Дайджест
21 Февраля 2013 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 603

18 February 2013

 

STORY OF THE WEEK

CPJ report “Attacks on the Press 2012” released

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 14 February released its Attacks on the Press 2012 report, documenting facts that show a worsening of the conditions in which the media operate. The media rights watchdog group specially stressed that perpetrators of crimes against journalists most often manage to get away with impunity, which poses a serious threat to press freedom worldwide.

The report includes a Risk List, naming countries where press freedom “suffered the most” last year.

“In determining the list, CPJ staff examined six press freedom indicators: fatalities, imprisonments, restrictive legislation, state censorship, impunity in anti-press attacks, and journalists driven into exile,” the report said. “Countries named to the Risk List are not necessarily the world’s worst places for journalists; such a list would include nations like North Korea and Eritrea, where free expression has long been suffocated. Instead, the Risk List identifies the 10 places where CPJ documented the most significant downward trends during 2012.” 

The countries on the CPJ Risk List are Brazil, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Turkey and Vietnam.

Commenting on the situation in Russia, the authors said that it started deteriorating “within weeks of Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012”. The president signed a range of measures aimed to suppress dissent and place barriers in civic activity’s way. Two directly affect the media: the criminalisation of defamation (which had just been de-criminalised under Dmitry Medvedev), and restriction of Internet content. “The new defamation law … sets a maximum fine of 5 million roubles, an amount prohibitive to many media outlets,” the report said, and “the Internet measure … allows the authorities to block sites deemed to have ‘unlawful content’; … journalists worry that the law will be used to silence critical views on the Internet, which has recently emerged as a home for independent news.”

As regards impunity, “With 16 unsolved journalist murders in the past decade, Russia has the world’s ninth-worst record for combating deadly anti-press crime, according to CPJ’s Impunity Index,” the report said.

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Prominent Russian political analyst reportedly targeted by security services

According to Radio Ekho Moskvy and blogger sources, the prominent Russian political writer and analyst Andrei Piontkovsky has been the target of a pressure campaign by the Russian authorities, and may be a potential target for an attack by a hired killer.

The author of strategic calls for a “peaceful anti-crime revolution” and “peaceful dismantlement of the corrupt power system”, Piontkovsky has suggested working out the tactical details of Russia’s transition from dictatorship to a parliamentary republic; the plan might include the option for the top kleptocrats to voluntarily leave the country [aboard some super-yacht (like oligarch Abramovich’s Eclipse), similar to the way top Russian intellectuals were exiled under Stalin aboard the “philosophers’ ships” to Germany in the early 1920s - Translator.]

On 11 February Aleksandr Sotnik, anchor of the PolitVestnik online video show, wrote this in his LiveJournal blog:

“As I just learned from a person who had a private conversation with a certain lieutenant-colonel of the FSO security service on Saturday, 9 February, the secret services are preparing an operation to liquidate Andrei Piontkovsky.”

It cannot be ruled out that this “information leak” was organised deliberately, for purposes of intimidating the journalist. However, life shows that too many threats to journalists have been translated into violent attacks on them in the past few years.

Law enforcement should perhaps assign some bodyguards to prevent Piontkovsky from suffering at the hands of “hooligans who happened to be passing by”.

 

RUSSIA

Deputy speaker of Karelia’s parliament loses in court to journalist

By Anatoly Tsygankov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

The Supreme Court in Karelia has upheld a prior decision by the Petrozavodsk city court to reject a legal claim filed by Devletkhan Alikhanov, first deputy chairman of Karelia’s Legislative Assembly, against journalist Anatoly Tsygankov. The claim was lodged in the wake of a newspaper article analysing the pattern of privity between the city administration, which manages municipal assets on behalf of the citizens, and local businessmen. Some outwardly lawful transactions with realty have been beneficial for entrepreneurs but not for the residents, the author wrote, illustrating this point by reference to a deal made over a decade ago but suddenly echoing just recently.

The deal was made between businessman Alikhanov (not yet an MP at the time) and the city administration, which offered him for lease a whole floor in the Karelia-Market trade centre in downtown Petrozavodsk in 2001 at zero interest until 2050, in exchange for a comparable floor space in another trade centre he owned on the city outskirts. Any unbiased look at the deal would show there was little in it for the city budget. Furthermore, Karelia-Market was co-founded by Alikhanov, who had at one time claimed for lease the municipal store “Karelia”, which then became the basis for the would-be Karelia-Market company. Ever since that company began operating, it has been rumoured to wholly belong to Alikhanov.

This story would hardly ever have drawn public attention but for the legislative initiative put forth by Petrozavodsk Mayor N. Levin, who proposed amending legislation regulating the privatisation of municipal assets on beneficial terms. The list of sites slated for such privatisation included the Karelia-Market trade centre. The mayoral initiative triggered vigorous public debates, since it was unclear who owned what in that project. After Tsygankov threw light on that issue in an article criticising the mayor, Alikhanov (who had already become a Legislative Assembly deputy by that time) filed a legal claim, demanding a disclaimer of two passages in which his name was mentioned, and 200,000 roubles in moral damages from the author (plus compensation for the quite significant judicial costs).

Testifying in court, Tsygankov presented documents showing that the facts he had cited in his article were true to life; and that one of the two passages being challenged only expressed his personal opinion that required no judicial proof.

After a thorough study of the case, the city court rejected Alikhanov’s claim in full (see Digest 595). The plaintiff challenged that decision before the Supreme Court of Karelia, which decided to uphold the first-instance court’s ruling and to leave it in full legal force.

Digest editor’s note: Tsygankov’s case was from the very beginning handled by the GDF Legal Service, which secured its client’s victory in both the Petrozavodsk city court and the higher-standing court of appellate jurisdiction.

Bank management in Omsk claims 5 million roubles from news portal for “disclosure of classified information”

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Vladimir Volkov, IT Bank Board chairman, has lodged with the Omsk Region Arbitration Court a 5-million-rouble claim against the web portal SuperOmsk, which reported that the bank’s staff and clients “are subject to close monitoring in the non-stop mode”.

The news portal cited one of the bank’s former security service heads as saying that all the bank premises, in addition to ordinary security camera surveillance, “have been unlawfully and secretly monitored by audio and video control devices”, of which the staffers and the clients “are totally unaware”.

In his comments for the Biznes-Kurs weekly, the plaintiff said the source of this “sensational information”, whose words were cited by SuperOmsk, had been fired from the bank, and the lawfulness of his dismissal had been confirmed by a judicial decision, so “he might find it difficult to prove in court the accuracy of his statements”. Volkov’s decision to sue, he added, was prompted not only by the latest publication, but also by “SuperOmsk’s recent general tendency to devote too much attention to the owners of IT Bank”.

Independent analysts have noted that the administration reshuffle in the region has failed to put an end to the ongoing “information war”. Since a new governor and a new city head came into power in May, this “war” has only become less visible to the public: with the two top-ranking officials being outwardly on friendly terms with each other, business companies said to be close to the mayor’s office and the regional administration have continued struggling against each other vigorously; the number of legal claims filed by both sides are as large as ever, and the amounts of compensation they claim from the media have even notably increased.

Major errors and omissions in media work as seen by oversight agency in Maritime Region

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

At a recent workshop/conference in Nakhodka, the Maritime Region branch of Roskomnadzor [federal agency overseeing the sphere of public communications] told media representatives it carried out more than a hundred different inspections and made over 100 protocols of administrative offence in 2012.

Regional Roskomnadzor deputy head Eduard Shutov reminded the journalists of some legislative acts enacted last year, which caused the most vigorous reaction from media workers and public activists. One was the federal law “On Children’s Protection from Information Harming Their Health and Development”, which imposed restrictions on certain categories of media content and required its mandatory marking for different age groups of youth. Also, commercial advertising of any alcohol in the print media has been prohibited as of 1 January 2013, with the first violations of that legal provision already brought to light in the Maritime Region.

Quite often, print media head-managers have been held liable for failure to present “the mandatory copy” of each fresh issue of their publications to the oversight authority (in February alone, magistrates charged 1,000 to 4,000 roubles in fine to the chief editors of the newspapers Spassk, Millionka + TV-Vladivostok, Za Matushku Rossiyu and Zhizn v Rayone).

During the seminar, Yelena Volkova of the Nakhodka inter-district drug control authority told the trainees about the categories of drug-related information banned for publishing in the media, and the administrative and criminal liability envisaged for violators of this law.

Meetings of regional Roskomnadzor officials with print and online media representatives have been held in February also in Vladivostok, Ussuriysk, Arsenyev and Dalnegorsk.

Communications ministry drafts amendments to media legislation

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

Some online publications are known to have suffered for harsh or indecent comments left by some of their readers on chat forums. Liability for the content of such comments will now be borne by their authors, not by the journalists, since Russia’s Ministry of Public Communications has been assigned to prepare a set of appropriate amendments to media legislation by May and to submit them for nationwide discussion prior to enactment.

Not that the media will be exempt from liability altogether – they, too, may be held liable unless the editor fails to remove “unlawful” content from the media outlet’s website within 24 hours of the receipt of the relevant official warning.

The law, by the way, might have been revised earlier – for example, based on the study of the so-called Ura.ru case dating to 2008, when Roskomnadzor issued two warnings to the Urals-based news agency for featuring readers’ “extremist” comments in its chat forum section that discussed the news about an action staged by Russian skinheads to mark Hitler’s birth anniversary. Those comments were promptly erased, and the authors’ IP addresses were made available to law enforcement. Yet the oversight agency, after a long-distance check-up (of which Ura.ru had not been notified) issued the first, and shortly afterward, the second warning. The journalists learned about all those measures post factum, with no opportunity to correct the above-described violations in due time.

The Federal Arbitration Court in Moscow on 20 April 2009 turned the news agency’s appeals against the Roskomnadzor warnings down – “most likely, because of the lack of coherent legislation regulating online media performance,” Ura.ru defence lawyer Andrei Belyansky said.

Today, many online media are still compelled to scan readers’ comments for potentially unlawful content, but this practice is likely to be dropped soon.

[Based on Ura.ru reports]

TV show closed, newspaper editor fired in Maritime Region

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

A television show has been closed in the Maritime Region, and the editor of a district newspaper has been dismissed, the PrimaMedia news agency reported.

The scandal over restrictions on freedom of expression flared up in the Pogranichny district of the Maritime Region, a reader’s letter to PrimaMedia said. The district leader, Igor Chervinets, signed an order terminating the operation of the district’s sole TV news show, Golos Prigranichya (GP), and replacing Irina Basyuk as chief editor of the public-and-political newspaper Vestnik Prigranichya (VP). Basyuk also was a co-founder of the district TV studio. Her colleagues in Vladivostok, frustrated by this appalling encroachment on press freedom, are ready to pay for the services of a lawyer to represent her interests in court, PrimaMedia said.

The reader’s letter provided additional details about pressure on the media, ranging from direct censorship to unplanned financial audits. “Finding out in November that since no funds were set aside in the district budget to finance the TV studio operation, they decided they’d rather close it altogether,” the letter said. Local MPs advised the studio staff to find sponsors to finance the establishment of an alternative, online, media outlet to keep the public informed. Maritime Legislative Assembly Deputy Sergei Sopchuk agreed to invest in such an outlet, and his colleagues welcomed his initiative, but district head Chervinets resolutely objected to such a plan and left his studio-closing order in force.

“On 4 February, the last page in the history of Pogranichny district television was turned,” Vestnik Prigranichya wrote. “All GP staffers were fired, and Chervinets unilaterally terminated the work contract also with VP editor Irina Basyuk.”

Officially, the district leader’s decision was based on the results of a financial audit that revealed a number of violations. But Basyuk, who stood at the helm in the newspaper for 15 years, believes that the audit was only a pretext – a point with which many analysts agree. In Basyuk’s view, the conflict between the district authorities and her newspaper was over differences in their vision of VP’s role in covering local developments and topical issues, as well as the angle of its reporting on the administration’s performance.

“We have failed to find any common ground with the district head in developing a constructive and co-ordinated concept that would make our newspaper a necessary link in the economic and social policies aiming to benefit our district,” she told PrimaMedia.

Of course, VP’s principled stand played a role, too: the newspaper management claimed ready to go to law to put an end to the direct censorship practised by the district administration on an ever larger scale; its move in that direction was like a red flag to a bull to the local authorities.

The chief editor was offered to choose between resigning voluntarily and getting fired in line with the labour code.

Maritime Journalists’ Association head Sergei Bulakh commented:

“They sought for a formal pretext, and they found it,” he said. “A media owner will always find something to start picking at an editor for. All those audits and inspections are a sure method of fault-finding, and they are nothing new. Resisting this kind of media owner moves by legal means is pretty difficult. The only way out is to seek independence from local administrations as media founders, because they seem to have mastered this practice well enough to continue resorting to it each time they need to replace journalists who stay true to their professional principles.”

Vladivostok Duma moves its press service to city outskirts

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The Vladivostok Duma has “exiled” its press service from its downtown headquarters to Trudovoye village on the city outskirts – a move that perplexed journalists and caused commentators to giggle gloatingly.

The press service was to move to Trudovoye, a former suburb 30 km away from the city centre that was recently adjoined to the Vladivostok area, as of 14 February on orders signed by the new Duma chairwoman, E. Novikova, one day earlier. The only way to reach the village is by commuter train or inter-city bus.

“As before, we are required to attend the morning planning meetings and daytime parliamentary sittings,” Vladimir Rudenkov, head of the Duma unit for interaction with the media, said. “Hopefully, they’ll assign special transport to give us a lift.”

However, all the Duma members are, as before, in the city centre, where all parliamentary committee sessions, meetings with residents and other Duma events are held. The press pool will be tens of kilometres away from now on. Why? There is no answer. Maybe to have less information imparted to the Vladivostok media?

One thing is clear so far: a press service at hand – even one performing not too well – is a headache for the Duma, as are the city journalists who visit it time and again: who needs extra eyes and ears? Or maybe a campaign has been started to “clear the media scene” in the run-up to the mayoral election due later this year?

“The situation looks curious indeed,” Novaya Gazeta journalists commented. “Few would be surprised to see the authorities declaring a war on yet another ‘disagreeable’ media outlet by accusing it of all the deadly sins. But to publicly crack down on the Duma’s own press service – that’s something new... Analysts of under-the-carpet city policymaking have come up with assessments of this situation that have ranged from ‘personal enmity’ to ‘pre-election tricks’.”

From now on, media contacts with Vladivostok Duma officials in charge of co-operation with the media will be difficult. Or is this what the MPs were after in the first place – no extra eyes or ears, and no unwanted publications? The way most observers look at it, the new head of parliament is “tirelessly and relentlessly spinning herself”, or else she “seriously wants to stem the spread of information”…

 

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Newspaper that reported misspending of company funds in Perm accused of disclosing two managers’ personal data

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

In its 29 January article “Birthday Party in Paris”, the Perm-based regional newspaper Zvezda reported on a conflict between Galina Smirnova, head of NPAO Ekho (better known in Moscow and Perm as the “Vision” Eye Clinic), and its former CFO Marina Orlova. Fired in 2011, Orlova reported to the police, Investigative Committee, FSB and prosecutor’s office a number of alleged financial violations committed by the clinic, including its spending of multi-million budgetary allocations on the purchase of expensive medical equipment that has ever since been used for commercial purposes in Moscow.

Orlova attached documents showing monthly payments of up to 250,000 roubles to a retired police general, a former deputy head of the regional administration and other officials, all of whom were named in the report, for their providing “the roof”, as well as government contracts and other illegal services to the company. Yet those reports resulted in criminal proceedings started against Orlova herself in 2012. Police in Perm accused her of the alleged embezzlement of more than 1,100,000 roubles – an offence the suspect said she had never committed, while only fulfilling Smirnova’s orders on organising corporate parties to celebrate Medical Worker’s and New Year’s Days, on cashing the hard-currency fees for Prof. Bergen from Gernamy, etc.

In late 2012, Orlova turned to law enforcement in Moscow for help, pointing to the fact that “nothing at all has been done in Perm to end the unlawful practices and bring to justice the officials stealing (budgetary) money and taking bribes”. She explained that “no one is willing to come to grips with the regional prosecutor’s office, FSB and other high-ranking persons”, if only because the wives of Perm Region Deputy Prosecutor Vitaly Ilyenkov and FSB Chief Anatoly Zayarny are on the clinic’s payroll.

According to Zvezda deputy chief editor Natalya Kopylova, on the eve of the article’s release, she had visits paid to her office by Galina Smirnova in person, as well as her legal consultant Angela Ilyenkova and Nikolai Ivanov, former press secretary to Perm ex-Governor Oleg Chirkunov; however, they failed to persuade her to cancel the publication.

The same story said law enforcement intended to additionally verify Orlova’s testimony, of which she had been notified in writing by the regional police department’s Acting Chief Andrei Podolyan. It also quoted Vitaly Andreyev, a former head of the regional department of Rospotrebnadzor [federal service protecting consumer rights and social wellbeing] turned head of the Perm branch of the Vision Eye Clinic, as telling the police he had made a trip to Paris at Smirnova’s personal invitation to participate, “as an official and an old-time friend”, in celebrations of her 50th birthday at her own expense in 2011.

Andreyev and Smirnova responded by complaining to the regional department of Roskomnadzor [see Item 3, section RUSSIA above] about the disclosure of their personal data by Zvezda. Asked to provide explanations, the journalists on 8 February sent the oversight agency a message reading, “Our publication ‘Birthday Party in Paris’ cited publicly accessible data from official documents prepared with G. Smirnova’s and V. Andreyev’s written consent to have their personal information published.”

As indicated in the publication, Smirnova and Andreyev were questioned by police in the course of additional check-ups made in response to Orlova’s reports on the alleged law violations by Vision Co. By signing the relevant protocols of interrogation, they themselves made information about their professional and private life accessible to the general public, pursuant to Articles 8 and 9 of the Personal Data Law. Documents of police inspections are not categorised as investigative or other secrets or as internal or classified information subject to protection under the law.

 

NEWS FROM PARTNERS

GLEDID celebrates anniversary

Below is the GDF address to colleagues from the Guild of Linguistic Experts in Documentation- or Information-related Dispute Settlement, which marked its anniversary on 15 February.

Dear Experts – linguists, lawyers and specialists in settling media-related disputes:

Please accept our heartfelt congratulations on the anniversary of your organisation!

We at the GDF can well remember the first steps you were making; we remember your unchallenged leader going around obsessed by the idea of establishing your Guild; and we are happy to have contributed at one time to getting your plans translated into reality and to be reading today your official report on your Guild’s successful work in 26 regions of the Russian Federation!

We are personally acquainted with many of you, and this gives us one more reason to hail your achievements and to wish you the best of success and prosperity in the future!

We congratulate you all once again, with special greetings to Mikhail Viktorovich Gorbanevsky as the inspirer and trailblazer!

GDF Team

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.

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 Monitoring 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.

Contacts:

Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 432, 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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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