Дайджест
17 Марта 2010 года

GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION DIGEST No. 469


TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Pressures on media grow routine

EVENT OF THE WEEK
Media-related incidents during elections

RUSSIA

1. Republic of Ingushetia. Journalists’ detention: an “ordinary document checking” or a kidnapping attempt?
2. Sverdlovsk Region. Election committee’s selective approach
3. Samara. Prison inmate’s legal claim against newspaper turned down
4. Chelyabinsk Region. Media workers get Journalists’ House of their own
5. Arkhangelsk Region. Secrecy veil over governor’s working trip

GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION
Some statistics cited

OUR PUBLICATIONS

Ferry operator challenges newspaper’s opinion as “untrue”



TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Pressures on media grow routine


Preparing to update our Glasnost Map, the GDF has circulated among its regional correspondents expert-compiled questionnaires to evaluate the freedom-of-expression situation all across Russia. Preliminary analysis of replies shows the media continue to be pressured hard almost everywhere, with statistics as gloomy as ever as regards attacks on media outlets and individual reporters, unwarranted searches of offices, censorship, unlawful detention of journalists and editors, criminal and administrative charges brought against them, threats, interference with Internet publications, denial of access to information, refusal to print or distribute media, and conflicts with supervisory agencies (which put pressure on media outlets by subjecting them to incessant inspections by sanitary, fire, tax and other services).

In most cases, those malpractices remain unpunished, with the sole Criminal Code article protecting the journalists’ rights (Article 144, “Interference with journalists’ lawful activities”) continuing to be virtually unworkable.

Some preliminary conclusions can already be made. Denials by government officials of different levels and ranks to provide information are undoubtedly the most widespread type of infringement of journalists’ rights.

Here are some replies to the question, “Have you come across difficulties accessing socially significant information (e.g. denials to provide information, purely formal replies, rationed-out information, provision of untrue information, etc.)?”

“Certainly! I have often received replies designating information as ‘for internal use only’ or ‘a commercial secret’. There have been purely formal and meaningless replies, too,” says a message from Krasnoyarsk Region.

“We in Kostroma Region have often had information restricted. Officials never provide any information at all to correspondents for the newspaper Golos Sharyui. A short while ago, the head of a municipal district very seriously promised not to supply any information to us at all, ever. ‘If I make a step to meet your information requests, I will be replaced at once,’ he explained.”

A message from Amur Region says: “Local authorities withhold information on any pretext whatsoever. Sometimes, they do not let reporters into administrative buildings to cover meetings or conferences.” The situation in Trans-Baikal Region is much the same: “In fact, we often come against a blind wall whenever it comes to requesting official information. They will cite some internal regulations saying that any administrator will instantly get fired if he or she dares to criticize higher-ranking officials. Sometimes, information can only be obtained through personal connections.”

The situation in Volgograd Region on the other side of Russia is no better: “All official structures have set up their own press services. Any information request will be ‘bounced off’ to the press service – and from there, back to the bosses. You really get sick and tired of going through those official channels!”

In Chelyabinsk Region, “There are scores of obstacles – from direct denials to strictly formal replies to the ‘hanging’ reception rooms on the city mayor’s websites. As regards the latter, you may work your fingers to the bone writing information requests – you will get nothing in reply. But the official reports do look beautiful, boasting of new IT achievements in the work with residents. Police commanders feel free to publicly declare it is entirely up to them to decide whether to meet a newspaper’s information request or not. Whenever you tell them it is their duty to provide information, they get really mad at you. True, sometimes they do reply – but in a way that makes you laugh: we ask a question to the point, and they start saying something totally irrelevant in a bid to save face. When we published one such reply, half the city roared with laughter!”

On Kamchatka Peninsula, access-to-information difficulties have become routine. “That is particularly true as regards regional administration officials who are afraid to say a word without prior coordination with their press service department,” a message from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky says.

In Leningrad Region, journalists continue to be divided into “insiders” and “outsiders”. The former get at least limited information; the latter are sent away or altogether ignored.

The sole region where the situation looks not entirely hopeless is Perm Region where, according to our correspondent, direct denials of information have been rare, though purely formal replies or attempts to ration out information are quite frequent.

Clearly, many are unwilling to abide by the RF Law “On Guarantees of Access to Information on State Government and Local Self-Government Performance”. This law, under which those guilty of information denials should be subject to disciplinary, administrative, civil and criminal liability, has so far failed to work, with very few officials fearing any legal consequences at all. Meanwhile, administrators’ brazen attempts to defy national legislation – specifically, the Media Law – have become a kind of routine practice and no surprise to anyone.




EVENT OF THE WEEK

Media-related incidents during elections


Elections in Russia are traditionally accompanied by scandals. The latest election campaign was no exception, with media, too, suffering considerable damage ranging from threats to censorship attempts to print run confiscation to the seizure of a media office.

The URA.ru news agency, for one, has reported that in the town of Asbest, Sverdlovsk Region, unidentified persons stormed into the office of the radio station Rekord late on March 9 to drive all the staffers out into the street and lock themselves inside. As a result, old news roundups were put on the air, with all stories about self-nominated candidate Vladimir Susloparov, the then leader of the mayoral race, edited out. Earlier, the radio station director Yevgeny Shabanov had repeatedly received threatening phone calls from the city administration demanding that any materials concerning the self-nominee be shelved. According to V. Susloparov’s headquarters, that candidate’s video clip was banned for show on local TV. Instead, administration officials attacking the self-nominated candidate were shown debating all day long.

In Murmansk Region, the management of the local TV/radio company decided – just in case – to switch off the city radio broadcasts to all the municipalities where elections were underway. According to the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, that was done with a view to preventing any Central Election Committee claims to the company in connection with what candidates might choose to say to electors on the eve of voting.

In Ryazan on March 12, an armed OMON (special task police force) unit visited the office of the newspaper Vechernyaya Ryazan. According to a staffer, Natalia Bashlykova, the visitors drove out almost all employees, searched the office and copied all information from the newspaper’s web server. The action may have been connected with the recent seizure of the full print run of a VR issue that criticized the United Russia party. The regional election committee decided that the publication was unlawful because it engaged in “wrongful” canvassing.

Finally, in Maslyaninsky District, Novosibirsk Region, a canvasser distributing the newspaper Moment Istiny was detained and beaten up. According to the Ekho Moskvy radio, the young man was carrying newspaper copies and leaflets calling to vote for an opposition candidate when a police patrol stopped him, beat him and took him to the police station. He was then driven home to have his apartment searched and the undistributed copies of the newspaper confiscated.




RUSSIA

1. Republic of Ingushetia. Journalists’ detention: an “ordinary document checking” or a kidnapping attempt?


By Dmitry Florin,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

Israpil Shovkhalov, editor, and Abdullah Duduyev, deputy editor of the independent magazine Dosh, were detained for a few hours March 9 by unidentified “law enforcers” and released, according to their own statements, only due to prompt media reaction to the fact of their detention.

I. Shovkhalov and A. Duduyev were returning from the village of Pliyevo where they had attended a rally of local residents demanding the release of a kidnapped person. They had an appointment with Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov which, however, they could not make because their car was stopped by a group of armed men who claimed to be law enforcement officers.

“They did not show us any IDs. At first, they told us they would take us to the district police headquarters for identification, but we refused outright telling them we would stay at that place and they might check our documents at the spot if they wanted – we had all the necessary papers on us. But they said we would have to go with them anyway. Again, they did not show any IDs, and their vehicle was without the license plates, so we said we would not move an inch – if something happened, let it happen there and then. They then started talking very rudely to us, asking questions like ‘What the hell brings you here? Whose orders are you fulfilling? Who do you work for?’, etc. They kept having words with us for quite a long time, saying they knew who was financing our work, and everything. Then another vehicle pulled over, with two more men in it. But they did not drive us away, although we had awaited that. Maybe they had just missed the right moment at the outset; the two guys who arrived later must have already heard that our detention had produced much noise,” A. Duduyev told the GDF correspondent. “When they first stopped us, Israpil had attempted to make a phone call, but hardly had he begun speaking, one of those men struck at his hand, the telephone fell down and cracked, the battery falling out. They instantly told me to switch off my phone, too. We obeyed because they were carrying guns. When the second car arrived, they talked for a few minutes and one of those who had stopped us said, ‘You’re lucky this time.’ And they drove away,” Duduyev said.

The journalists met with President Yevkurov, after all. “He kept asking questions about that incident and finally said ‘I don’t think those were our guys.’ He said there were many people in Ingushetia who were interested in behaving like those people who had stopped our car, and that very many groups had been taking pains to discredit him personally,” I. Shovkhalov told the GDF correspondent.

After the very first postings on the Caucasian Knot news agency’s website about the detention of the head managers of Dosh magazine, reports about the incident began to be instantly reprinted by other news websites, and phone calls were made to different authorities to ask about the fate of the detainees. Some time later, the GDF correspondent called Vakha Chapanov, head of the Ingush news agency Maximum, requesting help in finding information about Shovkhalov and Duduyev, in view of the phone of Madina Khadziyeva, press spokesperson for Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry, being out of reach. V. Chapanov said Khadziyeva had already advised him “not to raise a hullabaloo” because the journalists had been stopped “just for purposes of checking their documents” because they were mistaken for foreign reporters. Khadziyeva had also said “there’s nothing serious about it, and the media are wrong in being as noisy as they are because the two journalists are about to be released any minute now.”

It is not clear what the outcome might have been if colleagues had followed that advice. It seems they were right in starting to ring the alarm bell at once…


2. Sverdlovsk Region. Election committee’s selective approach

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF staff correspondent in Urals Federal District

One million copies of a newspaper issued by one of the opposition parties were hauled to the garbage dump on the eve of last Sunday’s election to the regional Duma.

That signaled the regional election committee’s attempt to be as nice as it can to the Sverdlovsk authorities once again. The official reason is the newspaper Khvatit’s publishing quotes from statements by the Fair Russia party leader Sergey Mironov who “has not taken a leave from the office and therefore continues to perform as a government official”, which fact rules out his engagement in any kind of electioneering. “The newspaper may only have featured quotes from statements he had made prior to the opening of the election campaign, provided the fact of his having made such statements can be proven,” the election committee statement says.

At the same time, local law enforcers did not take any notice whatsoever of Sverdlovsk Governor Alexander Misharin (“A leave? You must be kidding!”) having spent the past month touring the region and actively canvassing for the ruling United Russia party while holding number one position on its list of nominees for election to the regional Duma.

Evidently, while “all candidates are equal”, some must be “more equal” than others…


3. Samara. Prison inmate’s legal claim against newspaper turned down

By Viktor Sadovsky,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Samarsky District Court in Samara has completed hearings of a legal claim lodged by Mr. U., a tight-security prison inmate, against the newspaper Tyurma I Volya issued specially for prisoners. (U. was at one time convicted under Article 228 of the RF Criminal Code for the unlawful manufacture, keeping and sale of drugs, and sentenced to additional punishment for repeated commission of the same offense while serving his first term.) The plaintiff wanted his “good name” to be defended by the newspaper’s refuting its publication titled “They Are Masters of Their Own Fate”. He complained about the author’s “intruding” in his private affairs by telling the story of his second criminal offense, and demanded RUR 250,000 from the newspaper in moral damage compensation.

While examining the case, the court established that the article had been written based on interviews with U. and with another respondent. The author had also cited the court sentence passed on U.’s case. Testifying in court, a representative of the newspaper founder, as well as its editor-in-chief and the article’s author proved they had not circulated any information that might be deemed false or ruinous to the plaintiff’s honor and dignity; nor done anything like intrusion in his private life.

The court ruled to turn down U.’s legal claim in full.


4. Chelyabinsk Region. Media workers get Journalists’ House of their own

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF staff correspondent in Urals Federal District

While the Sverdlovsk Region branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union still has no official headquarters of its own, our colleagues in Chelyabinsk are getting ready for a house-warming party.

Earlier this month, officials of the regional Ministry of Industry and Natural Resources handed the keys to a new House of Journalists – a beautiful old mansion in Krasnoarmeiskaya Street – to delegates of what could by right be called as the most fruitful plenary meeting of the regional branch of the RJU over the 50-odd-year history of its operation.

The decision to transfer the building to the journalistic community had been taken by Governor Pyotr Sumin. Very likely, a plaque with words of appreciation to the outgoing governor will be fixed on the façade of the new House of Journalists in Chelyabinsk.

So colleagues elsewhere in the Urals – in Perm, Tyumen, and now in Chelyabinsk, too – have got headquarters of their own. We in Sverdlovsk Region are still cherishing hopes that have never come true over the years because our administration officials have not gone beyond empty promises…


5. Arkhangelsk Region. Secrecy veil over governor’s working trip

By Sergey Malov,
editor-in-chief, newspaper Velsk-Info

Arkhangelsk Region Governor Ilya Mikhalchuk is going on a regular working trip to the district of Velsk. For some unclear reason, this time the governor’s trip is proceeding in an atmosphere of utter secrecy. Asked by a Velsk-Info reporter where the program of Mikhalchuk’s trip was to be read, Alexei Yefipov, head of the district administration’s Organizational Department, answered without batting an eyelid that “this information is restricted”, adding that because of an “information boycott” the Velsk media would not be informed about the visit’s program, and the trip would be covered by the governor’s own 7-9-member pool of journalists. He did not indicate who had declared the boycott, or why.

When we called the regional administration’s press service, they told us there was nothing secret about the trip at all, and faxed us a copy of the visit’s program a couple of minutes later.

A close look at the program revealed nothing special about it – an ordinary working visit schedule. So we were left still more puzzled as to why make so much fuss about the pending event. Maybe by acting as oddly as that the Velsk district leader Alexei Smelov (without whose approval no one would ever have ventured to behave that way) wanted to set up the governor – or just to make himself extra visible in the media?




GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited

Last week, the Glasnost Defense Foundation was referred to at least 10 times in the Internet, including at:

http://www.rian.ru/spravka/20100314/213748781.html
http://media-day.ru/mixed/2498/
http://www.lenizdat.ru/a0/ru/pm1/c-1086872-0.html#1
http://www.lenizdat.ru/a0/ru/pm1/c-1086881-0.html#1
http://www.lenta.cjes.ru/?m=3&y=2010&lang=rus&nid=3222
http://www.lenta.cjes.ru/?m=3&y=2010&lang=rus&nid=3218
http://www.ruj.ru/2010/100309_1.htm
http://ismi.ru/vsg/index.php?IDE=9998




OUR PUBLICATIONS

Ferry operator challenges newspaper’s opinion as “untrue”

By Roman Zakharov,
GDF staff correspondent in North-Western Federal District

St. Peter Line, a company commencing as of next month to shuttle a ferryboat between St. Petersburg and Helsinki, Finland, has made public its objections to a series of media publications concerning its future activities. Paradoxically, the company maintains that journalists’ opinions are “not true to life”.

Last May the Russian government, supported by St. Petersburg authorities, passed a decision (No.397) allowing foreign citizens who are passengers of regular ferryboats or cruise liners to visit this country without visas. That encouraged a new attempt to launch a St. Petersburg-Helsinki ferry line following abortive attempts to do that a few years earlier by two foreign-based companies that had had to give up the idea in view of the unsettled visas issue and the low level of earnings.

This time, the operator company resolutely rejected the newspaper Delovoy Peterburg’s description of the would-be ferry as “a floating casino” hinting at a clandestine attempt to avoid the ban on gambling on Russian soil. “A casino is a regular feature of all ferryboats and international passenger liners, along with bars, restaurants, duty free shops and other entertainments,” the company statement says adding that “The opinion expressed by Delovoy Peterburg is not true to life and has no objective facts to back it.” Indeed, in contrast to a fact, an opinion is purely subjective, and it cannot ever be “true” or “untrue” in principle. That is why opinions are never considered from that angle in court. At the same time, this mixing up of notions is fairly widespread: in their legal claims against journalists, plaintiffs often demand that opinions – not facts! – be refuted.



This Digest has been prepared by the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), http://www.gdf.ru.

We appreciate the support of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Digest released once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.
Distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

Editor-in-chief: Alexei Simonov

Editorial board: Boris Timoshenko – Monitoring Service chief, Pyotr Polonitsky – head of GDF regional network, Svetlana Zemskova – lawyer, Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy – translator, Alexander Yefremov – web administrator in charge of Digest distribution.


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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