26 Апреля 2013 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 612

22 April 2013



10th Congress of Russian Journalists: Media attacked on all fronts

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District, congress delegate

The 10th Congress of the Russian Journalists’ Union (RJU), held at the Hall of Columns of the Unions House in Moscow, reached full consensus in assessing the current status of the Russian media.

Most speakers agreed that the freedom-of-expression situation in Russia has notably deteriorated since the previous congress five years ago. Even then it was by far not perfect, but today the independent media are barely surviving, especially in remote provinces. The authorities have launched an offensive on the still-uncontrolled sectors of the media business by all available means, from increased tax pressure to the closure of newspaper stalls – while continuing to generously support loyal, pro-government, print media and TV/radio channels.

Speakers kept referring to a government decision that had shocked the media community: to allocate from the national budget this year 11.2 billion roubles in support for the Russia Today TV channel and 4.9 billion roubles for the newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta (the fact of the VGTRK State TV/Radio Company’s getting about 20 billion was somehow forgotten). Speakers cited, for purposes of comparison, examples of relevant practices in civilized countries, where state support funds have been established to assist all media, including private outlets. Evidently taking those attitudes into account, Duma Media Affairs Committee head Alexei Mitrofanov promised the journalists some rather vaguely described assistance, saying that “the system of state support for the media has been adjusted”, and that even the RJU can count on “some budgetary subsidizing”; but, most important, that the VAT and insurance tax benefits for the media would be “preserved”.

On a rather funny note, another MP, Sergei Zheleznyak, spoke in a deliberately neutral and dispassionate manner, as if it wasn’t he who had contributed to the drafting of some questionable – to put it mildly – bills and it wasn’t he who had threatened journalists in connection with the recent scandal over “political prostitution” (see Digest 608). Starting with a few high-flown but well-worn phrases about the “importance of journalistic investigations and greater freedom of expression”, he was simply clapped out of the speaker’s rostrum.

The delegates agreed that economic pressure is the most effective weapon in the struggle against the independent media.

“In addition to the 59 newspaper stalls closed in Karelia last year, two to three press kiosks are now shut down every week,” Yevgeny Belyanchikov, editor of the Karelian independent newspaper TVR Panorama, said. “We just have no place left to sell our newspaper, which has been released for ten years and enjoys great popularity. Small wonder that Karelia today can boast of no more than two or three ‘serious’ newspapers, which are likely to last for five or so more years before the state-financed media finally kill them.”

Emotional speeches like this were quite numerous during the congress. Even the heads of such large media holdings as AltaPress and YakutskPress sounded the alarm bell about their current financial difficulties and dim prospects of survival in the short term – and this at a time when the pro-government press pools, including presidential, ministerial, gubernatorial and mayoral newspapers, are flourishing. Shilly-shally aside, Literaturnaya Gazeta editor Yuri Polyakov called the municipal media a “wildland of feudalism”.

Of the many editors of those “pocket” municipal newspapers attending the congress – the backbone of the 100,000-strong Russian Journalists’ Union – none stood up to defend their newspapers’ owners or founders. Generally, “in-house” problems were somehow pushed into the background during this jubilee congress: it seemed they’d lost much of their importance in the face of the “common external enemy”.

But then, as could be gathered from some speeches, the RJU has no really effective leverage to impact the situation. RJU President Vsevolod Bogdanov, who has steered the Union since 1992 and was re-elected for yet another term almost unanimously (with one abstention), reproached State Duma and Federal Press Agency (FPA) representatives for their “bad manners”: having addressed the delegates on the first day, they left the congress and never came back. However, FPA Director Mikhail Seslavinsky had had the time to make his main point – that “the media industry’s lobbying effort is significantly below that of other industries”, which he finds surprising, considering the “powerful lobbying leverage in the hands of journalists and the media” – and to urge the delegates to “discuss ways of raising the journalist’s role and authority in society”, as his agency’s official website reported later.

Bogdanov contended that “it hardly makes any sense counting on anyone’s assistance today”, the less so on that from the bureaucrats, “who are the main ones to blame for the drastic worsening of the media market situation over the past 20 years”. Although the journalists may now “count only on themselves”, he said, all congress-voiced suggestions on how to improve the media position will be forwarded to the relevant agencies, parliament and President Putin.

…Toward the end of the second day, the Dagestan delegation delivered to the Hall of Columns the latest (19 April) issue of the independent newspaper Chernovik, released by Svoboda Slova Ltd. Colleagues from different regions snatched away the newspaper stack instantly, which was not surprising: Chernovik, with a circulation of 14,000 and a yearly subscription price of only 929 roubles (about US $30) is not always available even inside Dagestan. Yet it continues to be released, accurately reporting on what is going on in the republic – for example, on a recent “counter-terror” operation, in which the residents of an entire village were driven from their homes for a whole week right on the eve of the congress in Moscow, which was hardly a pre-planned law enforcement action meant to hit the headlines. As long as incidents of this kind occur, honest journalists will continue doing their professional work honestly – regardless of what the ministers say or how high the “degree of journalistic solidarity” is in Russia.



Ruthlessly beaten journalist rescued by homeless beggars in Novosibirsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The editor of an influential regional newspaper has been beaten by unidentified assailants nearly to death – the second such attack on a local media head-manager in the past two weeks.

Andrei Chelnokov, 48, chairman of the Novosibirsk branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union, lay senseless for about two weeks after his family lost sight of him on 2 April. The editor and media manager clearly remembers only the moment when someone hit him on the back of the head several hundred metres from his apartment block, as he was walking home from the parking lot.

“I fell face down on the snow; all the rest was as if in a fog,” Chelnokov said. He can dimly recollect that for the following ten or more days, he lay in “a strange boxroom”, where some kind-hearted people – apparently, homeless beggars – attended to him, giving him “something to drink” to help him recover. Coming to, he took some time trying to realize where or who he was, and what had happened.

His family located him by tracing down the signal of his last cell phone call, according to the Sibkray.ru news portal. Police learned about the incident from media reports as late as 16 April, and has started a probe into the circumstances, although the victim did not report the attack officially because of feeling sick and being unable to recollect the details.

“My body looks like one big bruise; my nose and a few ribs are broken, and I can sleep only on one side,” Chelnokov said.

He did not rule out the assault might be connected with his journalistic activities.

“I’ve been repeatedly threatened, because I am an investigative journalist,” Chelnokov said, referring to his work as the publisher and chief editor of the newspaper Sibir: Moment Istiny, which has regularly reported, among other subjects, on corrupt practices in the Siberian Federal District.

He is the second media worker coming under attack in Novosibirsk in the past two weeks. On 8 April, Boris Komarov, president of the Unito-Media holding, was beaten up by two unknown thugs armed with brass knuckles, and taken to hospital with a concussion and a broken jaw. That attack, too, is seen as linked with the victim’s professional work. The investigation is personally overseen by the regional police chief, Sergei Glushkov.

High-ranking official in Stavropol Region hints at elderly whistleblower’s mental derangement

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The Oktyabrsky district court in Stavropol has partially satisfied a legal claim filed by a high-ranking government official against Yelena Suslova, correspondent for the Mineralniye Vody-based newspaper Otkrytaya Gazeta Dlya Vsekh I Kazhdogo.

In July 2012 the newspaper carried Suslova’s article “Get out of Here, Psycho!” written on the basis of an incredible, really wild, story.

When a retiree from Mineralniye Vody received, at long last, an official reply to his numerous complaints to the Office of the Presidential Representative (PRO) in the North Caucasian District (about a variety of problems, including dirty public toilets, violations of fire safety rules at the local market, undue fees charged by the passport office, etc.), he was shocked to read it – as later were the story’s author and readers. It said the complainant might be mentally deranged – a good reason for his turning to the nearest mental clinic for an examination and potential medical treatment, the results of which he should report back to the presidential envoy’s office… The startling message was signed by Tatyana Panfilova, head of the PRO Secretariat.

Naturally, the newspaper exploded with an indignant article, whose author Yelena Suslova was well justified in being as critical as she was: for many years prior to taking up journalism, she had worked at the Letters Department of the regional administration and had responded to thousands of residents’ complaints. She has graduated from the Government Service Academy under the RF President’s auspices and got a doctor’s degree in philosophy.

“With the kind of experience I have, I might as well hold a master class personally for Tatyana Panfilova on how to work with people’s complaints,” Suslova said. “But I know all too well [Panfilova] lives in a world totally unrelated to the ordinary people’s world. She personifies an example of the moral decay of Russia’s bureaucracy – haughty, conceited, inactive, impudent and cynical – driving the rest of Russia crazy and generating popular contempt and hatred for itself due to those traits.”

The publication triggered a scandal. The offended pensioner went through the recommended medical examination at his own expense to confirm his mental soundness, and lodged a legal claim against the PRO in defence of his honour and dignity. Calls to investigate the incident without delay were voiced by a member of the upper chamber of parliament, the regional human rights ombudsman, and finally, by the presidential envoy to the North Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin, in person.

Panfilova responded by lodging a counterclaim against Otkrytaya Gazeta on the grounds that she “had nothing to do” with the message sent to the veteran. She demanded a million roubles in moral damages. The Federal District Prosecutor’s Office, instead of looking into the case at close quarters (to see if the official response was a fake, and if so, who had signed it instead of Panfilova), immediately took up a defensive position and started putting pressure on the newspaper, the story’s author, and the retiree.

Alexei Tsukanov, the prosecutor’s office head, sent Khloponin a pacifying report saying that a check-up showed the newspaper was wrong pointing to Panfilova as the person who had signed the scoffing response. He also wrote to Otkrytaya Gazeta, urging the management to hold Suslova liable for “failure to duly check information before publishing”. The editor dismissed the prosecutor’s reply as unprofessional: no reference to effective legislation, no proof of the story’s inaccuracy, and no measure of prosecutorial response taken in respect of an apparently negligent official.

How was the author supposed to “check the authenticity” of the signature on an official letterhead sealed into an official envelope and marked with what appeared to be an “official” outgoing number? By ordering a study of the letter by graphology specialists? If the message wasn’t signed by Panfilova, then who is it who circulates fakes on behalf of the PRO, thereby discrediting government authorities? The prosecutor did not mention the most important thing: whether or not he had appealed to investigators asking them to start criminal proceedings in connection with this alleged instance of document forgery.

Meanwhile, readers have started sending in copies of PRO replies to their complaints filed at different times, showing that the document turnover at the Office is in a mess, with different letterheads and different fonts used, and with the names of executive officers often not mentioned at all. Panfilova’s signature, though, looks the same everywhere.

Panfilova did not appear in court, sending two “expensive” lawyers to represent her interests –“free of charge”, as they said. The judge satisfied one of the two demands contained in her claim by requiring Otkrytaya Gazeta and its author to publish a disclaimer and remove the publication from the news website. Also, he reduced the claimed compensation amount to 30,000 roubles. The defendants disagreed with that ruling and intend to challenge it before the higher-standing regional court. The Glasnost Defence Foundation will closely follow the judicial proceedings in Stavropol.

“I am absolutely convinced the PRO’s reply message to pensioner Kruglov is authentic,” Yelena Suslova said commenting on this protracted – pretty absurd – litigation. “Some of the clerks from the plaintiff’s team must have written that scoffing text, which she then signed without reading. Maybe they were trying to settle their personal scores with her by getting her replaced. Let the investigators find out who they are. The poor retiree and the newspaper have nothing whatever to do with that.”



GDF correspondent receives international award

The Political Writers’ Club of Sweden has held a ceremony in Stockholm to honour the winner of this year’s Anna Politkovskaya Award.

For the first time since 1874, the Club Board awarded its prize to a journalist from Russia – Mikhail Afanasyev, editor of the Novy Fokus web magazine and GDF correspondent in the Siberian Federal District.

“The Board of the Political Writers’ Club decided that the 2013 Anna Politkovskaya Award goes to the Russian journalist Mikhail Afanasyev,” Board Chairwoman Stina Dobrowski said handing the prize to the laureate, “for the journalistic investigations he has courageously conducted in spite of repression and limited resources. Mikhail Afanasyev continues exposing in a big way abuses and injustices committed by the authorities.”

Afanasyev is also the winner of the 2004 Andrei Sakharov Award “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience”.

The GDF congratulates our colleague on the high international award and wishes him the best of firmness and persistence – in addition to the courage and selflessness he possesses in full measure.


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

Все новости

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