new conditions. The country is crisis-stricken, and glossy magazines will receive the heaviest blow – which in itself is “not bad”, in the veteran editor’s view.

But all the rest is absolutely negative: rent rates, Pochta Rossii’s press delivery charges, communications, and railway transportation tariffs will all grow. Newsprint already has become 12%, and press delivery by rail, 27% more expensive. Print runs and publication volumes are decreasing, along with the journalists’ wages, causing many to quit. For instance, six staff members of Zolotoy Rog, a media outlet that has never had a large payroll, have resigned lately because of drastic wage cuts.

The advertising market has shrunk significantly, too. The outflow of advertisers increased from 8% in September to 28% in December… Generally, the prospects are gloomy, Barkova said.


NEWS FROM PARTNERS

Council of Europe launches web platform to protect journalists

The platform, launched by the CE in co-operation with five partner organisations, is designed to simplify the collection, processing and distribution of information, and to enhance journalist safety.

The partners – Article 19, the Association of European Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders – will give early warnings about threats posed to media freedom and submit those facts for consideration to CE institutions.

“The platform has been created to simplify the gathering, processing and circulation of factual information, confirmed by partners, about serious physical threats to journalists and other media personnel, threats to the confidentiality of sources, and different forms of political or legal intimidation,” the CE said in a statement.

Creating the platform will enable the Council of Europe to more effectively respond to freedom-of-expression challenges and to strike a dialogue with member countries on potential solutions and protection measures. The CE-approved measures to prevent threats will, too, be integrated into the platform.

“Throughout Europe, journalists and other media workers have been subject to attacks, harassment, detention and even killings in retaliation for their work. Concerned over this situation, the Council of Europe, together with partner organisation, decided to create this platform by signing a memorandum of understanding,” the CE statement said.

[Khartiya’97 report, 3 April]


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:

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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