22 Мая 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 800

2 May 2017


Digest edition No. 800 released

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

Reading our weekly news digest or permanent monitoring materials sometimes dismays us, but more often staffers and volunteers of the Glasnost Defence Foundation team feel bewildered, saddened, vexed and even angered. You can easily understand us, dear readers (especially because most of you are journalists). Can you remain indifferent to the shrinking media space opportunities for professional journalistic work? Can you conceive of any other response to the efforts by all the three branches of power at the federal, regional and municipal levels to bring back censorship, fight unwelcome and recalcitrant media, turn them into propaganda and promotional tools and keep upping the sums of damages in claims against media outlets?

Still, we do not merely chronicle the lamentable situation with the freedom of expression in this country. Not by a long shot! We are well aware that a society cannot evolve and a law-governed democratic state cannot be built in a modern world without well-established media and honest and quality journalism. That is why we continue our work. Don't get us wrong: we are proud to have you reading the 800th GDF digest; back in 2000, when we e-mailed the first newsletter, nobody could tell how long the project might last. However, the imperative of the digest and GDF work in general shows that the chapter on the defence of media and the collection and analysis of data on journalists' rights violations won't be closed anytime soon. That would be the sad part of the present occasion.

Let us momentarily ignore our sorrow (though you'll certainly read about sad things in the present digest edition) while keeping in mind that “Glasnost is a tortoise crawling towards freedom of speech”. Slowly but surely, we all have to move on (crawling, walking or running) towards that beckoning freedom.


RSF rates Russia 148th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom: Alarming consistency

By GDF Information Service

Reporters sans frontières (RSF) media rights watchdog published its 2017 World Press Freedom Index on 26 April. Russia ranked 148th out of 180 countries, as in last year's report.

The report evaluated media freedom in 180 countries by such criteria as censorship, the possibility for the opposition to express itself in the media, the number of murders of and attacks on journalists, etc. The authors noted that RSF's latest World Press Freedom Index “highlights the danger of a tipping point in the state of media freedom, especially in leading democratic countries... The obsession with surveillance and violations of the right to the confidentiality of sources have contributed to the continuing decline of many countries previously regarded as virtuous. This includes the United States (down 2 places at 43rd), the United Kingdom (down 2 at 40th), Chile (down 2 at 33rd), and New Zealand (down 8 at 13th)”.

“Donald Trump's rise to power in the United States and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom were marked by high-profile media bashing... that drove the world into a new era of post-truth, disinformation, and fake news,” the report said. Media freedom has retreated wherever the authoritarian strongman model has triumphed. Among the backtracking countries are Poland, Hungary, Tanzania and Turkey (which now distinguishes itself as “the world's worst prisoner for media professionals”).

The report notes that “Russia remains firmly entrenched in the bottom fifth of the Index at 148th”.

Among former Soviet republics, the best placed is Estonia (ranking 12th, with a “good” press freedom situation), followed by Latvia (28th, “fairly good”), Lithuania (36th, “fairly good”), and Georgia (64th), Armenia (79th), Moldova (80th), Kyrgyzstan (89th), and Ukraine (102nd), with the latter five displaying “considerable problems”. Russia was ranked 148th with a “bad” press freedom situation, Tajikistan 149th (“bad”), Belarus 153rd (“bad”), Kazakhstan 157th (“bad”), Azerbaijan 162nd (“very bad”) and Turkmenistan 178th (“very bad”).

Eritrea and North Korea were at the bottom of the list ranking 179th and 180th, respectively, with “very bad” press freedom.

Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Jamaica, Belgium and Iceland were in Top Ten.

According to RSF, freedom of the press has “never been so threatened”. “The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Where will this downward spiral take us?”


Who sees investigative journalists as an obstacle?

By Boris Timoshenko, head of GDF Information Service

Some people got scared of investigative journalists' seminar in the Mari-El Republic which probably best explains what happened in the regional centre Yoshkar-Ola.

Investigative Journalism School was supposed to run in Yoshkar-Ola on 22-30 April. IJ forums have been commonplace across the country, from Kaliningrad to Khabarovsk. Problems do happen though: regional partners are sometimes unable to accommodate the participants, with last-minute power outages, urgent repairs or engineers coming to look for the bomb allegedly planted on site. The schools hardly ever go off well, yet regions keep sending seminar invitation letters to journalists and bloggers.

In this respect, the Yoshkar-Ola school seemed to fit into the general pattern. Just a day before the school started, the owners of the quarters (which had already been paid for), brought their apologies saying they could not accommodate the journalists and promised a refund. The journalists scrambled to find another building, and the school made a start as planned.

One of the lecturers with considerable IJ experience, former editor-in-chief of the newspaper Sovershenno Secretno (Top Secret) Galina Sidorova arrived in Yoshkar-Ola on 25 April. As she came to the city, a thug hurled a plastic bottle of brilliant green (similar to iodine) at her back.

The guest house, chosen for the school venue, accommodated the teachers; in the meantime, unidentified persons were hanging around at the place all the time. It is noteworthy that the guest house was located in a township seven kilometers from the republic's centre. As it soon turned out, the presence of the strangers had implications. Late at night, a stone came flying through the window of the room where G. Sidorova was staying.

The unidentified “gentlemen” did not stop at that, and even seemed to have sacrificed one of their kind as they put a dead rat under Sidorova's window. A bottle of brilliant green was left nearby, perhaps as a reminder.

Sidorova went ahead with the classes regardless delivering all her lectures.

These facts were reported to the police who are now looking into the circumstances of the incidents. The guest house has security cameras, so there is hope that the probe will be carried through.

The GDF will follow up on the investigation and might update the readers on its progress in the next school narrative.


Stavropol blogger under pressure

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District;

Blogger Ilya Varlamov, known for his criticism of the condition of Russian cities, arrived in Stavropol on 26 April. He got into trouble as soon as he came to the city: unidentified persons splashed brilliant green on him on the airport premises (supposed to be a high security area!). Varlamov wrote that the “attackers were shouting, `Get back to your America!'” The blogger reported the incident to the police. Then he went around the city and came under a second attack. As the blogger began to shoot the development area in the vicinity of Perspektivny neighbourhood with a quadrocopter, a group of men approached him behaving aggressively and provoking a conflict. A bag of flour, ubiquitous brilliant green and eggs flew at the blogger.

“Simultaneously, somebody began to pound on the car in which we had come, setting off the car alarm and blocking the doors. I recall our standing by the car asking the attackers to stop and telling them we'd be unable to unblock the doors. We got inside and started driving off. I promptly called 112 to report the attack to police so that they put it on file. Several cars were following us; they were definitely giving chase. At one point, one of the pursuers rammed Varlamov's car hitting its bumper at great speed,” the journalist wrote. The blogger filed all the facts in his report to the police.

“I believe that proceedings should be initiated and include the charges under Criminal Code Article 144 (obstructing legitimate professional activity of journalists),” Varlamov said. On top of that, in his view, it was obstruction by forcing them not to disseminate information, accompanied by violence on journalists or their relatives and damage to or destruction of their property or threats to use such violence.

Stavropol police began a check into the two attacks, and on 29 April, the press service of the regional police department released a statement which said that “All the five citizens implicated in the attack on the blogger have been identified and detained for legal proceedings”.

The victim immediately reacted to the press service's statement by posting a comment titled “Let's Help Police Count the Thugs!” On the photos he posted he put a number on each of his attackers who totalled 20, not counting the drivers waiting in the attackers' cars. The blogger and his subscribers have already identified some of the attackers, including Stavropol Legislative Council deputy Sergei Medvedev.

Boorish article causes no claims on part of media regulator in Murmansk

By Alexander Borisov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

In late March, anti-corruption rallies took place across Russia, including Murmansk. The bulk of mainstream media ignored the protest or gave an overly negative coverage of pickets and rallies. For example, journalist Dmitry Malyshev in the article “Sick and Tired of Being Correct” carried by the newspaper Vecherny Murmansk, called opposition movement activists “idiots” and even “militant faggots” (no symbols were used to filter foul words in the Russian text).

After the public uproar caused by the text, The Roskomnadzor media watchdog put the article under scrutiny, as Digest 796 reported. Having examined the published story, Roskomnadzor said it saw no reasons for issuing an official warning. Those who complained to the watchdog about the publication were told that “Obscene language does not include indecent or coarse/slangy words used to insult, hurt, humiliate or show sexual identity or social status. At the same time, using coarse words and phrases insulting public morals is inadmissible”.

The article itself, posted on the newspaper's website, did not incur Roskomnadzor's displeasure as the website was not registered as a media outlet.

Perm journalist urges court to enforce amicable settlement on wage payment

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Journalist Alexander Pastukhov asked the Sverdlovsky district court of Perm to pass him a writ of execution for enforcing the amicable agreement with the defender AktivMedia. Earlier, the media holding controlled by State Duma deputy Dmitry Skrivanov promised to pay 195,200 roubles of wage arrears within ten banking days.

On 10 April, a court endorsed the amicable agreement between OOO AktivMedia and head of its Social Media Department A.Pastukhov. Wishing to collect his backpay, the journalist waived the 50,000-rouble moral damages compensation and the interest on overdue payment. Fifteen days passed, but money had not been transferred to the bank cards, and no information had come from the media holding, the plaintiff told the GDF.

Other leading journalists had to enter into litigation with AktivMedia. On 17 April, a preliminary hearing was held of the statement of claim filed by former Permskaya Tribuna newspaper editor Denis Kashnikov. He demanded the payment of wage arrears, the interest on overdue payment, and compensation for unutilized vacation totalling 202,800 roubles. When Judge Olga Knyazeva noted inconsistencies in documents under review, lawyer Svetlana Dolishnyaya said that “all AktivMedia accountants have been relieved of their duties”. “I cited the wage information from the certificate prepared for the prosecutor's office,” she said. The court ordered to present the results of the checks carried out by Perm's Sverdlovsky district prosecutors and the Perm Region State Labour Inspectorate at the main session scheduled for 6 June.

On 26 April, the Sverdlovsky court began to review a statement of claim filed by Alexander Sosnin. He voluntarily resigned from the post of online newspaper Mestnoye Vremya editor on 19 January 2017. He was not paid his wages or compensation for his unused vacation. The journalist demanded that AktivMedia pay him a total of 181,500 roubles which included moral damages and legal expenses. The defendant's representative did not turn up at the preliminary hearing. Judge Olga Lobastova set the date for rehearing for 19 May.

Prosecutor's office in Khabarovsk Region inspects Vostok Rossii radio

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

On 28 April, prosecutors launched a check into a 3.4-million-rouble subsidy refund by Vostok Rossii radio. The check is being carried out by Ilya Bludov, a senior prosecutor with the Khabarovsk Region Prosecutor's Office. According to preliminary reports, the radio station provided information materials whose costs had already been covered by the regional Legislative Assembly, so Vostok actually received double pay from the regional budget for the same job.

Prior to the prosecutor's check-up, the regional press and mass communications committee looked into the matter, in particular into the 4Q 2016 subsidies. As a result, the regional Cabinet and governor were informed about violations of subsidy-allocation rules and ineffective operation of legal entity OOO Vostok Rossii. The authorities were requested to liquidate the legal entity which had failed its profit-making function and to affiliate the radio station with the Open Region Public Initiative Support Centre.

As clouds were gathering over the only non-networked radio station in the region, the United People's Front (ONF) Khabarovsk branch rallied in Vostok Rossii' s defence. The ONF received an appeal from regional journalists asking to keep the radio station which had been faithfully serving its audience. The Front asked the regional Committee for the Press and Mass Communications to clarify the situation, according to Khabarovsk Region Headquarters co-chairwoman Galina Kononenko. Responding to the ONF inquiry, the regional government replied that Vostok Rossii would be reconfigured, not shut down.

Vostok Rossii General Director Yevgenia Razlataya, whom GDF asked to share her views of the situation, called the Committee's actions “unlawful and excessively punitive”. Earlier, officials had no claims against Vostok Rossii. The violations exposed during the check-up were not an offence caused by ill intentions, she said. There was no way they could influence the sum of requested subsidy to make it larger or smaller. However, the demand for refunding the 3.4-million-rouble 4Q 2016 subsidy was clearly putting the regional company on the verge of bankruptcy. Razlataya said it was a ploy to join Vostok Rossii to the Open Region Autonomous Non-Commercial Organisation (ANO). She said she could not understand why such methods were being used or why these plans had never been announced. According to Razlataya, writing an appeal to the ONF was not her initiative. “I saw the petition for the first time on the desk of the Committee representative together with Article 159.2 (fraud); that is, it was a direct threat to me, disproportionate to the situation.

Vostok Rossii in which the regional government has a 68-percent stake is the only radio station in the Khabarovsk Region specializing in socio-political broadcasts for audiences in more than 90% of the regional settlements. It is 94-percent financed from the regional budget. Its last year spending totalled 60 million roubles with subsidies amounting to 15.7 million roubles.


Official PR grows ever more costly in Rostov

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Bloknot Rostov news portal released a heart-warming report saying the materials on corruption schemes in Rostov authorities' promotional campaigns had been passed to the Federal Security Service.

Yabloko Party's anti-corruption policy centre detected signs of collusion in state procurements for covering the work of the governor, regional legislative assembly and other government bodies of the Rostov Region. The Centre said the same firms had been winning all tenders for publishing “socially relevant materials” since September 2014. Ten government contracts were awarded to two firms with nearly identical names: North Caucasus Analytical Information Agency (personal tax reference number: 6164245635) and North Caucasus Information Agency (personal tax reference number: 6162029639), Yabloko reported on its website.

Both firms were founded by Igor Tyurin, an influential person in the city and the region. In an interview with Vedomosti, Tyurin said he had won the tenders thanks to his firm's good reputation and employees' professionalism. Izvestia-Yug Co. won tenders, too, competing with an organisation belonging to its founders. Yabloko said the organisation was a spoiler introduced to create an impression of fair competition which had a predicable outcome.

Aside from tender fraud, Yabloko reported numerous news plants in mass media. “Special promotional agencies and mercenary media are involved in pork barrel projects to praise the authorities”. The corrupted practice of these promotional campaigns is made worse by favoritism in public procurements. “It results in double profiteering from budget coffers,” Yabloko Anti-Corruption Policy Centre director Sergey Mitrokhin said.

In 2016, the Rostov Region government, Legislative Assembly, City Hall and City Legislature spent 192.1 million roubles on media coverage of their activity, according to the Centre. Mitrokhin believes that the Rostov Region routinely spends more funds on promotional campaigns than other southern regions.

“Vaska listens but continues eating,” he said in reference to a Russian classic fable about a cat that paid no attention to what others were saying. “The authorities' campaign to buy newspaper and magazine space is in full swing”. On 20 April, a new tender was held to produce and place “socially significant materials” in the mass media worth 18 million roubles.

According to the tender terms, the winner has to place materials of public interest in 23 unidentified mass media outlets (whose names were encrypted). Though the tender could have more potential bidders as they can fulfil a number of terms, just one magazine or newspaper meets all the requirements for print run, number of pages, colour, format, distribution specifics, and publication frequency. For example, the winner is required to circulate one magazine on trains and airliners while another magazine only targets Rostov Region residents applying for marriage registration and parents of newborn babies.

It is unclear what influences the size of the contract for each media outlet (number of pages stated in the service details section); apparently it does not depend on the print run or potential audience of “socially significant materials”. A newspaper with a print run of 2,000 copies is expecting an order for 16.5 pages, whereas a newspaper with a print run of 50,000 can only do a 5.5-page coverage.

Also, it is absolutely unclear how print media formats A2 (big) or A3 (medium) can influence the efficiency of budget money use. This requirement is set for all the 23 media outlets participating in the tender. Among the media that got government contracts in previous years were mass consumer newspapers Vecherny Rostov, Molot, Krestyanin, regional supplements to Komsomolskaya Pravda, AiF, Sovetsky Sport and glossy magazines for business people and elites. Many of them could honestly compete for regional orders, but it is up to the regional government Information Policy Department to decide on how much money should be allocated to this or that outlet.

It's anybody's guess how the “chosen ones” wind up on this list: open sources never publish any invitations to this elite media pool. The media that are not part of this group have no opportunity to participate in the tender which, in actual fact, is a closed competition. Meanwhile, your GDF correspondent has investigated violations at the “open tender” and sent the findings to the Federal Antimonopoly Service Department of Rostov Region.


Letter from Novyi Fokus editor-in-chief

Abakan-based Novyi Fokus editor-in-chief Mikhail Afanasyev has sent the GDF a letter reading as follows:

“Three months ago I told about the phone threats against me from leader of a gang from the neighbouring Krasnoyarsk Region, Andrei Ashcheulov. This story has a follow-up now. As is known, `Ashcheul' [the man's underworld nickname] promised to severely punish me for the article telling about the outrage he committed in the district of Kuragino, while I have been unable to stop wishing to bash his head. Threats have come from law-enforcement officials and thugs alike. What can we do in our own country? We live like in a state, not in gangland. I chose to do it the legal way and filed a report with the police. Kuragino District investigator A. Sharavin wrote in reply that there were `no elements of crime' in the local mobster's actions. Do you care to know why? Ashcheul wouldn't leave his prison cell. Sharavin repeatedly asked him to come out, but Ashcheul stayed put. Let things stay that way then. What can be done?

“Here's some Ashcheul background for those who wish a clearer picture. He's a hardened thug who robbed people together with his accomplices. They would knock on a house door and when it opened, they would beat the house owners into unconsciousness and robbed them of valuables and money. The gang was notorious for many such crimes yet remained at large. Local detectives shrugged their shoulders, the courts were unable to ascertain `the date of the establishment of this organised criminal group' (cited from a court statement), and prosecutors complained that they were helpless. Ashcheulov's accomplices figured out police informers in their ranks and killed them. We wrote an article about Ashcheul's gang based on the information supplied by a local police officer. Next, Ashcheul phoned and began to issue threats demanding that the article be taken out. I recorded the conversation and posted it. Then I had a call from the Roskomnadzor media watchdog demanding that the recording be removed. `You cannot use offensive language,' they said. They did not seem to care about the fact that the thug threatened to deal with the journalists. In the long run, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Glasnost Defence Foundation, Media Defence Centre, Novaya Gazeta newspaper, and Krasnoyarsk journalists rose to defend me.

“The public response to my story instilled confidence in the local population that the situation could be reversed and that the criminal would be held responsible. After yet another offence, when Ashcheul walked out of store with a box of beer without paying, the owner complained to police. The gangster was placed under arrest, oddly upon the ruling by the court of neighbouring Minusinsky District, Krasnoyarsk Region. Sending my statement from Khakassia to Krasnoyarsk and back took a long time. Finally, the authorities decided that the case would be reviewed in Ashcheul's residence area. This seems to be the reason why the local department of the Investigative Committee has been unable to prosecute Ashcheul. He won't leave his prison cell.

“If he had, they would surely have shown him how to threaten reporters for their work with violence. On a positive note, the investigator informed me that it was good they had not opened criminal proceedings against me over a fake report”.


Mikhail Afanasyev”

This digest was prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation in Moscow. The digest has been issued once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.

We acknowledge the assistance of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Currently it is distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

Editorial board

  • Editor-in-chief, Alexei Simonov
  • Boris Timoshenko, Head of Monitring Service;
  • Svetlana Zemskova, GDF Lawyer;
  • Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy, translator.

We welcome the promotion of our news items and articles but if you make use of any information from this digest or other GDF materials please acknowledge the source.


Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 438, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
119992 Moscow, Russia.

Telephone/fax: +7 (495) 637-4947 and +7 (495) 637-4420
e-mail: boris@gdf.ru , or fond@gdf.ru

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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