9 Октября 2015 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 725

5 October 2015


Novosibirsk-based news website challenges Roskomnadzor warning

By Aleksandra Taranova, Mass Media Defence Centre

The Tagansky district court in Moscow has turned down an appeal by the Novosibirsk-based news website Sib.fm against a warning issued to it by the media regulator Roskomnadzor.

The warning, issued on 27 March this year, was about “the inadmissibility of using the media for extremist purposes”. Roskomnadzor’s anger was caused by a Sib.fm news report about a regional conference held shortly before, entitled “Russia’s Civilized Choice: Single History, National Unity, United Russia”, during which a sketch was presented, “Burn, Burn, My Candle”, illustrated by a collage of three men in briefs with the heads of Vladimir Putin, Alexander Pushkin and Jesus Christ attached to their bodies with the help of Adobe Photoshop. The authors, the Novosibirsk-based art group “Blue Noses”, has a reputation for producing provocative art pieces in the genres of video art, performance, and collage.

In June, Sib.fm appealed against the Roskomnadzor warning citing some very meaningful arguments, including: (1) The picture illustrated a news report about a past official event and was part of a reportage photo. It could not be viewed in isolation from the report because without the latter, it meant nothing. So the text and the image should be analysed as a single whole. As for the text, it did not contain any extremist calls; (2) The photo featured a piece of art – the sketch titled “Burn, Burn, My Candle!” This sketch has not been identified as an extremist publication, not been added to the list of banned material, and is available online for any PC user to read and download. So how can a photo picture of it possibly be “extremist”?

It should be noted that Roskomnadzor presented in court an expert conclusion provided by a scholar of culture, although cases of this category require studies to be carried out by psychology experts and linguists. The conclusion said the image insulted and disparaged the honour and dignity of those featured on it, to whom the “expert” referred for some reason as “important religious figures”.

The court turned down the appellant’s request for a competent expert study to be ordered. However, Sib.fm will not stop at that and will appeal to higher-standing judicial authorities.

Legal claim used as an instrument of pressure in Krasnodar Region

By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The newspaper Armavirskiy Sobesednik has carried a series of articles by its author V. Chernikov, who criticised the management of a local gas-distributing company, Armavirgorgaz, whose director, V. Galichkin, issued an order cancelling the 50% gas bill discount to which retirees were entitled in line with the federal law “On Veterans”. Journalist Chernikov thus attempted to defend elderly people’s rights by publishing his story in a municipal newspaper.

The prosecutor’s office in the city of Armavir challenged Galichkin’s order, and the city court declared it unlawful and null and void as of the date of its issuance. Yet a civil law appellate board of the Krasnodar Region Court cancelled that decision and turned the prosecutorial claim down. It is only due to the interference of a State Duma deputy, who got a deputy chairman of the RF Supreme Court to protest the appellate board ruling, that the latter was finally cancelled and the first-instance court’s decision was left in force.

This notwithstanding, the monopolist lodged a lawsuit against the article’s author, claiming protection of his honour, dignity and business reputation, and 100,000 roubles in moral damages from Chernikov. The city court, upon a close study of the case, did not find anything “smearing” or “libellous” in the story about Galichkin, and rejected his claim in full.

Yet veteran journalist Chernikov sees the gas company director’s legal motion as an attempt at obstructing his work as a journalist; he believes the court should not have accepted Galichkin’s claim for consideration in the first place.

“In this case, I as an author found myself under judicial pressure to keep silent in the future,” Chernikov told the GDF in a telephone conversation. “Actually, the claimant violated Criminal Code Article 144 which stipulates that ‘interference with journalists’ lawful professional activity by pressuring them into either disseminating or not disseminating information is punishable by law’. Russian legislation has had this article for more than a decade now but there hasn’t been a single precedent of its ever being applied anywhere in the country. This is why newspapers and magazines prefer to refrain from criticism whenever they find themselves in these kinds of situations.”

Newspaper TVR-Panorama to stand trial on libel charges in Karelia

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

The Petrozavodsk-based newspaper TVR-Panorama recently carried an article about Carbon-Shungite, a company extracting a unique sort of stone in Karelia; the newspaper hinted that the company was finding itself in dire financial straits and might even change hands shortly.

Carbon-Shungite Director V. Krasulin, who also is a member of Karelia’s parliament, saw the publication as compromising and lodged a legal claim with a court of arbitration against PetroPress Publishers’, the owner of TVR-Panorama, demanding a disclaimer of the untrue information disseminated.

In his statement of claim, he analyzed the facts cited in the newspaper and refuted each of them. Specifically, he produced documents showing that the level of wages in his company had remained stable; the volume of extracted raw stone had remained unchanged, etc. Krasulin decided to sue fearing that the inaccurate information reported by TVR-Panorama might reach his business partners, thereby harming his company. He wanted to find out who might be interested in circulating falsehoods about his business. At the same time, Krasulin did not resolutely deny the possibility of Carbon-Shungite’s sale to a new owner in the near future.

All the company wants for now is only a disclaimer.


Chief editor of Charter97.org news portal threatened with murder

The human rights group Territoriya Prav (Rule-of-Law Territory) was the first to report that Nikita Naglin and Tamara Balakina (who were present during an opposition rally on 23 September) likely were police or special service undercover agents. Journalists generally trust information reported by this rights group, whose activists cooperate with the human rights centre Vyasna.

The activists wrote that the two persons had repeatedly been seen appearing toward the end of protest actions and provoking conflicts. After the report with links to related stories was posted on the Charter97.org website, its chief editor Natalya Radina started receiving Facebook messages with threats from Nikita Naglin, reading as follows: “Cross yourself! You’ll see the same things done to you that used to be done to mediaeval witches”, and “Radina… You and your puppies will be held answerable for everything you’ve done. Here’s a piece of advice to you: stay where you are in Poland and never venture to come back home!”

None of the two asked the newspaper to remove the report from the website or publish a disclaimer – they immediately started writing threatening messages.

“On the eve of any ‘election’ in Belarus, Charter97.org always becomes a target for harassment and threats, its staffers start receiving subpoenas to courts, and criminal charges are advanced against the website,” Radina said in a statement. “During the previous ‘election campaign’, a whole three criminal cases were opened against us at once; journalists received threats; our Minsk office was raided; Oleg Bebenin, the founder of Charter97.org, was killed; and I found myself behind bars. Therefore, I take the threats from the man who calls himself Naglin more than seriously. I am puzzled to see some of apparently independent media unleashing a harassment campaign against the Charter website, instead of expressing journalistic solidarity. Yet I can assure you that we will carry on with our work and continue telling the truth about what’s going on in Belarus.”

[Charter97 report, 30 September]


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

Journalists’ deaths – 1 (Irina Ostashchenko, journalist and executive editor, news portal RuInformer.com, Sevastopol)

Attacks on journalists and bloggers – 3 (REN TV film crew, Moscow Region; blogger Semyon Isayev, attacked in Krasnoyarsk; LifeNews film crew, Moscow)

Instances of censorship – 5 (Telemix channel, Maritime Terion; newspapers in Obninsk, Kaluga Region; media in Crimea; Channel One, Moscow; web radio of All-Russia Blind People’s Society, Moscow)

Criminal charges against journalists, media and bloggers – 1 (blogger Aleksandr Bashlykov, Kirov)

Illegal sacking of editor/journalist – 4 (Darya Polygayeva, journalist, Kommersant FM radio station, Moscow; Andrei Konyakhin, chief editor, Kommersant website, Moscow; Vladislav Vdovin, chief editor, Life78 TV channel, St. Petersburg; Oleg Shevkun, chief editor, web radio of All-Russia Blind People’s Society, Moscow)

Detention by police, FSB, etc. – 6 (Dmitry Tkachov, editor, Mediazona web portal, Moscow; Mikhail Borbotkin, freelance journalist, Moscow; Timur Kondrashov and Timur Sharipov, newspaper Pravda correspondents, Rostov-on-Don; Filipp Kireyev, journalist, Govorit Moskva radio station, Moscow; Viktor Smirnov, journalist, 47news portal, Leningrad Region)

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.) – 45

Closure of media – 3 (newspapers Smena, Vecherny Peterburg and Nevskoye Vremya – all based in St. Petersburg)

Withdrawal, purchase or confiscation of print run – 5 (newspaper Baikalskiye Vesti, Irkutsk; newspaper Baikalskiye Vesti, Irkutsk Region; newspaper Smolenskaya Narodnaya Gazeta, Smolensk; newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, Pskov; newspaper Chas Pik, Kaluga Region)

Release of duplicate (i.e., rival) publications – 2 (newspaper Smolenskaya Narodnaya Gazeta, Smolensk – in August; newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Stavropol Region)

Seizure of, or damage to, photo, video and audio apparatus and computers – 1 (camcorder of REN TV channel, Moscow Region)

Administrative pressure (sudden inspections by sanitary, fire, tax inspectors, etc.) – 1 (SeverPost news agency, Murmansk)

Other forms of pressure/infringement of journalists’ rights – 29


Media holding in Perm warned about inadmissibility of abusing press freedom

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Perm Region Court on 30 September confirmed the lawfulness of a warning earlier issued by the media regulator Roskomnadzor to ActivMedia Holding, owner of the newspaper V Kurse-Perm. This publication, distributed in 280,000 copies free of charge, carried a story last winter that described the tragic death of a local schoolboy, disclosing his first name, class and school numbers, and the name, profession and academic degree of his father.

The V Kurse-Perm issue dated 19 February exploded with a sensational headline: “Gunshot at School”, followed by a text titled “Crushed Hopes”, supplying details about suicide committed by a senior pupil of a prestigious high school. The only missing details were the victim’s surname and his home address. The regional department of Roskomnadzor saw the publication as a violation of Article 3 of the RF Law “On Personal Data” and Article 4 of the RF Law “On the Media”. The oversight agency on 13 March officially warned ActivMedia about the inadmissibility of press freedom abuses in the form of “disclosure of data constituting secrets specially protected by law”. The warning said the newspaper had failed to get the consent of the dead teenager’s authorised representatives to its processing of his personal data.

ActivMedia on 22 April turned to the Leninsky district court in Perm to challenge the media regulator’s warning. The court decided that no disclosure of personal data had taken place because the story did not mention the victim’s surname or home address.

Three months later, the higher-standing regional court cancelled that decision and ruled to reject the appeal on the strength of Roskomnadzor representative Anatoly Ustyuzhanin’s statement made during the hearing of arguments on 30 September: “Impersonality occurs where you can’t identify a person without additional data. [But here we read that the boy was] from this particular class at this particular school… His father’s place of work was disclosed, too… All this information could be directly related to Maksim, a pupil of High School No.22 teaching a number of subjects in French.”

As is known, Article 41 of the RF Media Law prohibits the disclosure of data directly or indirectly identifying a minor delinquent without the consent of such delinquent and his lawful representative. The late teenager from Perm will never be able to talk to journalists in person anymore. Against the background of this irreparable tragedy, the words ActivMedia representatives said in the Leninsky district court back on 30 June sounded particularly cynical:

“None of the heirs have filed any complaints,” lawyer Svetlana Dolishnyaya stated. “That the [victim’s] relatives have no claims is the best possible recognition of our work quality,” lawyer Dmitry Berezin said.

ActivMedia is controlled by Perm Region Legislative Assembly member Dmitry Skrivanov of the United Russia party faction. He calls his media outlet a business project. Readers have dubbed V Kurse-Perm “a bulletin of blood and tears”.


Mass Media Defence Centre holds seminar on media ethics

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

An unusual seminar on media ethics was held at the House of Journalists in Voronezh on 28 September. The attendees, among them working reporters and students of journalism, tried on the roles of members of the Public Board on Complaints about the Press.

Prominent media ethics specialist Yuri Kazakov, a deputy chairman of the Board, read out a complaint filed in the wake of a Rossiyskaya Gazeta publication by a woman from the Tula Region who was hurt to see a report about dead bodies found at a bus stop posted on the newspaper’s website next to a photo that had nothing to do with that incident. In her view, the publication was damaging to the reputation of the person featured on the photo, while the readers were misled and misinformed.

Karine Nazaretyan, a media ethics researcher, provided an expert opinion while calling the trainees’ attention to the virtual absence in Russian codes of ethics of recommendations concerning the use of photo images. That is why she had had to analyze this case with reliance on principles accepted in western media communities, she said.

The seminar participants, among them Lev Lazarenko, Rossiyskaya Gazeta chief editor for the Central Federal District, were asked to vote whether or not the complaint should be submitted to the Media Complaints Board for scrutiny, particularly considering that the newspaper had already apologized to its readers for the improper use of the photo. The voting produced mixed results, while Galina Arapova, Mass Media Defence Centre director and a member of the Complaints Board, said she saw this more as a legal, rather than an ethical, problem.

Having analyzed the complaint, the trainees discussed some general issues of professional “photo ethics” and watched a short documentary, “A Hundredth of a Second”, pertaining to the topic.

The seminar was organised by the Mass Media Defence Centre with support from the Voronezh Region administration.

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.


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