31 Августа 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 766


Local MP in Karelia threatens journalist with violence

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

Lyudmila Shiffner, a staff journalist with the local newspaper Prizyv, has filed a report with the Lahdenpohja district FSB department, Karelia, saying she received a phone call from a man who threatened her with physical violence. She recognized his voice as that of Vyacheslav Velikodvorsky, a local businessman and a deputy of the district council. He called her twice from an unknown phone number - for the first time, to intimidate her, and later again, although she did not answer since she noticed the outgoing call was from the same number.

In her report to the Federal Security Service department, Shiffner wrote that the entrepreneur/MP had told her on the phone: "I'll make mincemeat of you!" That was a figure of speech, of course, but the conflict between Velikodvorsky and Prizyv has gone so far that journalists have every reason to feel uneasy hearing even these kinds of threats.

Not so long ago, Prizyv published an article shedding light on financial machinations allegedly practised by Velikodvorsky. Prior to printing, the businessman had approached Nadezhda Gongeleva, the chief editor, to warn her against publishing the facts the journalists had dug up. Yet the article did come off the press, and problems did start piling up for the chief editor with whom the district administration head, V. Vokhmin, terminated the work contract without explaining the reasons why. Currently Gongeleva is trying to prove in court she was fired unlawfully.

In that context, Velikodvorsky's phone call to Shiffner did sound threatening, and she was quite right putting the public in the know about it. In her report to the FSB, she stressed that she was being intimidated in connection with her work as a reporter, and asked for protection.

Journalists in Chelyabinsk go unpaid for more than a year

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Early in September, the Chelyabinsk Region Court of Arbitration is to review the case of ZAO ChR-Menedzher, the private legal successor to what used to be the region's oldest and most popular newspaper, Chelyabinskiy Rabochiy (CR).

The newspaper, officially proclaimed independent, has ceased existing, leaving behind 8 million roubles in wage arrears, and office premises which have been put up for sale for 15 million roubles. Yet no one has so far offered to purchase the building, and the 36 laid-off staff members have fewer and fewer hopes they will get their salaries paid, ever. They have not been paid anything at all for more than a year now, while the worth of their earnings has been decreasing because of inflation.

Word has gone round among the sacked journalists that even if an official receiver is appointed soon and the office building is auctioned off, they still won't get their money. Their pessimism is easy to understand: during the five-six latest years, the management urged the personnel to tighten their belts in the name of a "brighter future", which never actually has come, whereas the wage-arrears agony has been protracted indefinitely.

No longer believing the shareholders, the best-known journalists quit as soon as they detected the very first signs of this "work-to-rule", while the rest stayed like hostages, eager to trust the main shareholder's promises that life would "get a lot better", and soon.

After the newspaper was shut down, active debates unfolded in social media and on chat forums about the reasons why. Most agreed that the main reason was poor management - most unfortunate for the personnel in the first place, because the shareholders had the wage arrears albatross around their necks.

At one time, Chelyabinskiy Rabochiy was the official mouthpiece of the regional administration. One U.S.-based foundation helped the shareholders relieve themselves of ideological oversight and build a business model of their own - and all this for a minimum commission. Things started improving, and the newspaper purchased a printing house and took a loan from a Russian bank to buy an office building. The administration of the-then governor, Pyotr Sumin, equipped the offices with computers, provided monetary injections, and even supported some of the newspaper's independent investigations. The scores with the American foundation were settled in full, and CR became absolutely independent financially, economically, and in terms of its editorial policy. Advertisers started coming by the score.

There was a "but", though. Despite all of the above-described improvements, staffers' life did not become any better. Their salaries (which had notably shrunk in connection with the loan), far from growing larger, kept decreasing more and more, with no clear explanations available from the shareholders.

The paper continued quickly turning into a "black hole" into which the proceeds from advertising, the sold printing house, and the leased offices vanished irrevocably. Newspaper market experts said, you see, at a time when the vast majority of media were "on the needle" of government-financed information-support contracts, individual, relatively independent media outlets had a "slim chance" to survive. Separate successful projects were an exception, rather that the norm. To that, CR journalists responded by starting to cite managerial mistakes which indeed were numerous, whether deliberate or not. Many agree today it was those mistakes that resulted in a good newspaper's closure.

Media reorganisation in Maritime Region seen as pretext for firing disagreeable journalists

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

When Olga Ovsyannikova, deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper ZATO Bolshoi Kamen, suddenly received a "You're fired!" notice, she linked it with the publication of her articles exposing her city's bad problems to the frustration of local authorities. Yet her dismissal was "accurately" explained by a "reorganisation" of her media outlet.

Earlier, the company was officially called "Municipal Unitary Enterprise/Newspaper Publisher, Bolshoi Kamen City", but after it was liquidated, the deputy editor was officially sacked "in view of the company's liquidation," a measure that in Ovsyannikova's view was purely fictitious. The new enterprise established in its stead has been given the same name and assigned the same functions, goals and tasks - and moreover, staffed with the same team of workers - everyone except her, the journalist told the GDF.

Courts have passed decisions in her favour. A primary court has established that the newspaper's liquidation was purely formal and its rights and responsibilities were actually transferred to the newly-formed company. Under the law, a legal entity's reorganisation is not a pretext for terminating work agreements with staffers, so Ovsyannikova's dismissal was found illegal. The Maritime Region State Labour Inspection upheld that decision, pointing to labour and employment legislation violations accompanying the journalist's sacking. After she failed to get reinstated, Ovsyannikova turned for help to the All-Russia Popular Front (ONF)'s Centre for Legal Assistance to Journalists, and won her next case in court.

"She was reinstated in line with the latest court decision, she continues working with her newspaper, and the chief editor is fully satisfied with her work," ONF Centre Director Natalya Kostenko has confirmed in an interview for the GDF.

Social media users in Tomsk Region again fined for "extremist" posts

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Law enforcement in the city of Seversk, Tomsk Region, is always on alert. Last September, as we reported in digest 761 (see digest 761 ), two locals were fined 3,000 roubles each for posting in their social network accounts a Walt Disney cartoon about Donald Duck and fascism, along with two other videos earlier labelled by courts as "extremist".

Nearly a year after, two other residents of that closed city appear to have "embarked on the wrong path": the city prosecutor's office, at the request of the regional FSB, has carried out a check-up in the line of "compliance with anti-extremism legislation", finding that the two guys posted on their VKontakte accounts audios made by the rock bands Khor SS and Kolovrat which the Russian Justice Ministry had earlier added to its list of materials prohibited on Russian soil, the TV2 news agency reported. As a result, Seversk Prosecutor Andrei Yekimenko started proceedings under Administrative Code Article 20.29 against the two social network users, and a court fined 1,000 each, requiring them to remove the forbidden songs from their accounts.

Commentators on Tomsk- and Seversk-based chat forums have noted that "such stuff can be seen in abundance online" - suffice it to type in the names of the rock bands. Google, for example, will give you 117,000 links to the first, and 177,000 links to the second group, including audio and video files. Also, the musicians have their personal accounts in social media with unrestricted public access, where neo-Nazism is proselytized openly, without any disguise, both in prose and in verse. This is indeed puzzling, most commentators agree: since judicial decisions of the kind passed in the two Seversk residents' cases only stir up public interest in such dubious rock groups, because "Forbidden fruit is sweetest", someone "who has never heard of them will find the necessary links after such a PR campaign, to hear what their songs are all about".


Website about crime in Maritime Region added to list of materials banned in Russia

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Vlcrime.net, a notorious carrier of compromising and provocative information about the Maritime Region's political life and crime rate, has been added to the list of websites banned on the territory of the Russian Federation.

The site's chat forum was launched in the early 2000s at the initiative of Dr Vitaly Nomokonov, Ph.D. (Law), on the website of the Vladivostok-based Centre for Organised Crime Studies which he headed at the time. At first, the forum offered a pad for discussing legal issues, but several years after each Maritime resident knew that if they wanted to find some compromising information or learn biographical details about any regional celebrity, be it a politician, a businessman, or an underworld king, one just had to enter the forum. "We opened that forum as a discussion pad, but when people started using it as a place for dumping compromising facts, libellous info and other such things, we disclaimed our ownership in favour of others. When the forum came to be used for illegal purposes, we started receiving questions like who, what, and why we'd dropped it," Nomokonov said.

The chat forum changed hands, but it continues featuring numerous facts and information about the most high-resonance corruption cases.

Since 2007, the forum has been registered in Canada. Social networks registered outside the .rf zone are dealt with by the central apparatus of the media regulator Roskomnadzor, the agency's Maritime Region head Andrei Gubenko told the newspaper Novaya Gazeta vo Vladivostoke. "We have found more than 500 posts violating the effective Personal Data Protection Law. We've turned to the Sovetsky district court in Vladivistok which has passed a decision that has been upheld, and we intend in the near future to add that website to the list of those banned in the Russian Federation. Either the owners erase all of the above-mentioned personal data or the Russian [Internet service] providers will be required to block it. We aren't talking about a variety of other materials posted on that website; it was about Personal Data Law violations only that we went to law for assistance," he said.

Having remained inaccessible for several days in early July, the Vlcrime.net website returned to life soon, according to the PrimaMedia news agency. Its future this time remains unknown, since the political situation looks complicated, and foreign-based host service providers may turn a deaf ear to the decisions of Roskomnadzor and the Russian judiciary. The boundaries of freedom of speech are different in different countries.

It's no one's secret that the chat forum disseminates scandalous and compromising information, and anonymous "info injections" like these are especially interesting to the public during election campaigns, considering the general ban on anonymous information and "anti-agitation". So it remains to be seen whether or not the authorities succeed in shutting down Vlcrime.net for good.


Mass Media Defence Centre in Voronezh starts crowdfunding campaign to finance further work

Money raised in the course of this crowdfunding campaign should let the Mass Media Defence Centre (MMDC) continue providing free legal consulting, training sessions, and seminars for journalists and media lawyers, as well as releasing legal guidebooks and defending journalists in courts.

You are welcome to donate your money by clicking help-mmdc.ru .

"We did not mean to time the launch of our crowdfunding campaign to some special event," MMDC Director Galina Arapova told the GDF. "Over the years of our operation, we have made sure the Centre's work is useful to journalists. We are very grateful for the support we have received from media outlets and individual journalists. But for us to be able to continue operating and helping reporters, we need their support right now".

The MMDC Crowdfunding Project was developed with assistance from the Hothouse of Social Technologies, which has launched Skeep, a free website for collecting money. Anyone entering it can download existing reference books and manuals for journalists, as well as a cell-phone application giving answers to FAQs and featuring excerpts from effective legislation.

At first, many had problems with transferring money, but now that technical error has been removed, according to MMDC personnel.

The Voronezh-based Mass Media Defence Centre is marking its 20th anniversary this year. Its staffers work with media representatives throughout Russia. Every year, they pose as journalists' defence lawyers in more than 100 trials, and win nearly 90% of them. Besides, MMDC workers provide consulting services for the media, hold master classes and workshops, keep up the operation of the mobile-phone application and hotline for journalists' consulting, and update the database of judicial decisions passed in media-related cases.

[Source: Social Information Agency]

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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