6 Июня 2013 года

Glasnost defence foundation dIgest No. 617

3 June 2013



Editor’s death under investigation in Omsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Journalists have urged the Omsk Region’s prosecutor and health minister to have the death of Vladimir Igolkin, chief editor of the newspaper Omsky Vestnik, thoroughly investigated.

The regional Journalists’ Union sent Prosecutor Anastas Spiridonov and Health Minister Andrei Storozhenko messages asking them to check the true circumstances of Igolkin’s early death (he died on 23 May at the age of 57). According to the death certificate, he died of “an acute heart failure resulting from a coronary artery disease and post-infarction cardiosclerosis”.

Meanwhile, his family, friends and colleagues have said Igolkin never had any heart problems and was generally a healthy man, who worked hard and seldom asked for sick leave certificates. It was a hammertoe on his left foot that caused him to turn to the city Medical Surgery Centre for assistance. He underwent surgery on 15 April and was discharged from hospital two weeks later – with a running sore that his wife was supposed “to attend to by herself”, the doctors said.

On 1 May, the sutures stopped holding and the patient telephoned the medical centre to ask what to do. He was invited to come after the end of May’s holiday week. On 6 May, overcoming the pain, he did make it to the hospital in hopes of assistance, but was told to go back home. On the following day, he was finally admitted to the hospital and operated on once again, but with no improvement to his condition. After that, he was told to find a way to independently arrange an ultrasonic blood-flow assessment at another clinic (Why not prescribe it before the operation, when the patient still could walk?), since the hospital’s own ultrasonic specialist was away on holiday.

Friends drove Igolkin in a taxi to a private clinic, only to be told there the requested assessment could be made in two weeks’ time. Although the patient’s condition kept growing worse, he was discharged home again on15 May. Concerned with his health, colleagues arranged for the editor to be admitted to the Cardiovascular Unit of the Regional Clinic – one of Omsk’s best medical institutions led by the ex-governor’s son. His third surgery resulted in the patient’s death on the following day, with his colleagues left to wonder if he did have some heart problems, why the doctors hadn’t told him in the first place about the risks associated with any surgery in his condition.

The journalistic appeals were signed by the managers and staffers of the newspapers Omsky Vestnik, Omskaya Pravda, Kommercheskiye Vesti, Vash Oreol, and Chetverg; the web journals Biznes-Kurs and Omsky Biznes-Zhurnal; correspondents for the ITAR-TASS news agency, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Novaya Gazeta, and many others. Regional Administration First Deputy Chairman Yuri Gamburg has instructed the regional Health Ministry to set up an ad hoc commission to probe into how medical services were provided to Vladimir Igolkin in real terms, the administration’s press service said. A preliminary report by the commission is due before 5 June.

Presidential representative’s office in Stavropol restricts access to information

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

Two conferences held at the Pyatigorsk residence of Aleksandr Khloponin, President Putin’s Permanent Representative in the North Caucasian Federal District, have “quietly” discussed a number of socially significant topics.

First, a round table was held, highlighting some matters of argument concerning land tenure in the federal district. The event was closed to the press, although land is one of the Stavropol Region’s most controversial issues and the underlying reason for a score of high-resonance recent scandals over municipal officials’ corrupt behaviour – bribe-taking, dumped-price land deals, etc. Discussing such burning problems in the absence of reporters made no sense at all, so it was clearly a pro-forma meeting, and the resolution it adopted, “The round-table participants agreed on the need to expand the existing mechanisms of dialogue on land-related issues,” is really laughable, considering the fact that such decisions are usually written in advance.

The second event, a conference with RF Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov, did attract a group of reporters, who had had to obtain accreditation, go through screening at the entrance, and wait for a quarter of an hour because the conference failed to start on time. The journalists didn’t learn anything new about “the development of aviation infrastructure and suburban traffic in the North Caucasian Federal District” anyway, because they were asked out 15 minutes after the conference started, with the TV monitors in the lobby switched off, too – without explanation or apology. The information voiced during the first fifteen minutes had been known from previous conferences and the minister’s interviews posted in the internet.

Sokolov himself can hardly be suspected of favouring this kind of media coverage of his North Caucasian visit or of deliberately trying to irritate the reporters. On the eve of his trip to the region, he had granted interviews to some federal media, among them the Ekho Moskvy radio station and Rossiya-24 TV Channel, producing an impression of an open and ready-witted man who is not afraid of “awkward” questions. As regards Khloponin, he hardly ever pays attention to such “trifling” matters as the closure of a conference to the press. His chief officer in charge of contact with the media is himself a former journalist knowing all too well that access to information is key to making government-media cooperation fruitful. So the question is who is interested in meting out information the way it was done in Pyatigorsk…

Khloponin’s office has long been notorious for restricting access to information and thereby preventing journalists from doing their job, as confirmed by Vassily Balditsyn, chairman of the regional Journalists’ Union, who said, “Officials of the permanent representative’s apparatus have behaved impertinently, of which we’ve more than once told them as well as Khloponin. However, they seem to think differently; they never react even to sharp-worded criticism.”

“Big deal!” one may say about the reporters left uninformed about a few topics that are thought to be socially important. But transport and land, which is worth its weight in gold in the Caucasus, are two areas of life where hushing up problems directly affects people’s life and security. One day after the “backroom” conferences in Pyatigorsk, the ex-head of the Prigorodny village council was shot and killed in the Predgorny District – in many journalists’ view, for his active cooperation with the press and his rigid adherence to rule in dealing with land-related issues. And then there was this incident with a Stavropol airliner’s landing at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow. Regional MP Andrei Razin, who was flying business class, turned out the only passenger that day to be warned by the hostess about what was expected to be a hard landing. She never bothered to warn the economy-class passengers – a practice so characteristic of our era of “rationed glasnost”…

Village council at law with local newspaper in Lipetsk Region

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

A village administration in the Lipetsk Region has lodged two legal claims against a local newspaper, and has lost one of them to the journalists already.

The Stanovlyansky district court in April accepted for scrutiny two legal claims in defence of business reputation, in which the Stanovoye village council demanded a disclaimer of information cited in two publications featured by the local newspaper Zvezda, and a total of 600,000 roubles in moral damages. Both stories criticised the administration, whose members found that criticism “insulting”.

In a defence statement, the defendant pointed out that both claims were filed on behalf of the entire administration, but the disputed paragraphs were about its head only. Besides, some statements were evaluative; and finally, no moral damage can be payable to an entity like a district council because the fact of the plaintiff’s having ever suffered moral damage as a result of a media publication cannot be proven in court.

The court rejected the first claim in full and is now considering the second one. The newspaper’s interests are defended in court by Media Rights Centre lawyer Yekaterina Mikheyeva.

District official in Perm Region claims insulted by newspaper that “distorted” governor’s words

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The regional court in Perm has turned down a legal claim lodged by Osinsky district head Sergei Romanov against the municipal newspaper Osinskiye Vesti (OV). The administration official demanded a disclaimer, 150,000 roubles in moral damages, and an apology from journalist Yelena Belousova, whom the plaintiff accused of “distorting” a statement made by Perm Governor Viktor Basargin.

Romanov has been head of the oil-producing Osinsky District since 2003. In December 2012 and January 2013, the majority of District Assembly deputies twice voted for his early dismissal as an incompetent administrator, but in response to his legal claim, a court of law on 26 February reinstated him because of some procedural law violations committed by the MPs. On 14 March, however, another legal claim filed by Romanov – this time against Belousova, Osinskiye Vesti and its owner, the Osinsky Information Centre – was turned down in court.

The plaintiff frowned at the newspaper for quoting Governor Basargin’s critical assessments of the situation in the Osinsky District, particularly for its citing the governor as saying, “I won’t come here again, ever.” According to Romanov, the governor did not say anything of the kind, so the “smearing” publication “damaged” his (Romanov’s) honour and dignity and caused him to “suffer morally”.

The district and regional courts reminded Romanov that Russian legislation imposes no penalty for opinions, assessments or judgments.

It may as well be noted here that the 3 June hearing in the regional court was not attended by either party and proceeded in the presence of only one attendee – the GDF correspondent.

Karelia’s Supreme Court steps in to defend freedom of expression

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

Members of the organising committee of the Youth Boxing Tournament in Petrozavodsk, tired of the city administration’s negligence resulting in numerous financial difficulties for the tournament participants, have sent the mayor of Petrozavodsk an open letter that was later published in some media. In turn, the mayor’s office, claiming hurt by the Karelian Boxing Federation (KBF)’s demarche, complained to the KBF Presidium, which instantly reacted – without even checking the facts – by firing the open letter’s initiator Vladimir Malegin, the organising committee chairman, from the Federation and its Presidium “for discrediting the KBF and for violating its Charter”.

Malegin, who has devoted 40 years of his life to boxing, was appalled to find himself kicked out for telling the truth. Unwilling to put up with his dismissal, he demanded a hard copy of the Presidium’s decision for purposes of challenging it in court: he and his team of the tournament organisers knew the mayor’s office was wrong while they were right – veteran boxers themselves had clubbed together to prevent the tournament’s disruption.

The KBF leadership refused to provide the dismissal protocol for a whole year, which resulted in Malegin’s losing the case in the Petrozavodsk city court because of his failure to file his claim in due time. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of Karelia, which admitted it was not through Malegin’s fault that the deadline had not been met. Asked by Judge Rimma Silchenko by what particular actions the plaintiff had discredited the Boxing Federation, the defendant’s lawyer said Malegin had written a letter to the city administration, which then had cracked down on the KBF.

“Has your Federation ever tried telling [the Petrozavodsk mayor’s office] that Russia is a country that has proclaimed freedom of expression and that any Russian citizen is free to appeal to the authorities for help?” the judge asked him.

“No, we’ve never tried doing that,” the lawyer said.

The Karelian Supreme Court cancelled the first-instance court’s ruling as unlawful, reinstated Malegin as a member of the KBF and its Presidium, and awarded him 5,000 roubles in moral damages, which money he intends to spend on organising a children’s boxing tournament, Malegin told the reporters after the court sitting was over.

The journalists who followed the judicial proceedings were glad to see the truth triumphing in Karelia and the republic’s Supreme Court stepping in to defend the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression.



Printing firms refuse to print newspaper Pravdivaya Gazeta

The fifth issue of the Kazakhstani newspaper Pravdivaya Gazeta (PG) failed to be released “for technical reasons” on 29 May. One day earlier, the Biznes-Inform printing house in Almaty suddenly refused to print the issue “in view of another big order pending”. Each of the 17 other Almaty-based printing firms the PG management subsequently contacted refused to fulfil the order on various pretexts. The Dauyr printing house, for example, said its director had categorically banned “any deals with the opposition newspaper”. The directors of the Bolashak and Asyl-Arna printing firms had initially accepted the order but, upon reading the make-up of the PG issue, refused to print it.

Private entrepreneur Aliya Ismagulova, the newspaper’s owner, asked the Kazakh Press and Information Ministry to recommend a state-owned printing house that would agree to provide printing services for Pravdivaya Gazeta, which is an officially registered media outlet not carrying any illegal stuff but “highlighting burning social problems, providing balanced coverage of what is going on in the country, and featuring politicians and other public figures’ memoirs, among them excerpts from the last book by [the late oppositionist] Zamanbek Nurkadilov”.

As is known, the [shut-down] newspaper Respublika could not find a ready-to-cooperate printing house for a long time, either, and was compelled to print its releases by any means at hand or to request printing services abroad.

[Adil Soz Foundation report, 29 May]



“Open” primaries on closed Russkiy Island

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

As it prepared its open primaries in the run-up to September’s mayoral election in Vladivostok, the ruling United Russia Party (URP) announced that “the intra-party voting will be held in an atmosphere of unprecedented openness – with the participation and under the control of the general public and media”. This would rule out any possibility of vote rigging, Lyudmila Talabayeva, secretary of the regional URP branch, said.

However, the party chose to hold its “open” primaries on a closed pad – the new campus of Far Eastern Federal University on Russkiy Island, where carefully pre-selected participants were brought in specially equipped buses. To be admitted to the campus, one had to show a special pass.

The media wishing to cover the primaries were required to disclose full details – from their specialisation, circulation, periodicity, office location and region of distribution to the brand of technical equipment to be used by the reporters.

The goal of choosing a closed voting site was to prevent the presence of unwanted observers.

“A fully manageable procedure has been designed to rule out any surprises in terms of media coverage and voting results,” political scientist Pyotr Khanas commented. “Since the interest in the primaries is low, the process is being drawn closer to the electorate through the use of well-controlled communication channels.”

Anna Zavadskaya, a correspondent for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta vo Vladivostoke, reported:

“Amid the late-afternoon drizzle, buses arrived one by one, bringing party electors: elderly men and women, some of them on crutches, a blind man with his guide… ‘Why disturb all these people?’ a fellow reporter from another newspaper wondered. ‘We’ve been brought here to re-elect [incumbent] Mayor Pushkaryov,’ someone explained ironically.

“My cameraman and I attempted to break through the security cordon, but the central face-control service said we were not on the list of those invited – and this despite the intricate, five-step accreditation procedure we had gone through in due time with the help of some VIP connections. Finally, after several check calls, they let us through.

“The regional party leader failed to walk the talk as regards ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’. Getting admitted to this ‘party casting’ proved more difficult than to a meeting with some high-ranking Moscow official: authorisations to attend were issued almost at URP Political Council level.”

There was hardly any information available about the primaries beyond a few official URP press releases and the mayoral PR manager Kristina Yatsenko’s note on the administration’s website that “everything’s O.K.” with reference to “more than 2,500 people’s experts who have been trained specially for the primaries”. There was no information at all about how those “experts” had been selected or who they were. The only thing known was that college and university students had been “mobilised” in large numbers to act either as electors or as “people’s experts” in the primaries, which turned out an event “for URP members only” – despite their proclaimed “publicity” and “openness”.

Sverdlovsk journalist’s private life shamelessly discussed on federal TV channel

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

National television (in the first place, Rossiya TV Channel)’s recent focus on sexual minority problems has been drawing very mixed reactions from the viewers and media community.

News anchors have repeatedly shown one and the same video footage about gay and lesbian rallies in France, where same-sex marriages have been legalised; in domestic talk shows, MPs and other “experts” have discussed this theme for hours. What is important, everybody agrees that sexual liberties are for various reasons rejected by the Russians, who think these to be matters of private, not public, life.

Small wonder, therefore, that many journalists in the Sverdlovsk Region were bewildered to see Rossiya Channel put on the air a recent talk show discussing the desire of one of our colleagues – let’s call him Yuri O. – to belong to the opposite sex. Honestly, Moscow producers had called me on the phone inviting me to come over and share my attitude to the decision taken by a man who used to be a friend of mine at one time. But having seen too many of those talk shows, where the anchor, trying hard to cry the yelling audience down, attempted to steer the debate to a point he wanted to press home to the viewers, I refused to and only agreed to an interview that was later recorded in our local Rossiya studios. I took a whole quarter of an hour answering questions they’d sent me from Moscow – but only a 30-second excerpt actually went on the air. But then, a local journalist who was recording the interview warned me that they would only “use a few sequences they’ll find acceptable”…

I asked my Moscow colleagues not to try to catch the limelight harping on a human problem – the more so Yuri O. had spent a month in a clinic trying to persuade the doctors to perform the very complex sex-change operation – only to hear them say no, thus calling his mental health into question. But the TV people were determined to stop at nothing…

In pursuit of yet another “yellow” sensation, they were unwilling to spare anyone’s feelings: they put their talk show on the air in prime time, at 8:30 p.m., when children might be watching it.


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.

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