Дайджест
2 Октября 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 724

28 September 2015

RUSSIA

Ongoing journalist layoffs signal likely large-scale media closures in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Many journalists in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area of the Tyumen Region (otherwise known as Yugra) may soon have to change their profession, as indicated by ongoing layoffs in the region’s two largest independent media holdings, SurgutInformTV and SurgutInterNovosti. They are forced to curtail their presence in the media market, specifically, by the latest amendments to the federal Communications Law and the ensuing Communications Ministry order requiring all operators to borrow the TV signal from the Russian TV and Radio Broadcasting Network (RTRS); this order is to enter into force by the end of September.

Actually, the ministry order puts all the regional and municipal TV companies under the dictatorial control of the state TV and radio broadcasting operator – to be more exact, of a handful of persons appointed to pursue a single information policy throughout Russia. At first glance though, the political component of this order, just as of the Communications Law amendments, is not particularly visible: presumably, the unified broadcasting standards are introduced on all publicly accessible channels with a view to “improving the quality of audio and video signal”, according to the ministry press office.

Vyacheslav Tetekin, a Communist Party faction member of the Tyumen Region Duma, is sure the novelty will shortly lead to the mass closure of TV stations uncontrolled by the authorities – and not only in Yugra but nationwide as well. This is a decision he has drawn based on conversations with media representatives in the district centres and municipalities he recently visited. Even without this order, as he sees it, local TV companies are finding it hard to survive amid the economic crisis, when advertising revenue shrinking is aggravated by the growing costs of equipment, communication channel maintenance, utility services, etc.

The advertising market “has dwindled by at least a third” in the past few months, SurgutInformTV General Director Igor Yarosh told the PravdaUrFO online newspaper. He has already had to shut down two programmes and reduce live-reporting air time, with 30-40% personnel cuts pending, in the first place among journalists and maintenance workers, he said, adding that he is “absolutely satisfied with their professional qualifications, but there’s no other way out in the present situation”.

The Communications Ministry order directs the cable TV channels to include in their programme schedules the free relaying of federal programmes, with the signal taken from the RTRS multiplexes. For the vast majority of cable operators, this is an impracticable requirement, since they are technically unable to receive the signal from the RTRS, Yarosh said.

Over the 25 years of its operation, SurgutInformTV has earned about a dozen figurines of the Teffi and Teffi-Region Russian TV Academy Awards. SurgutInterNovosti – a little less distinguished but still very influential television company in Yugra – is in a similar situation: many of its journalists will have to seek jobs in other fields or leave the region, since “it may be difficult for them to find [regional] media companies ready to employ them,” according to PravdaUrFO.

The revised law and the follow-up ministry order “tremendously harm the system of reporting about local government activities” and sever its connections with the population – for example, by depriving citizens of the opportunity to put a sensitive question to a government official live on the air, Yarosh said.

MP Tetekin believes it is not accidental that these amendments are becoming effective amid ongoing Duma elections. “The authorities, finding themselves in an increasingly precarious position, have geared the ‘administrative resource’,” he said. “They see protest sentiments growing as ever more people, particularly youth, strongly resent the appalling social injustice… To collect the needed number of votes, those at the helm will never hesitate to get rid of people [standing in their way]: thousands of highly-professional journalists throughout the country will find themselves kicked out onto the street.”

Federal authorities are seeking to solve a problem of a larger scale – to deprive the regions and municipalities personified by their leaders of any chance of political independence, as confirmed by the recent ban on the promotion of governors (with the difference between “PR” and “reporting” remaining undefined), prominent Yugra-based political scientist Aleksandr Korneyev noted. “With the things as they are today, we may expect the local media to disappear altogether – both print and online media, and not only private but government-controlled ones as well,” he said.

Duplicate issue of newspaper released on eve of elections in Stavropol Region

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North-Caucasian Federal District

A duplicate (i.e., rival) issue of the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda was circulated on 24 September in the city of Mineralnyye Vody, carrying provocative articles spearheaded against the United Russia Party (URP) and its nominees for seats on the unified Council of Deputies in a newly-established city district.

“We have nothing whatever to do with this leaflet issued under Komsomolskaya Pravda’s name – it’s a crude fake,” Roman Lavrukhin, chief editor at the Stavropol office of Komsomolskaya Pravda, commented. “Evidently, ‘black PR’ specialists working for campaigners in the Mineralnyye Vody district have attempted to abuse our brand name.”

Both Komsomolskaya Pravda and the district election committee were quick to respond to URP representatives’ complaints by reporting the fake issue’s release to law enforcement.

Journalists barred from attending high-resonance trial in Rostov-on-Don

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Voroshilovsky district court in Rostov-on-Don has started reviewing the case of an attack on Sergei Morgachev, chief of the regional traffic police. The two men in the dock are Morgachev’s deputy Aleksandr Otsimik, the suspected mastermind behind the brutal beating of his boss, and Shaikhav Gajiyev, the hired assailant. Otsimik is also accused of taking a bribe of 2.3 million roubles.

This criminal story instantly became known throughout Russia, and its details were described by Aleksandr Khinshtein in his article “Cops at War in Don River Area”, carried by the newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets (MK). Many reporters came to the first news conference called by Morgachev upon his discharge from hospital after a long period of rehabilitation to hear what he personally thinks about the attack and how he assesses the MK publication. And they asked relevant questions, although the conference was largely dedicated to evaluations of the regional traffic police performance.

“You should readdress all your questions to the author; I never gave him [Khinshtein] any such comments,” Morgachev said while acknowledging the fact of his having had a meeting with Khinshtein.

“We did meet during his visit to Rostov; our meeting proceeded in the presence of the city police chief. We had a conversation, but I never said anything of what his article later cited me as saying,” Morgachev told journalists. Asked by the GDF correspondent if he had sent any disclaimers to the media or filed any lawsuits in that connection, the colonel did not say anything except that Gen. Larionov, chief of the regional police department, was among those questioned by an Interior Ministry commission from Moscow.

The results of the inspection of the Rostov Region police command do not go beyond rumours because no official reports have followed. Journalists look forward to the forthcoming trial which is expected to clear things up. Witnesses’ testimony is of particular interest – the prosecution has presented a list of 84 persons to be questioned as witnesses in the case. Yet the court has satisfied the state prosecutor’s request for the hearings to be closed to the public and press – allegedly because Morgachev the victim and his family are under state protection and holding open hearings may pose a threat to their safety. This argument, though, seems dubious: holding an open news conference is “safe” for the victim, whereas open court hearings are “dangerous”?

Actually, the judge was free to close not the entire trial but only those sittings where the victim’s family members could be invited (if this was needed at all). Clearly, the real reason behind the trial’s closure is different: the press would report to the general public the full details of this case, which does look unprecedented even if viewed against the background of other resounding crime scandals that have shaken this country all too often in recent months and years.

Children 404 group blocked in VKontakte social network, with kin website launched instead in Sverdlovsk Region

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

On orders from [media regulator] Roskomnadzor, the Children 404 group was blocked in the VKontakte social network on 25 September, and anyone clicking on the link to its website will now see a notice reading, “This material has been blocked in implementation of Decision No. 2-5816/15 passed by the Central district court in Barnaul on 7 August 2015.”

As is known, this website, which posted information about Russian minors with non-traditional sexual orientation, has been targeted for two years now. Until recently its owner, Nizhny Tagil-based journalist Yelena Klimova, succeeded in warding off many attacks in courts, including motions to have the site shut down and its owner fined (see digest 692 and digest 702). But the latest attack did hit the target.

“Regrettably, after lengthy consultations with lawyers, we failed to find any legal ground for keeping our community open. If we’d refused to fulfil the regulator’s requirements, the entire VKontakte network would have been blocked,” social network representative Georgy Lobushkin explained in a note on his web page.

But then, Klimova has already announced in her own blog the launch of a new online group of the same name: “The group continues working in the business-as-usual mode. We publish letters, give advice, support each other, and do not forget about compliance with existing regulations.”

Petrozavodsk city court leaders find justification for their colleague’s wrongful treatment of journalist

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

As a court hearing was about to begin recently, Judge N. Manenok of the City Court of Petrozavodsk reprimanded journalist Antonina Kramskikh for not letting her know in advance about her wish to attend the sitting. In reply, the reporter reminded the judge about effective federal legislation which had long since settled this matter by clearly stipulating that a journalist is not obligated to ask a judge’s permission for, or notify him of, his presence in the courtroom. Justice administration in Russia is open, Kramskikh stressed. Clearly angered by this kind of reaction, the judge said it was she alone “who establishes rules in the courtroom”.

Since Manenok’s actions contravened both the Russian Constitution and the norms of laws asserting the openness of justice administration – RF Code of Civil Procedure (Article 10.1), Administrative Code (Article 23.3.1), and Code of Criminal Procedure (Article 241.1) – the Karelian Journalists’ Union sent a letter to the chairman of the Petrozavodsk city court asking him to take a close look at the situation and explain to Judge Manenok that she is not entitled to set the pattern of working relations between the judge and the court reporters (see digest 723).

The reply message signed by Petrozavodsk court acting chairwoman M. Nosova puzzled the journalists very much. The message said that “the judicial proceedings were held openly, without any restriction on access to information pertaining to the case”, and that Judge Manenok asked why Kramskhkh was attending the hearing only to “rule out the presence of witnesses in the courtroom”.

This official reply looks more like an attempt to shirk speaking to the point: before the hearing began, as the judge was checking who was attending, Kramskikh identified herself – and this is what triggered off Manenok’s lecture on it being a “must” for court reporters to notify her in advance of their wish to be present in the courtroom. Judging by everything, this is still not the end of the story. All ambiguities must be cleared up to prevent a repetition of similar incidents in the future.

Bailiffs in Stavropol Region crack down on public official unwilling to reimburse newspaper’s judicial costs

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North-Caucasian Federal District

Three years ago, the regional newspaper Otkrytaya Gazeta Dlya Vsekh I Kazhdogo carried an article titled “Get Out of Here, Psycho!”, telling about a retiree from the city of Mineralnyye Vody who got an insulting reply to a complaint he had filed with the Presidential Representative’s Office (PRO) in the North Caucasian Federal District. The reply was signed by Tatyana Panfilova, the then head of the PRO Secretariat. The lady official instantly filed an honour-and-dignity protection claim against the newspaper, insisting that she had never signed that reply message to the pensioner and demanding 1 million roubles in moral damages. She never appeared in court in person, sending in her stead two expensive lawyers who, when asked by the journalists who paid for their services – the government or Panfilova from her own pocket – claimed to represent her interests “free of charge”. Anyway, in the absence of the claimant many important questions remained unanswered.

The judicial proceedings were dragged out for a long time, with Panfilova using the entire strength of district and regional “administrative resources” to her own advantage, in addition to the two lawyers’ expertise. Yet in the 12-item statement of claim she filed, the Oktyabrsky district court satisfied only one item: Judge Kochetkova, “based on her internal conviction”, decided that it was not Panfilova who had signed the reply to the retiree. Both the claimant’s lawyers and the court evaded ordering a study of the questionable signature by graphology experts, who might have made it clear whether or not the PRO official had had a hand in furnishing the scoffing reply to the pensioner’s complaint.

An appellate court upheld the district court’s decision, and bailiffs from the Special Executory Processes Division started coming to Otkrytaya’s office one after another – evidently because Panfilova, on three separate occasions, expressed dissatisfaction with the language of the disclaimers she had forced the newspaper to publish. The journalists succeeded in finding out and making public the name of a retired police general who moved the bailiffs against the newspaper as he would otherwise move his army against an enemy. After a careful study of effective legislation and common judicial practices, Otkrytaya staffers found out that judicial costs shall be payable by the parties proportionately to the number of claims satisfied by the court. This means if Panfilova won only one claim out of a total of twelve, she should compensate the opponent for its judicial expenses in proportion to the other eleven claims which were turned down.

The newspaper lodged an appropriate legal claim – and won. Judge Alexei Leonov of the Oktyabrsky district court ruled that Panfilova was to pay Otkrytaya 35,000 roubles in judicial cost compensation (see digest 715). Yet the PRO official has not paid anything since 21 May, when the writ of execution was delivered to the bailiff service.

The bailiffs behaved with unjustifiable “delicacy” in this case, writing out numerous notices to Panfilova but refraining from paying a personal visit to the PRO office.

That caused the journalists to complain to the prosecutor’s office and the chief regional bailiff, asking to start legal proceedings against Panfilova under Criminal Code Article 315 for non-compliance with a court ruling. Only then did the bailiffs forward the executory documents to the PRO accounting office for the latter to withhold certain sums from the lady official’s salary every month until her judicial debt was paid in full, with a 7-percent penalty for her failure to pay the debt voluntarily.

One of Otkrytaya’s numerous friends in the law community happened to witness Judge Leonov, who had awarded the judicial cost compensation to the newspaper, answering a phone call from Panfilova, who was giving him a good dressing-down for his having done so. She spoke to him in a high-pitched voice. The judge answered in a reserved manner that he had simply followed the law – only to hear “You will regret that!” from the other end of the line.

A law was enacted earlier this year introducing the notion of “extrajudicial appeal”, which refers to any attempt to contact a judge with a view to pressuring him into passing a certain decision. Anyone resorting to blackmail and threats, along with their high-ranking patrons, will bear criminal liability for that. Federal media have already started compiling a list of extrajudicial appeals to judges. Otkrytaya, too, has promised its readers to compile such a list, and PRO official Panfilova has every chance to see her name on it.

Court in Perm rejects ex-MP’s multimillion compensation claim against journalists

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Motovilikhinsky district court in Perm on 22 September turned down a legal claim lodged by Konstantin Okunev, a former deputy of the regional Legislative Assembly, against the UralInform TV broadcaster. Among other things, the claimant wanted 14 million roubles in compensation for the publication of his photo pictures taken during news conferences that anyone could attend.

The GDF reported this scandalous story in its digest 716 K. Okunev, director of the management company Dobrynya, is also known as the founder of Perm’s first shopping-mall network of the same name. Another firm, RS-Dobrynya, was registered at the former company’s address in 2014, with Okunev’s son, Igor, figuring as one of its co-founders. Since the beginning of 2015, the company has been shutting down its shops and firing personnel. In two live talk shows on UralInform TV (held on 26 May and 2 June), some of the laid-off workers pinned the blame for the shopping network’s disintegration on Konstantin Okunev.

The ex-MP on 10 June lodged a legal claim against UralInform TV, first demanding 10 million, and later 14 million roubles in moral damages from the broadcaster. Apart from describing the talk shows’ content as “libellous”, he insisted that the TV company should have asked his consent for showing video footage of his news conferences as well as his personal photo pictures posted in Facebook.

Attempting to justify the claimed amount of compensation, Okunev’s lawyer Victoria Butorina said during the 21 September hearing that as part of a budget-financed pro-governor media holding, UralInform TV “has been seeking to work off the budgetary money it received by conducting a harassment campaign against the plaintiff”.

“[It all boiled down to] ordinary people expressing their views in simple words, which they have every right to do,” UralInform Media Group Legal Department head Dmitry Kazhin said referring to speakers at the talk shows; he also cited the Facebook User Agreement’s clause on the free use of video sequences and photo images posted in the social network.

Judge Tatyana Oprya on 22 September upheld the defence’s position by turning K. Okunev’s legal claim down.

Okunev himself did not attend a single court hearing, evidently feeling awkward to press in his clearly inconsistent multimillion compensation claim – even though he needs the money to repay his debts.

The next hearing is scheduled for 14 October.


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Karelian MPs propose amending Media Law

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

Karelian lawmakers have proposed amending effective federal media legislation so as to add a few new notions and widen the scope of journalists’ rights. Specifically, they proposed introducing the notions of “a media outlet’s inquiry” and “a journalist’s inquiry” and, consequently, adding “…and journalists” to the phrase “inquiries filed by media outlets” in Article 38, and writing “a media outlet and a journalist” instead of “a media outlet” into Article 39 of the law.

To an outsider, the proposed amendments may look purely formal, which is not so, as confirmed by journalistic practices. Here is an example to illustrate this point. In Karelia, web news portal Petrozavodsk.ru correspondent Antonina Kramskikh, while fulfilling an editorial assignment, sent an inquiry to the speaker of the republic’s parliament, asking for information about budgetary spending on the housing provided for MPs and their families. Dissatisfied with the vaguely-worded reply she received, she sent another inquiry that again produced a purely formal answer. An attempt to turn to Karelia’s prosecutor’s office for help was in vain, since the oversight agency went over to the Legislative Assembly side, citing the Personal Data Protection Act as the reason.

Determined to get her professional interests duly protected, Kramskikh turned to the city court in Petrozavodsk, complaining about barriers placed by official bodies in the way of a journalist gathering socially significant information (such as the size of budget allocations for deputies’ accommodation). To her utter amazement, she lost the case. The ruling said in its operative part that Kramskikh could not be considered as “the victim” in the case, since information had been denied to the media outlet she worked for, and consequently, it was that media outlet as a legal entity which should have defended its interests in court, having first paid a duty of 6,000 roubles (which is only 300 roubles for individuals). Her appeal to the Supreme Court of Karelia was equally fruitless because the Petrozavodsk court’s decision was upheld as “fully lawful”.

Public debates in the media over this judicial dispute suddenly highlighted the fact that an individual journalist seeking to defend her professional interests with reliance on effective media legislation is legally unable to do so. Two judicial authorities stated that only the chief editor or a specially authorised staff member standing proxy to the chief editor can act on a media outlet’s behalf. This point appears to be unquestionable because the Media Law, while mentioning “a journalist’s rights”, actually means “a media outlet’s rights”. A journalist filing an inquiry with a government agency at his/her own discretion will have, as any other individual, to wait for an answer for 30, not for 7 days as is the case with inquiries from media outlets.

Further discussion of this issue resulted in the Human Rights Union of Karelia’s coming up with a legislative initiative that was submitted to parliament, proposing that individual journalists and media outlets be legally equalized in their right to make inquiries.

Deputies of Karelia’s Legislative Assembly supported the proposed amendments and forwarded them to the RF State Duma. If the latter says yes, that will certainly benefit all journalists in Russia.


NEWS FROM PARTNERS

2015 Andrei Sakharov Competition “Journalism as an Act of Conscience” continues

The jury of the 2015 Andrei Sakharov Competition “Journalism as an Act of Conscience” continues accepting works submitted for this year’s contest. The submission deadline is November 1.

The Andrei Sakharov Award “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience” is conferred on journalists for publications reflecting the authors’ active life stands consistently translated into their highly professional work, and for defending the values Dr Andrei D. Sakharov used to defend during his lifetime.

The materials submitted for the competition should have been published between October 15, 2014 and October 15, 2015 in Russian print or online media. Candidates for the award may be nominated by editorial boards and individual Russian citizens.

All materials must be submitted in print or electronic format (on diskettes or CDs, or as e-mail messages sent to fond@gdf.ru or boris@gdf.ru). Print versions shall be mailed to: Glasnost Defence Foundation, 4, Zubovsky Boulevard (Journalists’ Union of Russia entrance), Office 438, 119992, Moscow, Russia, with a note: “Andrei Sakharov Competition ‘Journalism as an Act of Conscience’.”

For further details, please see www.gdf.ru or dial (+7 495) 637 4947.


Letters

Dear colleagues:

22 October marks the 70th birth anniversary of remarkable journalist Larissa Alekseyevna Yudina, chief editor of the newspapers Sovetskaya Kalmykiya (1991-1994) and Sovetskaya Kalmykiya Segodnya (1994-1998).

More than 17 years ago, on 7 June 1998, she was murdered while performing her professional duty. Her killers were later found and convicted, but the mastermind’s name remains unknown.

She was posthumously decorated with an Order of Valour by a 2000 presidential decree, and a street in Kalmykia’s capital Elista has been named after her.

We, Larissa Yudina’s former co-workers and comrades-in-arms, hereby appeal to colleagues to pool our efforts in order to mark the courageous journalist’s birth anniversary with dignity.

Specifically, we ask you to support our appeal to the Republic of Kalmykia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism to open a permanent exposition dedicated to L. Yudina at the N. N. Palmov National Museum in Elista.

Sovremennaya Kalmykiya journalists

22 September 2015


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