Дайджест
31 Декабря 2010 года

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION DIGEST No. 505

December 27, 2010

TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Editorial policy or censorship?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke live on TV December 24 to the heads of three federal television networks – Channel One, Rossiya and NTV.

He said, specifically, that “the [daily TV] news list must not differ dramatically from what is featured in the Internet and other media, which is just how it is today”. He also noted that the federal channels have lately come under criticism for “not telling the full truth, filtering information, and reporting only selected news items”. Asked to comment, the channel heads assured the president that there are no freedom-of-expression restrictions on Russian TV – there is what is called “editorial policy”.

NTV leader Vladimir Kulistikov said, “While leaving room for questions [as to its consistency] … this editorial policy is not a matter of freedom [of expression]”. Channel One head Konstantin Ernst, for his part, remarked that television freedom is only restricted by subjective considerations of people who work on TV, in which aspect Russia does not differ in any way from foreign countries. And Rossiya Channel head manager Oleg Dobrodeyev proudly stated: “Today, we enjoy one of the highest levels of freedom in the entire history of our television. I’ve seen different turns [in that history] to compare the current situation with.”

So have we, one may note.

And everybody knows all too well who is not to appear on TV for a long time; which themes will be either ignored or “forgotten”; and who will stay on the TV screen whatever might happen. That’s “editorial policy”, not censorship, to be sure!

Evidently, it is this kind of policy they were guided by in late November, when clipping out from Vladimir Posner’s analytical talk show the author’s following statement: “When the world watches Russia treating its citizens, whose guilt hasn’t been proven in court, not even inhumanely but inhumanly, who would think of complaining that Russian citizens come to be treated not always properly – rather, very improperly – around the world? My question is why Mr. Zhirinovsky and his likes have not been heard protesting against Russia’s inhuman treatment of its own citizens?”

In full accordance with that policy, both Channel One and NTV showed just a couple of sequences from [prominent TV showman] Leonid Parfyonov’s [highly critical] speech at the ceremony where he received the Vladislav Listyev TV Award – they left only his statements about Listyev’s personal contribution to Russian TV development and about Parfyonov’s feeling sorry for national TV journalism at a time when entertainment shows and soap operas clearly prevail over everything else.

So if we want to know the news, we turn to the Internet, and if we want to read a commentary, we leaf through a few newspapers we still trust. As regards TV, features that one may still watch without feeling ashamed are rare – because of this “editorial policy” triumphing there…

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

European court takes journalists’ side

By Galina Arapova,
Media Rights Defence Centre, Voronezh

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has satisfied the newspaper Novaya Gazeta v Voronezhe’s (NGV’s) complaint about Russian courts having breached the provisions of Article 10 of the European Convention by deciding as they did on a legal claim in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation lodged against NGV. The newspaper’s interests were represented in court by lawyer Margarita Ledovskikh of the Media Rights Defence Centre in Voronezh.

Back in 2002, the Sovetsky District court of Voronezh received a legal claim from Vladimir Sinitsyn, then mayor of Novovoronezh (Voronezh Region), his two subordinates and a representative of the organisation that had fulfilled a town administration order. NGV and its editor-in-chief Andrei Zolotukhin posed as the defendants. In an article entitled “The Atomic Mayor”, Zolotukhin had reported on Sinitsyn, his subordinates and the contractor company’s misappropriation of budgetary funds during the construction of a local stadium, as well as money transfers to the medical insurance fund, etc. The plaintiffs demanded a refutation and RUR 220,000 in moral damage compensation. The district court October 2002 partially satisfied their claim, slashing the compensation amount. A protest lodged by the defence lawyer was later turned down by the higher-standing regional court.

During the hearings, the defendant came across an insurmountable obstacle – the court declined to satisfy almost all of his pleas to have the administration present official – stamped and sealed – copies of documents pertaining to the case, while declining to consider ordinary (uncertified by a notary) copies of the same documents presented by the defendant – those which had given rise to the controversial publication. The documents in question reflected the results of official audits of the Novovoronezh administration’s spending of budgetary funds. By declining to accept uncertified copies as evidence, the court actually deprived the journalists of the opportunity to prove their right to have published those data. Besides, some of the phrases the court required the defendants to refute were no more than critical evaluative statements.

The European Court considered the case “NGV vs. Russia” December 21, 2010, specially stressing a number of important points. First, it confirmed that the theme of the publication – spending of budgetary funds – was by all means a matter of public interest. Second, the court identified not only the elected mayor but also the municipal employees occupying responsible positions in the administration, and even the contractor company fulfilling a municipal order, as public figures and entities that must be generally more tolerant to criticism – a significant point disregarded by the district court.

Of the greatest importance is the European Court conclusion that the Russian courts failed to give the defendant the opportunity to legally prove the accuracy of the information he had reported – a “must” in cases involving honour-and-dignity protections claims – and that this approach is at odds with Russia’s international obligations under the European Convention.

The ECHR directly stated that “the Russian courts refused to take steps to obtain the originals or certified copies of the documents referred to as evidence by the defendant; if they had done so, the outcome of the case might have been different”. Also, the Court pointed to the inadmissibility of having journalists defend in court against honour-and-dignity protection claims for publishing reports on what they deem to be abuses of office by administration officials for the sole reason of such officials not having been prosecuted for what the journalists perceive as anti-social actions. The ECHR determinations are important to Russian judicial practices on honour-and-dignity protection claims, particularly those involving publications on corruption, crime, and office abuses.

The European Court thus found Russia to be in breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and required it to pay NGV 866 euro to reimburse the amount once spent by the newspaper on moral damage compensation to the plaintiffs.

The case is very interesting from the viewpoint of media law and has already been described by media lawyers in different countries as a serious reinforcement of freedom of expression and press freedom in light of Article 10 of the Convention. It will give the lawyers additional arguments in defending the rights of journalists who criticise public officials for corrupt practices, acts and decisions that have not yet been qualified as such in court but are nevertheless sufficient to be critically assessed by society and the press.

 

RUSSIA

Republic of Kalmykia. Newspaper Sovremennaya Kalmykia takes over as Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya’s successor

The new name, assumed in view of some re-registration difficulties, should not change the newspaper’s essence, editor-in-chief Valery Badmayev believes.

An appeal to the readers in connection with the pending changes said:

“The newspaper Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya, established by the Russian Journalists’ Union in protest against the brutal murder of Larissa Yudina, was released for 12 and a half years. Its role in the latest history of Kalmykia, and maybe of the whole of Russia, is difficult to overestimate. It was as relevant in the late 1990s as it is relevant today. For many years, it used to truly reflect the state of things in the republic. Now it is about to go down in history. But life goes on, and political, social and economic problems await solution. This means we must continue highlighting those problems and bringing them to the focus of public attention. We, the staff of Sovetskaya Kalmykia Segodnya, will carry on our work as the staff of a new newspaper, Sovremennaya Kalmykia. We see the new name as meeting the demand of the times. We intend to preserve our newspaper’s essence, spirit and traditions, trying to do our job as honestly and thoroughly as we did working for SKS and as at one time used to do the late editor Larissa Yudina who was murdered June 7, 1998.”

Ryazan. Novaya Gazeta reporters barred from governor’s press conference

By Natalia Severskaya,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

Roman Sivtsov, deputy editor of the Ryazan-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta (NG), was barred from attending the news conference held by Governor Oleg Kovalyov December 24. A press service official told him if any of the NG reporters ventured to get through into the conference room, security guards would simply stop and detain them.

That was the first ever such restriction imposed on Novaya Gazeta. Earlier, the gubernatorial press service had merely tried to keep its events secret, inviting “insider” journalists only. Nevertheless, whenever NG reporters came to attend news conferences, no one would stop them from doing so. Six months ago, for example, the same Roman Sivtsov attended a similar conference held by the governor.

The newspaper staffers see the latest ban as connected with the December 23 publication in which Dmitry Florin, a former correspondent of NG and a nominee for this year’s Andrei Sakharov Award “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience”, asked the governor the following questions: “When will the regional media, which are paid from the budget for covering the performance of the Ryazan Region government, be allowed to criticise you? Why should taxpayers pay for the promotion of the governor’s public image? Why are the media not allowed to cover opposition activities? Are you responsible for the censorship practices introduced by the regional Press and Information Committee?”

…Defying the ban, R. Sivtsov came to attend the December 24th news conference. Showing his journalistic ID and citing the relevant Media Law provision, he attempted to get through into the government headquarters, but policemen at the gate said NG was not “on the list of those eligible”. They then detained the journalist and took him to the Sovetsky District police department to make a protocol on charges of “a breach of public order”.

Sivtsov later filed an official report with the police demanding the institution against the guilty persons of criminal proceedings under Article 144 of the RF Criminal Code (“Interference with a journalist’s lawful professional activities”).

 

Tyumen. Prosecutor’s office replies to GDF inquiry

Continued from Digests 496-498

The prosecutor’s office in the region of Tyumen has replied to the Glasnost Defence Foundation’s inquiry concerning the unlawful treatment of journalist Viktor Yegorov, who was attacked by a thug armed with a baseball bat and had his home apartment windows shot at by unknown gunmen last autumn (see Digests 496; 497; 498).

The document, signed by A. Pimanov, acting head of the division overseeing police compliance with procedural requirements and the rules of conducting criminal investigations, reads as follows:

“Your inquiry of November 30, 2010, concerning control over the investigation of the case of Viktor Yegorov, upon whom bodily damage was inflicted, has been considered.

“As we established, police station No.4 in the city of Tyumen is in charge of case No. 201005046/74, opened in line with Article 115.1 and 167.1 of the RF Criminal Code in connection with V. Yegorov’s suffering bodily damage as well property damage. Progress in the investigation into the case was reported to the regional prosecutor November 18.

“At present, steps are being taken to solve that crime and identify the perpetrators. No ground for the prosecutor’s office’s interference has been found.

“The prosecutor of the Central Administrative District of Tyumen has been instructed to take the investigation under personal supervision until a final decision is passed thereon. In the event of your dissatisfaction with this official reply, you have the right to appeal to a higher-standing prosecutor or file a legal claim with a law court.”

 

Maritime Region. Illegally sacked editor reinstated

By Anna Seleznyova,
GDF staff correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Passions have flown high since July in the city of Bolshoi Kamen, Maritime Region, over the sacking of Larissa Layd, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Vzmorye.

The district newspaper was established by the administration of the Shkotovsky District. On July 19, 2005, district leader Viktor Mikhailov signed a work agreement with Larissa Layd, hiring her as director/editor-in-chief of the municipal newspaper for an indefinite term. For the following five years, she worked well, receiving rewards and promotions but not a single reprimand. A conflict flared up for the first time when the founder ceased financing its media outlet’s operation. The region’s largest printing company, DalPress, repeatedly warned the editor and founder of Vzmorye of the need to repay their debts, and threatened to stop printing the newspaper. Layd’s appeals for funding to Mikhailov, district parliamentarians and the regional administration led by Governor Darkin were in vain.

After Mikhailov was re-elected head of the district administration for another term, he subjected the crisis-stricken newspaper to incessant checkups and financial audits, and finally issued a decree on L. Layd’s dismissal. While she was away on a sick leave, all the door locks in the office were changed, and the lady editor was left outside, with the dismissal order read out to her. The Shkotovsky District court left Larissa’s protest unsatisfied, but the higher-standing regional court cancelled that ruling and returned the case for review.

Finally, a new panel of district court judges heard Layd’s case once again, cancelled the dismissal order and reinstated her as director/editor of Vzmorye.

 

Kurgan Region. Trans-Urals media urged to hush up interethnic tensions

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF staff correspondent in Urals Federal District

At a regular meeting with media reporters December 22, Vladimir Sablin, head of the Internal Policy Unit of the Kurgan Region administration, touched on the topic of recent interethnic clashes in Moscow and St. Petersburg. He said it was essential for the media to turn public attention away from that theme. “You need to explain to the people that Russia has been and remains a multi-national country, and this is what guarantees its stability, security and wellbeing in the future,” the official said.

This recommendation for the Kurgan newspapers to turn a blind eye to a topic vigorously discussed in the Internet looks strange indeed, putting the press at the risk of losing its readership once and for all.

 

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

 

The GDF staff wishes a Happy New Year to all our Digest subscribers as well as to those who read our information only from time to time!

The next Digest issue will be released January 10.

Peace and good luck to all of you!

On behalf of GDF,
Alexei Simonov

***

Some statistics cited

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

 

OUR PUBLICATIONS

“Secret” media forum

By Vassily Moseyev,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

A media forum of the Volga Federal District was held in Perm December 15, focusing on a very interesting and important topic – ways of promoting interaction between journalists and public activists. The forum was attended by Grigory Ropota, President Medvedev’s personal envoy to the Federal District, members of the Public Council on Civil Society Development, and – as announced in the programme – “the directors and editors-in-chief of large and influential media from across the District”.

In real terms, however, none of the latter had ever been invited. The forum was prepared and held in secrecy from both the media and the public. Only six days later, December 21, did the regional newspaper Zvezda publish a commentary wondering why the organisers had not bothered to invite the heads of really influential media, such as the newspapers Zvezda, Permskiye Novosti or Profsoyuzny Courier, or the independent TV networks. Not a single district newspaper editor had been invited to the forum, although local newspapers issued in Berezniki, Lysva or Kungur are as good as some republican or regional ones. Most strikingly, the forum organisers were not interested to hear the opinion even of Olga Loskutova, head of the regional journalistic association who works right at the junction of media and public activities.

Maybe they asked the leaders of major regional public associations to attend the forum, you may say. No, they did not. They did not invite either the chairman of the Civil Chamber, or the head of the Grani Centre, or the director of the Human Rights Centre. They neglected the opinion of trade union leaders, as well as the leaders of disabled people’s, artists’ and writers’ associations. Instead, they welcomed the government-approved and government-supported chairman of the regional Public Chamber, Boris Svetlakov.

From conversations with colleagues in other regions I could gather they, too, had sent only “approved” delegates to the forum – strictly pro-government heads of regional Public Chambers, directors of TV companies, and editors-in-chief of state-owned newspapers. As a result, Perm hosted a gathering of bureaucrats representing both the public and the media community. Asked who had compiled the list of forum participants, the governor’s press service said that “the most authoritative personalities were selected in Nizhny Novgorod”, i.e. by Ropota’s apparatus officials knowing little, if anything, about real life…

What of if, you may say; let those bureaucrats hold their insider conferences the way they like – who cares? By doing so, they can do neither good nor harm to real, high-quality journalism…

Oh yes – they can do a lot of harm. Just think of it: people calling themselves government servants simulate vigorous activity paying for it from the state budget. They clamorously call their gathering “a media forum” and will be sure to report it all the way up the power vertical – but the very problem of media interaction with the public, as the study of the verbatim report shows, was barely touched upon – if it was, then for purely reporting purposes.

Another matter of concern is that in an audience of subordinates, everyone will eagerly nod to whatever the boss says. Perm Governor Oleg Chirkunov, for one, felt free to teach the forum participants what he called “the new trends in journalism”, suggesting that with the Internet developing as vigorously as it has, print media reporters may as well drop writing altogether – no one will ever read them today…

If the forum had brought together not pseudo activists but real representatives of serious civil society institutions and professional journalists, they would have been certain to ask the governor: “If the bulk of information is found in the Internet today, why allocate more than a hundred million roubles from the regional budget annually to promote the governor in person and members of his team in the regional print media and on TV? Isn’t it from the same source that he has paid for glorifying publications about him also in Moscow-based newspapers?” Why not post the relevant information online for the readers to independently decide whether to click on the governor’s web page or not – and spend the saved funds on tackling real problems facing the region?

Generally, the governor-voiced concerns were belated: the rulers simply have a very vague idea about the media’s position in Perm. The problems Chirkunov pointed to had already been discussed in the journalistic community many times before and the majority of print and online media in the region have long since opened their own websites and portals, and individual journalists their own web blogs. Most public organisations, too, have websites frequently visited by web browsers.

But who will tell the ruling elite about that all if it keeps talking to itself quietly behind closed doors? Or had the organisers of this make-believe media forum known everything at the outset but been unwilling to reply to those and other unpleasant questions?

By the way, the previous time the same Perm Governor Oleg Chirkunov met with regional journalists was on May 23, 2008. Since then, for the third year running, he has remained closed to other than the “court” press…

 

OUR PARTNERS

Russian PEN Centre’s statement in defence of Vladimir Neklyayev

The Russian PEN Centre is deeply disturbed by the arrest of Vladimir Neklyayev, a leader of the Belarussian PEN Centre, a prominent poet, prose writer and public activist, and winner of several professional and government awards in the area of literature. His creative activities are well known in Russia. A new book of his verse, “The Window”, translated by a number of Russian poetic celebrities and with a foreword written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, was released in Moscow in October.

A candidate for Belarussian presidency, V. Neklyayev was ruthlessly beaten up on his way to Oktryabrskaya Square in Minsk, where a protest rally was underway December 19. With a craniocerebral injury, senseless, he was taken to hospital from where he was driven away by unknown plain-clothed men. Another opposition presidential candidate, Nikolai Statkevich, suffered an attack too. A group of 17 protesters have been accused by the Belarussian authorities under Article 293.1 and 2 of the Criminal Code of instigating mass unrests. The group includes six former candidates for president: Vladimir Neklyayev, Andrei Sannikov, Nikolai Statkevich, Vitaly Rymashevsky, Grigory Kostusev and Alexei Mikhalevich, each of whom may be convicted for up to 15 years of imprisonment.

With reference to the International PEN Charter, which says, in part, that “…the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organised political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative,” we demand the immediate release of Vladimir Nelklyayev and his fellow activists, and denounce the actions taken by the authorities in Belarus – a state claiming to abide by the principles of democracy – as absurd and unlawful.

PEN Centre President: Andrei Bitov
Vice-President: Alexei Simonov
Executive Committee members: Lev Timofeyev, Yunna Moritz, Alexander Gorodnitsky,
Lyudmila Ulitskaya

 

RosKomNadzor discusses Media Law application

RosKomNadzor (RKN), the federal service overseeing the sphere of IT and public communications, held the first sitting December 21 of its Public Council on the Application of the RF Media Law.

Opening the meeting, RKN head Sergey Sitnikov said he expected the Council to professionally discuss outstanding media problems and work out practical recommendations on how to react to controversial media publications.

The first sitting focused on apparently unlawful publications on the web pages of officially registered online media. Since the passing of RF Supreme Court Decision No. 16 of June 15, 2010, “On Court Practices to Apply the Media Law”, control over the content of web forum postings has slackened, with editors required to delete allegedly unlawful comments only upon receipt of a relevant warning from RosKomNadzor. At the same time, considering the diversity of online media, effective oversight of web forum content seems difficult.

Glasnost Defence Foundation President Alexei Simonov suggested expanding the framework of the discussion to include leading online media representatives, whose recommendations, he said, “would be a lot more helpful”. His suggestion was approved, and a document was passed to co-opt onto the Council Mikhail Melnikov of the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations. Other candidacies will be discussed during the next Council meeting.

At present, the Council involves representatives of the Ministry of Public Communications, RKN, Prosecutor General’s Office, Interior Ministry, Public Chamber, Journalists’ Union, and Glasnost Defence Foundation, as well as a group of professional linguists.

The RKN Public Council was established to take, as a matter of priority, measures to prevent Media Law violations against the backdrop of a nationwide campaign to rule out the use of the mass media for purposes of extremism, promotion of the drug trade, pornography, violence and cruelty, and to thwart attempts to interfere with lawful journalistic activities.

[Report posted on RosKomNadzor’s official website December 22]

 

This Digest has been prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation (GDF)

 

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.

We would appreciate reference to our organisation in the event of any Digest-sourced information or other materials being used.

Contacts: Glasnost Defence Foundation, 4, Zubovsky Boulevard, Office 432, 119992 Moscow, Russia.
Telephone/fax: (495) 637-4947, 637-4420, e-mail: boris@gdf.ru, 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