Дайджест21 Марта 2012 года
Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 562
19 March 2012
Topic of the week
Glasnost defence foundation
TOPIC OF THE WEEK
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF) on 12 March released its annual “Enemies of the Internet” report describing 2011 as a year of unparalleled repressions against netizens. Worldwide, “at least 199 cases of (blogger) arrests were recorded in 2011,” the report said, pointing to increasingly frequent use of the web for propaganda purposes, as well as access restrictions and content filtering, as other examples of government attempts to control the Internet.
Twelve countries are on the “Internet enemies” list, including Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
In Uzbekistan, for example, the authorities have used any means available to stifle debates about the Arab Spring; and in Belarus, which has been added to the enemies list this year, the Lukashenko regime has been strengthening its grip on the web. “The Internet – a mobilisation and information platform – has received the full brunt of the authorities’ brutal crackdown on the opposition” as their reaction to the “Revolution Through Social Networks” movement, the report said. The number of blocked-off sites grew, as did that of arrests among Belarussian bloggers and web users; many netizens were invited to “preventive conversations” with law enforcers, who required them to stop supporting protest actions.
The RSF also published a list of countries “under surveillance”, where authorities have tried to put pressure on freedom of expression in the Internet. Russia is on the list together with 13 other countries, including Australia, Egypt, Eritrea, France, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.
“Even before and during the legislative elections in Russia, debates had been hindered by cyber-attacks and by the arrests of journalists and bloggers” with a view to stifling “genuine political discussions” that “have been possible only online”, the report said, citing as examples the DDoS (distributed denials of service) attacks on the websites of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, Kommersant newspaper, election-fraud monitoring Golos Association and LiveJournal social network; and the detention of bloggers in Moscow and in different other regions across Russia.
By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal district
In January, activists in Severo-Kurilsk staged a public rally – the first in the past 25 years; people came to the city’s central square despite a snowstorm to support local parliamentarians’ initiative to have Acting Mayor Daniil Granin replaced.
Two days after, two action participants who had held a placard reading, “Time to reshuffle the Severo-Kurilsk police command!”, were summoned to the police for questioning, and then one of the rally organisers, Alexander Chernega, editor of the Paramushir Vesti newspaper, was charged with breaching the federal law “On Meetings, Rallies, Demonstrations, Street Marches and Picketing Actions” by using a placard that allegedly was not consistent with the rally’s goals and objectives.
Speaking in court, Chernega rejected those charges and told the judge about a variety of law violations that had led to the writing of the placard and the holding of the rally. Acting Mayor Granin, he said, had long denied the activists authorisation to rally for his replacement, and it had taken two trials and the issuance of a writ of execution to finally get his consent to the public action. The rally participants adopted a resolution condemning unbridled corruption that has occurred in the district against a background of total inaction by the police; they appealed to President Medvedev to replace Granin and take the city under external control. Speakers recalled Granin’s attempt to rape a female administration official, and his firing shots from a traumatic pistol in public. The police had neither found any cartridge cases nor determined the pistol model at the time, and had left the acting mayor unpunished for drunk driving. When Chernega urged the police to investigate the alleged misuse of budgetary funds in connection with Granin’s mysterious disappearance from office for 133 days, the local police chief declined to start criminal proceedings, causing the city public to frown at him for his appalling inaction.
The Rallies Law, Chernega said, does not regulate the number or content of placards and transparencies to be held by activists, and allows the use of any symbols and means of agitation not prohibited under the law. The journalist had held the “police reshuffle” placard throughout the rally before folding and putting it away into his car’s trunk after the action. At that moment, two policemen had approached him asking to give them the placard “as a gift” – only to frame up a criminal case against him a couple of days later, based on police officer Mukhortov’s report about “a group of activists hiding away the placard they were holding each time I walked up to them”. Chernega disproved this falsehood by presenting a full video recording of the rally, made by a security camera installed on the building near which the public action was proceeding. He dismissed the trumped-up charges brought in against him, describing them as “someone’s revenge for my critical publications”.
As we have reported, Chernega, editor of Sakhalin Island’s sole independent newspaper, was beaten up by unknown attackers last year, which caused the Board of the regional branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union to urge the governor and the regional police commander to have the assault fully investigated. Today, the investigation is frozen in view of no suspects identified.
In passing his decision in this administrative case, district justice of the peace E. Galakha referred to the European Human Rights Convention, RF Constitution, RF Administrative Code, Rallies Law, and European Court practices in passing judgments on human rights cases. He found that the placard did not feature any defaming statements, or calls for violence and negation of democratic principles; therefore, it constituted no “imputable or sufficient reason for anyone to be held legally liable”. The judge ruled to close the case in view of no elements of administrative offence found in Chernega’s actions.
Republic of Karelia. MP compares parliamentary committee sessions to scenes from scandalous reality show
By Anatoly Tsygankov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District
When Vitaly Krasulin, head of the Budget Committee of Karelia’s Legislative Assembly, likened committee sessions to scenes from the Dom-2 reality show (notorious for its scandalous, sometimes erotic, content), he said he did not mean to insult anyone but only meant to say that parliament is a “serious institution whose daily routine needn’t be shown to electors in minute detail”. The MP referred to the practice of real-time Internet reporting on parliamentary proceedings, adopted by the previous body of the Assembly which sought to make its performance as transparent as possible and which paid over a million roubles from the budget to have video equipment purchased and installed to allow any web user to start watching live an open debate in parliament at just one click of the mouse. None of the former Assembly members thought this transparency might undermine their public image.
But some of the new parliamentarians elected last December voted for a ban on further online reporting. Specifically, Krasulin of the United Russia faction suggested “editing out” the working episodes that he said only “clogged the air”. Evidently, his message was that interim debates, unlike finalised decisions, are of little interest to the viewers.
It is noteworthy that not all of the Assembly members share this attitude, since only three of the nine parliamentary committees – the Budget, Natural Resources and Agro-industrial Policy Committees – did ban the live coverage of their sittings in response to Krasulin’s call. The rest continue to believe the more open they are to electors, the fewer questions the latter will ask.
By parliamentary press service estimates, about 700-800 web users a day watch parliamentary proceedings on the Internet. Satisfied with the previous parliamentary body’s transparency, they are now frowning at the newly elected MPs who they suspect “may be seeking to hide something from public scrutiny”. While not every viewer has the time to watch Assembly debates all day long, an occasional glance on the web at what MPs are busy doing at the moment is definitely of interest to many. It is this opportunity for constant public control which seems to frighten deputies like Krasulin so much.
By Yegor Tashmatov, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District
After Rospechat, the Krasnodar Region’s largest distributor of the periodical press, reported a drastic fall in sales, newspaper editors, printing house head-managers and retail press distributors held a round table to discuss the problem at length and try to find ways out of this difficult situation.
Rospechat head Nikolai Cherkashin described the status quo as “a catastrophe”, with his company’s sales dropping nearly 70% in 2011 – mostly as a result of many press kiosks torn down.
“The municipalities on whose land those kiosks stand have been unwilling to extend lease agreements with the press vendors, since building shops and supermarkets where press stalls currently are can yield much larger profit,” he said. “In the process, Rospechat kiosks have been driven from downtown streets into small by-lanes, where their operation becomes unprofitable.”
Smaller press distributors have been facing similar problems. In Sochi, for example, ODS-Sochi Company has produced, on the basis of blueprints approved by Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov, about 20 modern press pavilions with limestone finishing. Brightly illuminated at night, the new nice-looking pavilions could become eye-catching elements of the city’s decoration – but they, too, have been pushed into the backyards, since there seems to be no place for them in the would-be Olympic capital’s central streets.
Among the critical remarks voiced by editors during their conversation with the Rospechat head were complaints that today’s press kiosks look more like outlets selling mass-produced items, behind which the newspapers and magazines themselves are hardly visible.
Whatever the differences, the round-table participants agreed that tackling this problem is a socially important matter. Most of the Kuban River area remains out of the web service coverage, and for many residents the print media remain the major source of news reports, as well as analytical and entertaining information. While the press kiosks vanishing from city streets can be compensated for by press stalls set up inside supermarkets, people living in remote villages risk being left with no newspapers altogether.
This news vacuum and the one-sidedness of information presented to the region’s residents are only one aspect of the problem. Another is the stress which hundreds of press distributors, postmen, service personnel etc. are exposed to as a result of the curtailment of a whole segment of the economy, accompanied by layoffs, salary cuts and so on.
Considering the likely negative consequences which are making themselves felt already now, the round-table participants sent a letter to the Krasnodar Region governor, asking him for a programme of action to support and boost the development of the retail press distribution sector.
Jewish Autonomous Region (Far East). Unnamed character of newspaper publication files claim in defence of honour and dignity
The Glasnost Defence Foundation on 15 March received a message from Nikolai Nemayev, acting chief editor of the newspaper Birobidzhanskaya Zvezda, who informed us of an honour-and-dignity protection claim lodged against his media outlet in the wake of a publication about a daughter’s litigation with her mother.
“The publication was based on a court ruling,” Nemayev wrote. “The newspaper cited only the daughter and mother’s first names and the first letter of their surname. Yet the daughter claimed hurt and filed a claim in defence of her honour and dignity. We journalists believe since the two ladies’ surname was not disclosed, the claim may be disregarded. We hereby request your legal advice in view of the court proceedings pending.”
The GDF Legal Service will give this conflict a comprehensive study upon receipt from Birobidzhanskaya Zvezda of the texts of both the legal claim and the disputed article.
By Vakha Chapanov, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District
The Leninsky district court in Vladikavkaz on 15 March supported a legal claim brought by journalist Lora Tskayeva against Alexander Pikalev, a St. George Cathedral clergyman conducting a web blog of his own.
Tskayeva sued Pikalev for what she took as “insulting” statements that he wrote in his LiveJournal blog as part of a public discussion of her professional and personal qualities; specifically, he asserted that she had “lied” in a telephone conversation with the Elder Iliya, spiritual counsellor to the Patriarch Kirill, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The court ruled for Pikalev to remove from his blog the statements that were found damaging to the honour, dignity and business reputation of Tskayeva; publish a disclaimer of his smearing statements; and pay the plaintiff 30,000 roubles in moral damages. In a comment posted in his blog after the court sitting, Pikalev wrote that the ruling has not yet come into full legal force and that he intends to challenge it.
Swedish and Belarussian journalists were detained in Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus, on 12 March. As a Sveriges Television film crew (consisting of correspondent Sven Bergman, cameraman Olaf Christopherson and producer Isabelle Somerfeld) was shooting video sequences about “silent protests” in Belarus and interviewing Roman Protasevich, an activist of the Youth Front, assisted by Vladimir Chudentsov of the Russian News Service and Ilya Kuznetsov of the Belarussian Association of Journalists, they were detained (at about 5 p.m.) and taken to the Moskovsky district police station in Minsk. After all of them were released, Chudentsov granted the Regnum news agency an interview supplying the following details:
Question: What happened to you and your colleagues in Minsk’s Independence Square on 12 March in the evening?
Answer: Correspondent Sven Bergman and cameraman Olaf Christopherson were preparing to shoot an interview with Youth Front activist Roman Protasevich against the background of the St. Simon and Alyona catholic church. They had just set up their TV equipment when a silvery minivan with ordinary civilian license plates and a tinted windshield pulled over from the direction of the Government House. Two men in special task police uniform got out and demanded our documents.
Q.: Reporters for Belarussian government media often report from Independence Square in Minsk. Why such close attention to you from the task police force?
A.: We all had official certificates of accreditation with the Belarussian Interior Ministry, which we presented; they then asked us to follow them to the police station for a “check of our accreditation”.
Q.: How did the Belarussian police officers justify their actions?
A.: They claimed we were not allowed to film specially guarded sites in Independence Square without special authorisation.
Q.: How did it all end?
A.: They kept us for 3 hours at the Moskovsky district police station, with Col. Nazarov, the district police chief, questioning us in person. Cameraman Olaf Christopherson and interpreter Ilya Kuznetsov were taken to another room, where police officers checked and copied all the video footage we’d shot. After that, they released us without making any protocol, voicing any claims or presenting any apology.
Q.: What are the journalists planning to do after the release?
A.: To make a report about it, of course. The Swedish colleagues did finish the interview with Roman Protasevich – already after their release. They did it right outside the police station in Dzerzhinsky Avenue.
[Regnum report, 13 March]
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Last week, the Glasnost Defence Foundation was referred to at least 10 times in the Internet, including at:
School of journalism in Voronezh holds round table to discuss media coverage of presidential elections
By Roman Poprygin, Moyo newspaper, Voronezh
The latest presidential elections remain the talk of the day. A round table was held at the School of Journalism at Voronezh State University on 12 March to discuss the way the elections were covered by the media. Some faculty members were concerned the city media had done a “poor and incompetent” job reporting on the vote.
The discussion involved students and professors of the journalistic school, local media representatives, political scientists and analysts, activists of the Golos Association (an election-fraud monitor), and representatives of the pro-Kremlin groups called “Movement of New Professionals” and “New People”.
Prof. Viktor Khorolsky expressed students’ common opinion that almost no independent media have been left in Voronezh that are capable of providing unbiased coverage of public and political events in the region, such as elections. In his view, the government-controlled media either ignored the elections altogether or reported on them as they were told. As regards the federal TV channels, the Kremlin “literally dictated to them what to say and how,” Khorolsky noted.
“I know many people who voted for the Communist party and Zyuganov – people who seldom read anything except communist newspapers,” Nikita Khrupin, ex-leader of the Nashi movement [a group positioning itself as a youth wing of the ruling United Russia party – Translator.], contented. “This means opposition media do exist and are in demand. If you don’t want to watch TV, you may as well switch your TV set off.”
Good journalism can still be found in Voronezh, and it will keep on regaining strength while drawing on Internet reporting, senior lecturer Andrei Zolotukhin said adding that “it is the media’s duty today to support any sprouts of civil society coming under the sun in today’s Russia”.
Bloggers and Twitter commentators, for all their significance, will never become as important to society as professional journalists are, human rights activist Natalia Zvyagina observed. The media should take into account and objectively assess viewpoints of the current situation in all their web-expressed diversity, she said.
Some heated verbal exchanges occurred between Golos activists and pro-Kremlin group members who formerly belonged to the Nashi movement.
But the majority of discussion participants agreed that the presidential elections had not been honest or fair, and that their media coverage had been biased.
Several faculty members initiated an appeal to “all citizens, students, media workers and city and regional heads” under a pretty flashy heading, “Save High-Quality Journalism!”
The authors called, among other things, for an end to pressure on the media by their owners and the government; tougher legal sanctions for interference with journalists’ work; redoubled efforts by public activists in defence of journalists’ independence; and inclusion of “media education” lessons in high-school and university curricula.
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.
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