Дайджест
17 Февраля 2011 года

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION DIGEST No. 511

February 14, 2011

 

TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Foreign journalist denied entry to Russia: a “technical” matter?

The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Luke Harding, who was returning to the Russian capital in early February after two months in London, was denied entry by Russian authorities and put on the next plane back to Britain. A man in uniform – a customs officer or a border guard – told him that Russia was now “closed” to him.

Actually, this is not the first time our secret services crack down on the press. A few years ago, Petra Prohazkova of the Czech Republic’s Epicentrum news agency was barred from this country for paying too much attention to the Chechen developments. In December 2005, Finnish journalist Wille Ropponen, who had reported on the situation in the Republic of Mariy El in stories published by the newspapers Ilta-Sanomat, Kaleva and Vojma, and his colleague Matti Posio of the newspaper Aamulehti, were likewise denied entry visas. A year later, Russian authorities refused entry to British journalist Thomas de Vaal, who linked the refusal with his numerous publications about Chechnya. Moldovan journalist Natalia Morar, who was officially registered as The New Times magazine correspondent in Moscow, was not allowed into this country in January 2008, as was Wazlaw Radziwiovisz of Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza in August of the same year. In September, entry visa was denied to Simon Pirani, the long-time chairman of the Freelance Group at the National Union of Journalists of Great Britain and Ireland. And in February 2010, the Russian Foreign Ministry declined to extend the entry visa for Jan Pazderka, a TV correspondent from the Czech Republic.

All those incidents were somehow or other linked to the journalists’ professional activities which Russian authorities disapproved of. Actually, denial of entry to Russia has become a kind of technology that is used quite regularly, although not too often. It may as well be noted that this sanction has been applied in a “creative” manner: some journalists have been lucky enough to be “exonerated”, regaining the right to visit Russia, as the GDF Monitor shows.

Nevertheless, the incident with Luke Harding is seen by many as a warning to those foreign reporters who still think they are free to write about whatever they like in Russia.

The Foreign Ministry said Harding had repeatedly violated the rules of foreign reporters’ work in this country. “He was warned of being in breach of the rules he had once signed,” Minister Sergey Lavrov said. “He had ventured into anti-terrorist operation zones and border areas closed to foreigners without security service authorisation, which facts he had admitted asking for his visa to be extended till May as an exception. We’d satisfied his request, but he had flown to London instead of picking up his accreditation certificate at our Ministry. So when he came back this time, he was denied entry.”

Well, that seems to be at least some explanation that is better than the haughty and “meaningful” silence attending similar incidents in the past…

Still, other explanations look more plausible. The Guardian, for example, links its correspondent’s expulsion with a series of his reports saying that Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin had turned into a “virtual mafia state” and a “corrupt, autocratic cleptocracy”. Harding himself rejects the Foreign Ministry explanations and sees the visa denial as connected with his professional activities.

At looks as if those who triggered the scandal have realised they went a bit too far this time. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said February 9 that Russia’s embassy to Britain is ready to issue a new entry visa. “Our position is that if Mr. Harding is planning and willing to continue his work in Russia, we don’t see any obstacles to that. All he needs is to bring his status in line with the foreign correspondents’ accreditation requirements and turn to the Russian embassy for a visa which we are ready to issue,” Lukashevich said, adding that “it’s only a technical matter that isn’t worth the hullabaloo raised over it.”

One may doubt, however, that this matter would indeed be viewed as a “technical” one if not for the “hullabaloo” the ministry spokesman referred to.

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Two Polish reporters detained twice over three days

Hardly had the scandal around The Guardian’s Luke Harding’s expulsion begun to calm down when another media-related incident became known: Petr Falkowski and Marek Borawski, reporters for the Polish newspaper Nasz Dziennik, happened to be detained twice by Russian law enforcers over three days’ time.

For the first time, they were detained while visiting the Logika (Logics) headquarters of the RF Air Forces’ Military Transportation Department near Moscow. Reporter P. Falkowski and photo correspondent M. Borawaski had been assigned by the editor to prepare a story about the Russian probe into the circumstances of the crash of the TU-154 airliner with Polish President Lech Kachinski on board. According to the journalists, they did not see any signboards prohibiting their stay on the headquarter premises, nor had they been warned against going there by a Russian army officer whom they had asked the way to the military site. The reporters caught the eye of a passing-by general who, after a brief talk with them, called the FSB, the Regnum news agency said. A few hours later the two Poles were released, but all the notes and photo pictures they had made were seized.

That, however, was not the end of their adventures. Falkowski and Borawski were detained again at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport as they were about to depart for Warsaw February 8. The police searched their personal effects in the presence of FSB officers. “We were asked if we had anything to declare, and we said no,” M. Borawsky recalled. “They then told us to submit any information carriers that might be on us, like photo camera memory sticks, PC hard discs, Dictaphone machines, etc.” The reporters’ luggage was thoroughly searched and all the equipment except their cell phones was confiscated.

The newspaper Nasz Dziennik maintains that the equipment was seized in an attempt to find out who had sent the two journalists to the Logika centre, because Falkowski and Borawski refused to name their informers.

The Polish Republic’s consul urgently arrived at the airport to help the detainees out. As a result, the reporters did depart for Warsaw, but their confiscated equipment was stayed behind in Russia. Authorities promised to return it in 20 days, after the Russian special services have explored the content of information stored on the carriers.

One may wonder what kind of awful secrets our special services are hiding away from Poland. Or were the Nasz Dziennik reporters detained “just in case”?

 

RUSSIA

Rostov-on-Don. Criminal proceedings instituted against editor

By Anna Lebedeva,
GDF staff correspondent in Southern Federal District

The prosecutor’s office in the region of Rostov has considered a protest brought by Alexander Tolmachev, former editor of the regional supplement to the weekly Argumenty Nedeli, against the institution of criminal proceedings against him on libel charges.

Tolmachev published a series of articles in AN and in ProRostov magazine he owns that accused V. Tkachev, director of the Southern District’s Centre of Forensic Studies (SDCFS), of producing biased and a priori false expert conclusions. “Mr. Tkachev, the incumbent chairman of the Rostov Region court, has opened for his son a private company (SDCFS) the interests of which he has naturally lobbied for purposes of pushing through with its help the judicial decisions he needs,” Tolmachev said in his publications. But as it turned out, the court chairman and the SDCFS director are only namesakes, not father and son.

The prosecutor’s office turned down Tolmachev’s protest against the criminal proceedings launched by the regional police department in response to V. Tkachev’s complaint. Its press release said that “an investigation is underway into the circumstances of the criminal offence committed”. Yet whether it was a criminal offence or not can only be established by a court of law.

 

Perm Region. Number of print media shrinks, that of online media grows

By Vassily Moseyev,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal Region

The Perm Region department of RosKomNadzor [RKN, federal service overseeing the sphere of public communications] has reported to the public on its performance in 2010. Among other things, it cited some interesting media-related statistics.

The number of print media outlets in the region continued to shrink last year; today, there are a total of 737 registered outlets – 56 fewer than in 2009. The RKN described that as a result of the scrapping of those media outlets that had not released a single publication for more than a year. On the other hand, the number of online media reached 253, up 43 from the 2009 figure. The news agencies also grew numerically – from 14 to 18.

Both trends are well understandable: the release and distribution of information by the online media (including news agencies) is less costly than by the print media.

The pattern of growth of registered media outlets is interesting too: from only 8 new media registered in 2008 (crisis year!) to 110 in 2009 to 114 in 2010.

Last year, the RKN checked 134 print media offices and found that only 10 of them observe the established legal requirements in full. The department issued 8 warnings and 140 notices of minor law violations.

It should be noted that the RKN department in Perm has sought to reduce punitive measures to a minimum, turning for advice in complicated situations to the specially established Scientific Consulting Board which involves scholars and journalists.

 

Chelyabinsk Region. Municipal administration, private owner divide TV company

By Irina Gundareva,
GDF staff correspondent in Urals Federal District

Municipal authorities in the city of Miass, Chelyabinsk Region, attempted a few days ago with assistance from the police to take stock of, and confiscate, some assets of the TV/Radio Company “Miass” which is co-owned 55-45% by the town administration’s Property and Land Relations Committee and the Gorchakov family, respectively.

Mayoral legal advisers are claiming the agreement under which the company leases municipal equipment has long since expired, and that the contract on renting municipal premises is expiring March 6, which means the equipment should be taken away and the company staff should be told to look for alternative TV studios. The mayor’s office has described the existing agreement, presented by TRC Miass general director A. Gorchakov, which extends the rent term until 2015, as “questionable” and declined to go back on its claims, sending each staffer a notice of dismissal as of February 17.

The company personnel rose up as one to defend their studios and equipment: without these, they would be sure to stay jobless. They have so far succeeded in retaining their property – even despite the presence of police.

The struggle between the administration and Legislative Assembly in Miass for influence on the public has continued for a long time. The mayor’s office insists it should be the sole owner of the TV and radio company.

“This economic dispute has been rapidly turning into a political conflict that not only undermines the municipal administration’s image but also calls into question the authorities’ ability to tackle problems efficiently in line with the law,” municipal council deputy Vassily Potapov commented. “The situation is negatively affecting not only the company staff but also tens of thousands of viewers and listeners in Miass. I think the sole possible way out is to stop all those raider attacks on the company and have the dispute settled by an arbitration court.”

Mayor Alexander Lyubimov’s systematic attempts to stifle the TV/radio company are evidently encouraged by some VIPs at regional level, Potapov said, calling the latest incident “yet another one in a whole series of questionable decisions taken by the mayor”. He referred to the establishment of municipal autonomous enterprises in to handle such areas as communal services, road building, cemetery maintenance, passenger transport, and garbage disposal, representing clear instances of federal law violations. “What’s happening around the TV company today fits into that scheme accurately,” Potapov said. “The goal is to deprive private owners of their property and take it under municipal control.”

The city administration, for its part, accuses the co-owners of the TV company of inefficiency. But failing to find a way of settling the dispute as required under the law, instead of turning to a court of arbitration for help, it takes steps to confiscate company assets. Is that a way to do business?

The mayor’s legal consultants said all the company staffers will be offered alternative jobs in the newspaper Miassky Rabochiy. However, it seems doubtful that cameramen, film editors, accountants, managers and other staff workers not directly involved in journalism will be able to stay there for long. Besides, it is unclear what the newspaper managers think about that all and whether they are well-to-do enough to afford employing so many new workers…

 

Moscow. Police prevented reporters from covering rally in Manezhnaya Square

By Dmitry Florin,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

Several thousand police servicemen and Interior Ministry troops had been amassed in and around Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square by the time a nationalist rally was to be attempted there late on February 11.

Several underground crossings were shut down, with only narrow corridors left for people to pass after selective searches and document checks. Youth groups attempting to break through into the square were detained and taken by buses to the nearest police stations. Besides, police repeatedly checked the documents of journalists waiting to cover the event.

As several more young people were being pushed into a police bus, reporters switched on their video cameras. The police command instantly reacted by ordering that they be “taken away”. OMON [police task force] servicemen rushed towards the journalists to press them out of the square. Questions about why the reporters were not being allowed to do their work were left by the police officers unanswered.

The GDF correspondent was twice stopped by the police for a document check-up – for the first time quietly, without any excesses. The second inspection of documents proved less pleasant: a police colonel followed by police agents in both uniform and plain clothes suddenly rushed at the correspondent from behind, seized him by the arms and dragged him towards reserve police lines.

Attempts to break away from the police grip were in vain, as were the assurances that the correspondent was doing his professional job in the square.

Once in the “safe” zone, the colonel demanded all the documents the journalist could produce. After a brief interrogation that included a few questions absolutely unrelated to what was going on, the GDF correspondent was released.

 

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited

Last week, the Glasnost Defence Foundation was referred to at least 15 times in the Internet, including at:

 

OUR PUBLICATIONS

Journalists turned bondservants

Continued from Digest 491-492 (Russian)

By Anna Lebedeva,
GDF staff correspondent in Southern Federal District

One of the most popular topics for discussion in the offices of regional and district newspapers lately has been President Medvedev’s rumoured intention to see through a reform of the state and municipal press. Word has gone round that he may go as far as prohibiting the authorities at all levels to perform as founder of their own media outlets. The likely consequences of this potential reform for the media are not clear: optimists hope that freedom of expression will reach Russia’s remotest provinces at long last, while pessimists are convinced that living in a province (the more so publishing a newspaper) and being independent of local authorities is impossible.

Evidently, what really matters is the degree of local media’s dependence on their founder – the district administration or, to be more exact, the district head in person. A week ago, Nikolai Kolzhanov, head of the Kamensky District administration in the Rostov Region, declined to prolong the contract with Svetlana Donenko, editor of the district newspaper Zemlya, who had worked in that position for 17 years and never been heard to be in opposition to the district authorities – on the contrary, she could be called an exemplary loyal editor. So why fire her just 18 months before her retirement on pension?

Asked by the GDF correspondent whether he had any specific claims to the newspaper or its editor, Kolzhanov refrained from giving a straightforward answer. “Her contract expired, and I had the right not to extend it,” he said. “Actually, I was quite nice to her, offering her an alternative job instead of simply telling her to go.”

The district head indeed offered the ex-editor a job at the administration department in charge of work with minors – but with a two-month probationary period, evidently to rule out any protests on her part against her having been fired from the newspaper. He then offered the editor’s vacancy to a former staff member of his administration, a lady who knows nothing about the press and journalism as a whole. Prior to her appointment, she used to read newspapers, and now she is supposed to edit one of them – in the process of “acquiring the second profession,” as Kolzhanov put it.

The way S. Donenko looks at it, she fell into disfavour after last October’s elections of the district head, in which Kolzhanov was running for the third term of office and did get it, after all. Two staffers of her newspaper – a proof-reader and a technical secretary – performed as observers for Kolzhanov’s rival in the race.

That’s the way “bondservant journalists” are treated – killed or pardoned, depending on the local leader’s mood… So what was it that President Medvedev said about municipal media reform? Or maybe he didn’t say anything at all, and the long-suffering provincial journalists only imagined he’d said something?

 

OUR PARTNERS

Guild of Linguistic Experts marks 10th anniversary

February 15 marks ten years since the establishment of the Guild of Linguistic Experts on Documentation and Information Disputes (GLEDID) – a well-known Russian public organisation and one of the country’s leading expert analysis centres that was founded in February 2001. The GLEDID is also one of the Glasnost Defence Foundation’s major scientific partners. Its founder and Board chairman is Professor Mikhail V. Gorbanevsky, Ph.D. (Philology).

The guild’s main goal is to contribute – by way of providing expert conclusions and opinions – to preserving and developing the Russian language in the national media, business sector and modern society as a whole, and to safeguarding the country’s information security. The GLEDID helps to protect Russian as part of national culture, science, politics, education and the media sphere. Among its members there are many linguistic celebrities, such as Prof. Y.A. Belchikov (Moscow); Prof. M.A. Vengranovich (Tolyatti); Prof. M.A. Grachev (Moscow); Prof. V.I. Zhelvis (Yaroslavl); Asst. Prof. Y.S. Kara-Murza (Moscow); Asst. Prof. L.Y. Kirillova (Vladivostok); Prof. S.P. Kushneruk (Volgograd); Prof. A.S. Mamontov (Moscow); Asst. Prof. T.V. Sirotkina (Surgut); Prof. I.A. Sternin (Voronezh); Prof. G.N. Trofimova (Moscow); Prof. V.M. Shakleyin (Moscow); Prof. V.V. Shigurov (Saransk); Prof. A.S. Shcherbak (Tambov); Prof. N.V. Yudina (Vladimir), and other prominent linguists.

The guild’s main function consists in providing expert conclusions as to whether or not a disputed text contains linguistic expressions of interethnic or inter-religious hostility, extremism, libel, defamation, or other instruments of abuse of freedom of expression.

The GLEDID assists media outlets, public organisations, law enforcement agencies, law courts of different levels, and ordinary Russian citizens in investigating real crimes and having balanced decisions passed on civil and criminal cases, as well as arbitration disputes. The guild’s active involvement in building civil society and protecting human rights in Russia fully complies with the provisions of the RF Constitution. GLEDID expert conclusions are always unbiased and well substantiated. They are drawn on the basis of modern methods of scientific research and in full accordance with the Civil, Criminal and Administrative Codes and the RF Law “On State Forensic Expert Activities in the Russian Federation”.

Statistical reports say the number of legal claims against the media, far from shrinking, has increased over the past few years, as confirmed by the GDF Monitoring Service. Last year’s conflicts involving journalists and media, which were settled with the help of GLEDID linguistic experts, can be divided into the following categories:

- Up to 45% of the total number of disputed texts published by print, broadcasting and online media pertained to civil law claims for protection of honour and dignity, handled by regular courts;

- About 20% of the disputed texts were sent to the GLEDID for analysis in connection with business reputation protection claims considered by courts of arbitration;

- Up to 5% of the disputed texts were studied by the GLEDID specialists in the course of checkups, inquests or investigations by prosecutors’ offices or other law enforcement structures, or in implementation of court decisions to find out whether or not those texts contained any verbal signs of offences punishable under Articles 129 (“Libel”) or 130 (“Defamation”) of the RF Criminal Code; and

- About 25% of the total number of expert opinion requests, investigative decisions and court rulings in 2010 were related to cases where journalists or media outlets had been charged with instigating interethnic, racial, religious, or social hatred or hostility (as defined in Article 282 of the Criminal Code and the Federal Law Against Extremism). It should be noted that the number of linguistic studies carried out by the GLEDID and other expert analysis centres throughout Russia has been growing from year to year.

In about 40% of the conflicts settled with GLEDID assistance, claims lodged against journalists in connection with their publications proved groundless. Independent studies showed that those artificial claims only represented attempts by administrative, political, financial or business groups, as well as law enforcement structures and individual VIPs, to put pressure on “inordinately active” journalists through unfair court sentences passed on cases opened against them on trumped-up charges of “social extremism”.

Apart from linguistic and scientific research, the guild has actively engaged in educational activities from the first days of its existence. Guild members are stating with satisfaction that Russian remains one of the few basic national values that unite, not separate, people.

The Glasnost Defence Foundation congratulates colleagues on their organisation’s jubilee and wishes them every success in their useful and noble work.

 

Law court cancels editor Olga Aidarova’s dismissal as unlawful

Statement by Saratov Region branch of Russian Journalists’ Union

The Russian Journalists’ Union’s Secretariat supported its colleagues from the Saratov branch of the RJU in rising up in defence of Olga Aidarova who was illegally replaced as editor-in-chief of the newspaper Balashovskaya Pravda (BP). The words of solidarity were voiced at Moscow’s international conference “The Future of Journalism in Eastern Europe”. Support came also from Boris Panteleyev, a legal counsel and expert with the RF Public Chamber’s Commission on Communications, Information Police and Freedom of Expression.

The editor was dismissed after a group of district assembly deputies attempted to get the head of district administration replaced in connection with a prosecutor’s office representation about his suspected involvement in corrupt schemes with the sale of land. Olga Aidarova was among the protesting deputies. Her principled stand and a subsequent publication about the scandal on the pages of her newspaper triggered a campaign of pressure on the disagreeable editor. She was fired the following day, with no one bothering to explain why, or ask the staffers’ consent, or coordinate the dismissal with the district assembly.

The news about Aidarova’s sacking caused broad public repercussions. Regional and federal public and political media, including the professional magazine Zhurnalist, came up with a score of publications censuring the flagrantly unlawful administrative decision. Colleagues assessed it as authorities’ attempt to revenge themselves on the editor for telling the truth, and to impose censorship on a publicly trusted newspaper.

Olga Aidarova, a journalist and editor with a 25-year record of work, is well known and respected in and beyond the Saratov region. A real fighter by nature, she managed to put her newspaper on the list of the region’s leading media despite zero support from the municipal budget. Having no orthodox political convictions, she and her colleagues have pursued a policy of neutrality and defended the interests of city residents by supporting only the healthy forces in their endless contest for top positions in the power structures of Balashov.

The State Labour Inspectorate, where Aidarova turned for help following her dismissal, ruled to have her restored in her position – a decision that the district administration ignored. The editor then filed a legal claim, but the administration, without awaiting a court decision, presented its own nominee for the editor’s post, thereby violating the newspaper’s charter which requires the editor’s appointment and dismissal to be made only with the labour staff’s consent. That signalled an attempt by the district administration as the newspaper’s founder to unilaterally amend the charter so as to prevent the staff’s further participation in decision-making on the editor’s appointment.

In the process, the authorities hushed up the fact that they have not paid since October 2009 for the publishing of official administrative documents on the pretext that Balashovskaya Pravda has the status of a municipal newspaper. For more that 10 years now, no allocations from the district budget have been made for the newspaper’s operation at all, and the editor’s repeated calls for changing the BP organizational and legal status have been ignored. As a result, the newspaper remains a de jure municipal enterprise, and a de facto self-supporting company that has been compelled to publish the founder’s official documents for actually no pay (the administration’s debt exceeds RUR 1 m now).

The Saratov Region branch of the RJU joined the others in urging the prosecutor’s office to assess Olga Aidarova’s dismissal in terms of its lawfulness. Many district and regional media expressed solidarity with their colleague in numerous publications. A group of Saratov journalists went to Balashov to give moral support to the BP staffers who found themselves against their will under an outsider’s command.

Everybody believed that justice would finally be done to O. Aidarova and that she would be restored.

[…] They did not hope in vain. The Balashov district court ruled to have Aidarova restored in her former position with her average wages paid to her for her forced absenteeism, plus RUR 10,000 in moral damage compensation, which amount she intends to donate to a boarding school for handicapped children.

The collective victory over bureaucratic arbitrariness towards a municipal newspaper editor should be merited to the Journalists’ Union activists and friends who rushed to defend their ill-treated colleague. But Olga Aidarova herself deserves the highest praise for staunchly going through all the hardships, lies and treachery. She did that not for the sake of her personal career but in order to defend human rights, freedom and independence, to reaffirm the journalists’ right to express their views unhindered. That is why her team members so readily supported their leader both in court and in their honest assessments of what was happening to the lady journalist.

In recognition of her courage and high moral values, the RJU Secretariat awarded the honorary insignia “Honour. Dignity. Professionalism” to Olga Aidarova, on which occasion we are sending her our sincerest congratulations!

Lydia Zlatogorskaya,
President, Saratov Region branch of RJU
February 7, 2011

 

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