22 Мая 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 798

17 April 2017


Newspaper Novaya Gazeta threatened in Chechnya

Earlier this month, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta (NG) published the results of a journalistic probe by Yelena Milashina and Irina Gordiyenko into the persecution in Chechnya of persons suspected of non-traditional sexual orientation.

The story caused broad public repercussions, especially in the North Caucasus. Specifically, Chechen presidential spokesman Alvi Karimov called Novaya's reports “libel and disinformation”, because “you cannot detain or harass someone who simply doesn't exist in the republic,” RBK reported. In the central mosque of Grozny, a several-thousand-strong meeting has been held whose participants adopted a resolution condemning attempts to “undermine the centuries-old basics of Chechen society and [insult] the dignity of male Chechens” and their faith. “We promise retribution for the real instigators, whoever or wherever they may be, without any period of limitation,” the resolution says.

Chechen Mufti Salah Mezhiyev specified: “The resolution passage quoted in the media is correct. But the meeting at the mosque attracted more than 20,000, not 15,000, believers. The retribution will come! Allah will punish those who belied the entire Chechen people and the republic's clergymen”. He added that the guilty ones “will be held liable in line with the letter of the Russian Federation law and will be punished by Allah”.

Novaya Gazeta also reported that presidential adviser Adam Shakhidov charged the press with libel, calling journalists “enemies of our faith and our homeland”.

Such a reaction could not but cause concerns. Novaya called on the RF government to take a closer look at what was going on: “Clearly, this resolution pushed religious fanatics toward using physical violence against journalists,” NG editorial board said in its appeal urging the authorities “to do everything possible to cut short actions aimed at instigating hate and enmity toward journalists performing their professional duty”. Notably, shortly after the appeal's publication the NG website became inaccessible.

Ekho Moskvy Radio chief editor Alexei Venediktov's reaction, as reflected on his radio station's website, was as follows: “The General Prosecutor's Office and Yuri Chaika, the Investigative Committee and Alexander Bastrykin, the FSB and Alexander Bortnikov, the Russian Guard and Viktor Zolotov, and the Interior Ministry and Vladimir Kolokoltsev - what are you all waiting for? While your E (anti-Extremism) Centres are chasing teenagers in rubber boots, an uncontrolled anti-state power has grown up under your nose, feeling free to threaten citizens of Russia! Or has it become so mature that you feel timid even to start a probe? Or is the home-grown ISIL so much stronger than you that all that is left for you to do is hopelessly watch them threaten and kill people?”

Speaking live on Govorit Moskva (Moscow Speaking), journalist Nikolai Svanidze noted that any talk about “retribution” or “Allah's vengeance” on journalists was a very dangerous trend. “We all know the fate of those already killed - Natalya Estemirova, Anna Politkovskaya, and we know how Boris Nemtsov died. He had been turned into a target for hatred, called a betrayer of the homeland and faith, and then he was murdered. I am afraid the slow progress of the murder investigation has made the masterminds feel they may get away with impunity. That is really dangerous”. It is high time law enforcement paid attention to how bad the situation has got, Svanidze added.

Soon afterwards, the Civil Society and Human Rights Development Council under the RF President urged the Investigative Committee to start criminal proceedings in the wake of threats to journalists.

The Journalists' Union of Russia, for its part, expressed profound concern that the text of the resolution can be taken as a direct call for a clampdown on NG colleagues. “With due respect for religious and ethnic feelings of all people throughout the Russian Federation, we are resolutely opposed to any attempts to threaten journalists with physical violence, regardless of the stand taken, or views promoted, by any media outlet. Law is the basics of any statehood, and any conflict should be settled in a civilized way within the law-ruled space. Censorship imposed through threats of physical violence is as unacceptable as censorship imposed through prohibitive measures provided for by law. We insist that competent law-enforcement agencies in the RF should pay close attention to this situation and take every necessary step to protect our colleagues from the ranks of the Novaya Gazeta staff,” the JUR statement said.

The Journalists' Union of Moscow, too, urged the authorities and law enforcement to prevent further threats to NG. Its statement stressed that law enforcers and investigators should see to it that journalists can perform their professional duty unhindered.

Finally, the Kremlin's reaction came - not from the law enforcers but from the presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, President Putin's deputy chief of staff, who said the Kremlin was “monitoring the situation” and had “received NG chief editor Dmitry Muratov's message” explaining what was going on. “We believe if someone sees a newspaper's publications as libellous or truth-distorting, there are law-prescribed methods of challenging [those publications] and holding their authors liable,” Peskov said, adding that other methods were inadmissible, because “the Kremlin is against the use of unlawful measures, the more so against those that might endanger journalists' life or security”.

Tensions seem to have scaled down after that: Kheda Saratova, a member of the Chechen President's Human Rights Council, explained that “retribution” meant no more than potentially holding NG staffers answerable for libel in accordance with Russia's law.

God (or Allah) help things develop that way. Yet it is indeed puzzling how “the letter of law” is sometimes interpreted in Chechnya.


Prominent journalist Natalya Yakovleva persecuted in Omsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

For a whole week (April 5-11), the websites of eleven federal media featured one and the same text titled “Uchitelskaya Gazeta [Teachers' Newspaper] Dislikes Teachers?” by Viktor Vlasov, a teacher of English at Secondary School No. 40 in Omsk, who proudly calls himself “a writer”.

At first glance the publication did look queer: it could not be classified as belonging to any journalistic genre or reporting any facts that might interest the general public. Nor could it be seen as a piece of fiction, so anyone reading it for the first time might quite understandably wonder why write such stuff at all.

The story dated back three years ago, when a prominent journalist and reporter for Uchitelskaya Gazeta (UG), Natalya Yakovleva (the winner of many contests, including “Journalism as an Act of Conscience”), urged the city department and regional ministry of education to check things with Art School No. 2, where her daughter went to at the time. The reasons to worry were serious: the 12-year-old girl and her classmates had repeatedly seen an unidentified man in glasses watching at close quarters the kids working in the open air. How could her mother - a journalist monitoring for years the rise in crimes against children's sexual integrity - have reacted otherwise? According to official statistics, the number of such crimes had grown more than 30 times since “the wild 1990s”, causing children's rights ombudsmen and the head of Russia's Investigative Committee to ring the alarm bell putting parents on the alert. Meanwhile, school principals and education ministry officials remained indifferent to the situation described by Yakovleva. Her daughter changed school and finished it safely this year.

With the issue seeming settled, “Vlasov the teacher/writer” dug it up in the archives of the website BK55 three years after, evidently meaning to fan anew a conflict long forgotten by both readers and participants. The title of Vlasov's article has nothing to do with its text since it mentions an Omsk-based media outlet's, not a UG, publication: from the fact of Yakovleva's negative attitude toward one schoolteacher and several municipal and regional officials, the author deduces that UG “generally dislikes” teachers.

But all those seem to be mere trifles compared with what Vlasov writes further: “How does Natalya Yakovleva's daughter feel today? I guess she is all right, which is good. Yet how should teachers feel about her now, no matter if she stayed at her school or entered a college?” The question is what he means by “now” - now that he has succeeded in publishing his lampoon on eleven federal websites (none of which actually paid attention to the “writer's” having considerable problems with the Russian language)? Moreover, he posted it also in the social networks Facebook and VKontakte along with the girl's photos and her full real name.

Vlasov “analyses” her drawing posted on BK55. “The picture is good indeed, and yet you feel like crying when you look at it. What if the child is prone to suicide?” Furthermore, he is well informed about the computer games teenagers play and cartoons they watch: “The author of this drawing looks like a geezer from a `land of mockery miracles', a mentally unsound illustrator evidently suffering from geostigma - a disease invented in the Japanese cartoon `Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children' based on the highly popular FF7 video game for PlayStation”.

This is Viktor Vlasov's public diagnosis to a girl he has never seen (nor is he acquainted with her mother, for that matter). His further thoughts regarding the girl are really disgusting: “The drawing's author likes watching anime in the `Tentacles” series - you'd better refrain from browsing online to see what it is like”.

But for this intriguing warning, I might have been too lazy to search. An adult person will find it easily, whereas teenagers won't need to search at all - they know these genres all too well. “Tentacles” are porn cartoons with octopuses.

Vlasov takes pains to pour all this dirt over a 15-year-old girl and her mother, attaching the opinion of an anonymous “psychologist” who believes that children growing up “in families like” Natalya Yakovleva's (with whom he has never met, either), they are exposed to a variety of risks, such as alcohol/drug abuse, suicide, bullying by peers, and a potential threat of becoming a target for physical, emotional, or sexual violence...

This does sound like a direct threat, doesn't it?

How could such a publication remain posted for several days on the websites of 11 media outlets, including pretty popular “patriotic” ones? True, a number of them - even if reluctantly - responded to Yakovleva's written appeals: some have removed the lampoon altogether, others have let it remain online with the girl's name crossed out; anyway, Natalya keeps all the screenshots saved.

In an interview for the GDF, defence lawyer Izabella Zolina has said she sees it as a targeted harassment campaign against the journalist and her daughter, with the ordering party, it seems, being some prominent VIP, because middle-ranking officials do not generally have such a powerful administrative resource at their disposal. The city education department evidently does not, since it has left unanswered Yakovleva's repeated requests to bring Vlasov back under control.

The real reason for this moral terror campaign against the UG reporter must be the recent series of her critical reports - about large-scale corruption within the regional education ministry involving the unlawful introduction of paid exams; the abolition of glasnost in the local media accompanied by the sacking of best district newspaper editors; and the illegal seizure of the Rassvet (Sunrise) Health Resort offering unique courses of treatment for handicapped people officially pronounced incurable. Those journalistic investigations were published not only by Uchitelskaya Gazeta but also by such news websites as Radio Liberty, VOmske, Krasnyi Put, etc.

After that, problems started piling up for Yakovleva: she was summoned to the office of Deputy Governor V. Kompaneishchikov (an ex-FSB official); local media and social networks began featuring numerous publications by pro-government bloggers about her “scandalous” and “venal” nature; unknown characters started calling her on the phone and knocking on her door at night... Having read Vlasov's publication, Natalya's daughter had a nervous breakdown.

Those trying to poison Yakovleva's life have acted according to a well-familiar pattern (which they tested on the author of this report some time ago, see www.og.com.ua); involving kids in these dirty games seems to be their new “technology”.

In the way Natalya Yakovleva and her daughter have been treated, defence lawyer Zolina said, one can easily see signs of the following crimes: threatening a person with murder or grave bodily damage motivated by political or ideological hostility (Criminal Code Article 119.2); deliberate medium-gravity bodily damage to a minor, aggravated by humiliation of the latter or the latter's close relative in connection with such relative's performance of official functions, by a group of persons acting in collusion and driven by political or ideological hostility (Art. 112.2); an attempt to persuade a person to commit suicide (Art. 30.3, Art. 110); and obstructing a journalist's lawful professional work combined with threats to resort to violence (Art. 144.3).

Moreover, those involved in the harassment campaign against Yakovleva have grossly violated RF Constitution Article 29 guaranteeing each citizen freedom of thought and speech and proclaiming freedom of mass information; Article 38 guaranteeing protection of motherhood and childhood; and Article 45 guaranteeing protection of everyone's rights and freedoms.

Notifications about those suspected crimes have been filed with the regional prosecutor's office, investigative committee, and police department. A picketing action in defence of Natalya Yakovleva and her daughter, as well as of family values in general, is to be held in downtown Omsk on 19 April, presumably attracting more than a hundred activists.

Media regulator practises selective censorship in Chelyabinsk

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor has resorted to censorship in its most selective and appalling forms, demanding from one of Chelyabinsk-based news websites that it immediately remove the 14 February 2017 news report about a man's attempt to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge into the local river.

The motivation behind the demand is indeed funny: “because this info teaches others how to commit suicides and contains calls to commit them”.

The site owner was ordered, within a day's time, to remove the report that had hung online for nearly two months - or have access to his website restricted by the Internet provider. Staff journalists, without losing their heads, replaced the news report with a note reading as follows: “The report is temporally switched off as required by a Roskomnadzor warning to Lentachel.ru; while being unable to cite the regional Search and Rescue Service (SRS) report about a man doing something wrong we delegate you to the SRS itself”.

“Clearly, we cannot restore in full what our note said, or what we allegedly called for,” Lentachel.ru chief editor German Galkin said. “What we actually did was we re-reported the main points of the rescuers' news report about the man trying to call it quits with his life. Notably, their report did contain the word `suicide' (which has remained hanging online up until now) while ours didn't. We refrained from using that word - and yet we are to blame”.

That report on a suicide attempt with a dying note in the victim's pocket has remained accessible on 5 or 6 Urals websites against which Roskomnadzor has advanced no claims.

Yekaterinburg officials limit their contacts with the press

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Yekaterinburg authorities have decided to hold the public at arm's length, as reported by the Ura.ru news website which said that as of 13 April the journalists' access to the regional government headquarters at 1, Oktyabrskaya Square, would be strictly limited to the second-floor lobby. Anyone trying to get higher would be stopped by security guards.

“No lifts available,” a navy-blue uniformed man said showing a list of accredited journalists. “The press is confined to the second floor only. An instruction to that effect has been issued by the government and gubernatorial chief of staff, Nikolai Chernyayev, and endorsed by Alexander Ivanov, director of the governor's Information Police Department”.

Ivanov himself, though, is insisting nothing has changed. “There've been no changes. The authorities are as accessible to the press as before. Yet with due regard for the existing access regime, passes for visitors are issued mentioning the exact office to be visited. Since the second floor has been selected for video reporting on government sessions, it is there that the accreditation details will be formalized”.

So far, accredited journalists could attend any government session at any floor unhindered, and visit ministerial offices given an invitation. The regime for the press performance started to be toughened soon after the Cabinet reform launched in October 2016. Well, evidently, double control over officials' contacts is a necessary measure: what if someone says something beyond what journalists ask for in their official inquiries that are expected to yield official replies?

[Based on Ura.ru news agency reports]


Karelia's acting governor Parfenchikov encourages government officials to stay in touch with people online

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

Karelia's Acting Head Artur Parfenchikov, who is an active user of social media, has lately reported in his Facebook or Vkontakte blogs without delay on actually each of his new decisions and each working meeting, often ahead of his own press pool's efforts to keep people informed about his work. Moreover, he insists that members of his administration follow suit by communicating with Karelia residents directly.

This kind of republican power's transparency is amusingly reflected in ministers and their deputies' eagerness to contact people online in social networks, promising to answer whatever questions they may have.

Parfenchikov too, as he was taking over as the republic's acting head in mid-February, appealed to social network users inviting them to write to him about their problems and concerns. Soon afterwards, his Facebook and Vkontakte pages, as quite a few bloggers noted sarcastically, turned into something like the Wailing Wall: the governor was buried under a heap of complaints awaiting reply. At some point, Parfenchikov himself blocked his own online pages, raising a wave of jokes about the governor's having “too delicate a nature to sustain the rough realities of life”.

True, the “Wailing Wall” was reopened shortly, with Parfenchikov citing a need to “improve the system of work” with incoming messages. He said he needed to install filters to prevent citizens' personal data from becoming publicly available online, which was against the law; that was needed because people wrote full information about themselves in their messages to the governor.

Now other government officials are following in their boss' footsteps; the second-biggest blogger is Karelia Prime Minister A. Chepik, who describes his social-media activity in minute detail.

It should be noted, though, that most residents like the degree of openness the republic's government members try so hard to show.


University students of journalism in Voronezh scan social networks for youth preferences

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Russian students mostly browse social networks for news and entertainments, rather than for social benchmarks. Ninety-two per cent of them are subscribed to at least one online media outlet, whereas “traditional” media websites are hardly attractive to them.

Such are the results of a survey recently carried out at Voronezh University's school of journalism (Organisers: Roman Zholud, Yelena Tyurina and Alina Morozova; Period covered: January-March 2017).

At the first stage, the researchers of online youth preferences analysed 300 pages in VKontakte run by students of 9 colleges and universities based in Voronezh. “We presumed that the VKontakte network was the main information resource for persons aged 18-24,” the research group leader, Assistant Prof. Roman Zholud said.

Students are mostly interested in regional media information products (with 36.7% subscribers), although only two local media hit the Top Ten. They seek info about local developments while not particularly needing too many sources. The most popular topics include entertainments (81.1%) and the news (49.8%). Male students clearly lean toward sports publications, female students toward women's lifestyle magazines. Both categories show some interest in educative TV channels, too.

Public, political and business media attract almost zero attention from VKontakte users. The survey showed that not a single student was subscribed to opposition media publications, whereas those of state-controlled media (such as RIA Novosti or Channel One) were in considerable demand. “Even with zero student interest in political media, this can hardly be seen as an indicator of youth loyalty to government policies,” Zholud noted. “More likely, it's because those media are well-known and actively promoted. Therefore, students, too, appear to be more interested in them”.

The researchers interpret the fact of public/political media's being of little appeal to student audiences in social networks as the loss of trust. “One can say with a fair degree of confidence that public media are not seen by those surveyed as sources of socially significant information capable of influencing one's social stand or behaviour,” the survey authors conclude.

“On the whole, traditional media products clearly and notably lose to other network publications,” they go on stating. “Younger users prefer `narrow' groups and pages. Traditional media embracing a variety of topics and featuring many rubrics do not seem attractive to youth anymore. Young users think it easier to set up their own news line, their `own media outlet' than to search for interesting publications in traditional media”.

“If social networks, messengers and other alternative info-distributing channels keep on developing, [traditional] media may lose direct contact with audiences altogether,” Zholud alleged. “Already today, as information passes on from media to reader, there are numerous alternative public sites playing the role of aggregators, filters, and collectors of links to media publications. This hardly means, though, that the media will cease being the most important primary sources of information: public sites are unlikely to produce original, high-quality content in huge volumes”.

The second stage of the survey will be dedicated to studies of students' interest in social networks' public sites.

For details, see mediacom.21vek.org.

Comments: roman @ 21vek.org, (+7 906) 590-0700 (Roman Zholud, head of the research group).

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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