Дайджест
26 Сентября 2013 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 628

23 September 2013

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Journalists’ union board conference in Stavropol Region: Information cross-checking or yet another form of censorship?

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

The Stavropol Region Journalists’ Union Board on 20 September held an assize session in Pyatigorsk to discuss ways of fighting extremism and terrorism in the media sphere.

The region lately has been teeming with explosive rumours about potential inter-ethnic conflicts – a topic that the prosecutors have largely dismissed as idle talk. The head of the regional prosecutor’s office’s division overseeing the enforcement of laws on federal security, inter-ethnic relations, and on countering extremism and terrorism addressed the Board to explain why his agency has established such a unit having few analogues elsewhere in Russia. He called on the journalists to cooperate – at the stage of verifying the accuracy of facts cited in would-be publications. It might be a good idea, he said, for journalists to develop “a certain algorithm” cross-checking information with the help of the Centre for Media Action against Extremism and Terrorism, recently established in Stavropol.

He did not ever once say “you must”; on the contrary, he was constantly stressing that “no one is talking about censorship”. However, “Article 49 of the Media Law requires a journalist to check any information slated for publishing, but it fails to specify in what form, nor says anything about how a negligent reporter may be held liable for non-compliance,” the official said, noting that as a result, no one has ever been held responsible for circulating information that “explodes like a bomb in a region where the out-migration of Slavic population has, as it is, grown from year to year”. Besides, security agencies have spent lots of budgetary funds on counter-propaganda, so “it seems unfair that persons circulating unchecked and explosive information stand by, paying nothing,” he summed up.

After a heated debate, Board members took the floor one after another to respond. They explained to the guest that “objective information”, just like “the absolute truth”, is non-existent by definition; it is an ideal that anyone can at best aspire to reach; in inter-ethnic relations, each side actually defends “its own truth”. As regards methods of cross-checking information, they are as easy as ABC and are taught at any school of journalism: one just has to check with three unrelated sources.

Journalists, Board members said, would be eager to consult with specialists and even to show them a story prior to publishing – but only if they dealt with a consultant directly and if feedback were available within three hours at the longest. They would not submit it for scrutiny to any “Centre”, where the story would be sure to get stuck at the stage of coordination, as it has happened so many times before. By the time the officials agreed among themselves who would bear responsibility for the would-be publication, the news would not only have been published in the blogosphere but would also have become long outdated. And one other thing that seems significant: the Centre for Media Action against Extremism and Terrorism, which has been established under the regional Public Communications Committee, has many government and security officials on its payroll, but not a single journalist…

Board members advised the prosecutor to research the experience of the National Counter-Terrorism Committee, whose members directly cooperate with journalists without fearing to give them their phone numbers and e-mail addresses. And the Committee’s website reports on anti-terrorism operations while they are still in progress.

The guest said he would certainly familiarise himself with the NCTC experience – but he declined to give his telephone number, although journalists asked him to…

 

RUSSIA

Deputy minister in Karelia threatens to fire newspaper editor

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

The election campaign in Karelia is over, but it looks like it will have repercussions on some of the republic’s media – the newspaper Novosti Kalevaly (NK) as a minimum.

Aleksandr Rybakov, deputy minister for inter-ethnic policy and contacts with public and religious associations and the media (it is he who is in charge of the press), has urged NK Chief Editor Lyubov Gorokhova to find a pretext for firing one of her staffers, journalist Andrei Tuomi. He did not tell her why she should do that; she thinks Tuomi is a pretty good professional. When she said no, the deputy minister hinted that she herself might get fired for non-cooperation. The official was talking to Gorokhova in the office of Kalevala District Head V. Bulavtseva in the presence of his direct superior, Minister L. Migunova.

It all began with Tuomi’s announcing his decision to run for the head of the Kalevala township administration against a rival candidate nominated by the ruling United Russia party, who happened to be head of a district administration division. Taking a leave from work until the end of the campaign, as required by law, Tuomi started posting in his blog and commenting on local government documents that revealed district leaders’ involvement in a number of dirty deals. That caused friction between the district newspaper editor and the head of district administration. For Gorokhova, the situation was complicated by her combining the editor’s position with that of director of the municipal budget-financed Novosti Kalevaly Information Centre (actually, it is NK proper; the organisational form was once adopted to simplify the receipt of budgetary subsidies, but it so happened that the newspaper editor found herself directly subordinated to the district administration as head of “another” organisation). For the administration, firing Gorokhova as Information Centre director meant losing her as NK chief editor, too. Her dismissal was fraught with unemployment, since she could hardly ever find an alternative job in the district centre – a point both parties knew all too well.

Anyway, the conflict persists, and the likely loser is already known. To prevent NK’s shutdown, the Journalists’ Union of Karelia has sent a message to the republic’s prosecutor, detailing the conflict situation and asking to defend the NK staff from ill-behaving district and republican officials, who are flagrantly violating both the Russian Constitution and the Media Law, which prohibits censorship in any form.

The situation is still hanging in the balance. No one has so far subjected either Gorokhova or Tuomi to any reprisals. Hopefully, making this conflict known to the broad public will cause the government officials concerned to start respecting the law.

Karelia’s law enforcement defenceless against “black PR”

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

Investigators in Karelia are to find out who issued the newspapers Nam Ne Vsyo Yasno (“Not Everything’s Clear”) and Yablochny Skaz (“Yabloko Tales”) in the run-up to the latest local government elections. The first publication fully replicated the format and design of the newspaper Nam Vsyo Yasno (“Everything’s Clear”) issued by the Karelian branch of the Fair Russia party; the fake harshly criticised Fair Russia and its nominees. It was circulated in an estimated 100,000 copies (as a minimum) in the five districts across the republic where FR’s positions were particularly strong. The second newspaper – actually a leaflet – attacked the Yabloko party nominees running for seats on local councils. It was found only in the Olonetsky district, and its print run is unknown (Yabloko activists picked up about 5,000 copies in the district centre and nearby villages).

The regional branches of the two political parties reported those information attacks to law enforcement, demanding that the “black PR” masterminds be identified and held liable. In real terms, though, none of those who ordered the issuance of the malicious fakes are likely to be found, ever.

For several months before the 2011 parliamentary elections, the weekly Kriminalnaya Sreda (“Criminal Environment”) was released in Petrozavodsk, publishing news leaks that compromised United Russia’s rivals. The prosecutor’s office, police and Central Electoral Committee in Karelia knew everything about the newspaper’s publisher and editor; moreover, civic activists carried out an independent investigation that showed Kriminalnaya Sreda was made at United Russia’s headquarters. Yet the unlawful issuance of the newspaper did not stop until the election campaign was over. The publisher/editor managed to get away only with a minor fine.

Members of Karelia’s Legislative Assembly, whose parties suffered at the hands of “black PR” specialists during the elections, have, too, urged the republic’s law enforcement to find and punish the authors of illegal newspapers and leaflets, and promised to hold a special session to discuss unlawful methods of campaigning and what law enforcers have done to put an end to those practices.

Website editor in Krasnodar charged with extremism because of posting link to YouTube video

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Criminal proceedings have been started against Anatoly Kuznetsov, chief editor of the Anapa-pro.com news website, under Criminal Code Article 282 (“Instigation of hatred or enmity, and disparagement of human dignity”). The measure followed his posting on the website a hyperlink to a YouTube video featuring a clearly extremist and nationalist speech by public activist and writer Eduard Bagirov, who also acted as Vladimir Putin’s authorised representative during the latest presidential campaign.

By posting that link on his website, he wanted to draw public attention to nationalism – an exceedingly popular topic for discussion in the Krasnodar Region lately, Kuznetsov said. He also posted a same-page questionnaire supposed to reveal website visitors’ attitude to the video. The editor insists he did so for research purposes only, and that his action was anything but criminal.

It may be noted that Anapa-pro.com has regularly reviewed the crime situation in the region and repeatedly published materials criticising local authorities – specifically, analysing the regional government’s role in encouraging pro-criminal, including nationalist, sentiments in the Krasnodar Region. This gives Kuznetsov reasons to believe the criminal case against him is politically underpinned.

Lawyers at the Voronezh-based Media Rights Centre are providing legal consulting for the Anapa-pro.com editor.

Bankruptcy commissioner in Omsk lodges legal claim against newspaper

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

In the 18 months since the previous governor’s retirement, the authorities in Omsk have drastically cut budgetary expenditures on media support and have actually left the journalists alone. Legal claims against media have only been lodged from time to time by some angry businessmen, each of whom, though, is somehow or other related to either the previous or the incumbent administration.

For example, as we have reported (see digest 586), Oleg Shishov, an MP and the general director of the road-building company Mostovik, has claimed 1 million roubles from the Biznes-Kurs weekly, which reported about 2 billion roubles of budgetary funds stolen during the construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi. Although law enforcement did start criminal proceedings in the wake of that report, and the investigation is still not over, a court of law has ruled for Biznes-Kurs to pay Shishov – a close friend of ex-Governor Leonid Polezhayev – 35,000 roubles in moral damages.

The Arbitration Court in Omsk the other day accepted for scrutiny another legal claim, filed (rather unexpectedly) by businessman Nikita Utochenko against the newspaper Kommercheskiye Vesti and its author Mikhail Gintsyak. Utochenko is a bankruptcy commissioner with a reputation for liquidating ruined companies in such a manner that they needn’t repay their debts to the national savings bank, SberBank. In some cases, this has reportedly enabled the owners of bankrupt companies to save up to 100 million roubles on such liquidation.

Gintsyak, a Moscow-based businessman, wrote that he “will never know rest until criminal proceedings have been started against Utochenko”. The latter lodged his claim a whole six months after the publication, explaining this long pause by the fact that he cares not so much about his own honour, dignity and business reputation as about those of law enforcement and the judiciary, which have secured his success as a bankruptcy commissioner.

The court is to confirm or disprove the fact of an “organised crime ring” operating in Omsk; so the forthcoming trial is certain to attract considerable public attention, Gintsyak wrote in Kommercheskiye Vesti.

Journalists attacked by men in camouflage uniform in Moscow Region

By Dmitry Florin, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Unidentified men wearing camouflage uniform attacked a group of journalists and green activists who arrived on 19 September at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where a third landing strip is under construction – reportedly, without official authorisation and with flagrant violations of environmental laws, leading to the pollution of the Klyazma River flowing into a reservoir that serves as a water intake for the city of Moscow.

An FLB.ru reporter was shooting video sequences of the construction site when a group of men – apparently building workers – surrounded him and rudely demanded that he switch his camera off. They did not explain why, nor did they identify themselves.

The journalist told them that in line with effective legislation, he may continue recording until someone explains to him the legal reasons for his stopping to do so. Two men in camouflage uniform started bullying the reporter, and one told the other, “Come on, break his camera!”

The journalist had to retreat, but resumed the recording soon. Meanwhile, the men attacked one of his companions, striking him on the hand in which he was holding a cell phone and dialling the police number.

The attackers refused to explain anything; they talked rudely to the journalists and calmed down only after they were told police would arrive shortly.

Newspapers in Karelian dialects about to sink into oblivion

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

After a routine inspection of the republic’s print media, Karelia’s branch of Roskomnadzor [federal authority overseeing public communications] has found to its surprise that the newspaper Oma Mua (“Native Land”) has never presented its charter or an equivalent document to the oversight agency, although it should have done so within three months of its establishment in 1990.

Now it seems the newspaper needn’t be in a hurry to correct its legal mistake, since the two dialectal newspapers issued in today’s Karelia – Oma Mua (in the Livvic dialect) and Vienan Karjala (“White Sea Karelia”, in Karelian proper) – are supposed to merge into one as of 1 January 2014. In the 15 years of the Terms and Spelling Commission’s operation under the auspices of the President of Karelia, scholars have developed a single literary Karelian language, eliminating the need to print newspapers and magazines in those two dialects.

Oma Mua has a circulation of 608, and Vienan Karjala, of only 504. Both newspapers, just as all the other Finno-Ugric media (four more newspapers and magazines issued in Karelian, Vepsian and Finnish), are financed from the republic’s budget.

Two glossy magazines in Rostov Region to be fined for ignoring advertising law amendments

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The Rostov branch of the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) on 18 September levied a 100,000-rouble fine on Kto Glavnyi magazine for advertising alcohol on its pages.

The measure followed a complaint by the regional department of Roskomnadzor about Kto Glavnyi and another glossy magazine, Kult Yedy, carrying commercial ads placed by some wine boutiques and a private brewery. Although the ads featured the boutiques and the brewery, not the alcohol they sell, a FAS commission in Rostov concluded that the two magazines actually “advertised original brand names identifying the manufacturer and seller, as well as their products – wine and beer; and carried images of alcoholic beverages that are prohibited for advertising via the print media”.

The administrative case against Kult Yedy is not yet complete, but the magazine is likely to pay an equal amount in fine. “The two media outlets ignored the amendments to the Advertising Law which were passed a year ago and entered into full legal force as of 1 January 2013,” commission member Valentin Gavrilov told the GDF. “Federal Law No. 119 prohibits any kind of alcohol advertising in the media.”

Dr. Aleksandr Lukyantsev, head of Southern Federal University’s Civil Law Department, commented at our request on other legislative amendments affecting the media:

“Significant changes were made to Articles 150-152 of the Civil Code, dedicated to citizens’ intangible assets (life and health, dignity, physical integrity, honour and good name, business reputation, privacy, etc.) as well as the legal procedures for defending one’s honour, dignity and business reputation.

“In addition to a disclaimer and the payment of damages, provided for by the previous edition of the law, moral damages may also be payable now, but only – and this is the novelty – to individuals, not to legal entities as before. In line with Article 151, a court may award moral damage compensation ‘proportionally to the physical and moral suffering inflicted on the affected individual, depending on his/her personality’. The reason for revising this provision is that legal entities cannot suffer physically or morally.

“When passing the amendments, the legislators took into account the fact that in the world of electronic communications, a person feels poorly protected. A set of new Civil Code provisions is coming into legal force as of 1 October, defining liability for the spread of smearing information in the Internet. This is a significant novelty requiring the media to protect people’s honour, dignity and business reputation when circulating data via the Internet.

“What’s to be done if such ‘smearing’ information appears on a website allowing visitors to post comments anonymously? I think an honour-and-dignity protection claim may be lodged against the Internet service provider in that event. Of course, this doesn’t mean website owners must erase all insulting postings that are questionable – that is, their accuracy has not been confirmed by a court of law. Such an approach would mean imposing yet another restriction on freedom of expression.”

 

KAZAKHSTAN

Adil Soz Foundation’s monitor of freedom-of-expression violations in August 2013

In August, the Adil Soz Foundation registered 83 reports about restrictions of freedom of expression in Kazakhstan, including the following:

- The case of Aleksandr Kharlamov, who is charged with fanning inter-religious strife, has been returned for additional investigation;

- The release of the newspaper Pravdivaya Gazeta has been suspended for three months;

- Pravda Kazakhstana’s print run has been seized because of a technical error in the output data;

- Uralskaya Nedelya staffers have been accused of arbitrary behaviour.

For further details, see www.adilsoz.kz

[Adil Soz monitoring service report, 23 September]

 

UKRAINE

More than 60 journalists killed in Ukraine since proclamation of independence

Ever since Ukraine proclaimed independence, more than 60 journalists have been killed in the country, the National Journalists’ Union of Ukraine (NJUU) told the newspaper Rakurs.

“Today, it is known that during the independence period, more than 60 journalists – most of them NJUU members or reporters for other media and human rights organisations – have died in work-related or obscure situations,” NJUU First Secretary Sergei Tomilenko said.

“The past few years have been marked by particularly numerous violations of journalist rights; government officials’ cynical connivance at, or deliberate neglect of, such violations has become a trend,” according to the NJUU. Ukrainian authorities perceive journalists not as people performing their professional duty but as persons who are supposed to serve them, Tomilenko said, pointing to this as the reason for the ruling elite’s often treating reporters as servants, using them as instruments in political battles, while forgetting all about their rights, duties, and so on.

“The situation wasn’t as frustrating as this at any time in the past,” Tomilenko said. “Even under President Leonid Kuchma, government officials used to respect media legislation and to more actively respond to journalist rights violations. Today, police feel free to use force against journalists or remain inactive watching media workers being beaten in their presence.”

[Rakurs report, 16 September]

 

Letters

My sincere congratulations on winning the trial in Abakan to Mikhail Afanasyev and to everyone who helped him win! As GLEDID head, I am really happy to learn that the defence succeeded in proving the inconsistency of this [prosecution-ordered] linguistic study done on the side – it didn’t work! It might be a good idea to post its text on the JUR and GDF websites as an appalling example of “sponsored” work some linguists agree to do, and as counsel to those who choose this wrong and pernicious path for thirty pieces of silver…

Prof. Mikhail V. Gorbanevsky, Ph.D. (Philology),
Member of Russian Academy of Natural Sciences
Board Chairman, Guild of Linguistic Experts in Documentation- and Information-related Disputes (GLEDID)

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.

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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