Дайджест
14 Февраля 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 647

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 647

10 February 2014

 

RUSSIA

Rare occurrence: Criminal Code Article 144 applied in real terms in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region, Urals

By Natalia Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The criminal code article prohibiting interference with journalists’ lawful professional activities has been applied in real terms by a court of law in Surgut, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region, marking a rare occurrence in Russian judicial practices.

The court convicted local resident Olga Yefremova of attacking a film crew of the SurgutInterNovosti TV channel on 24 July 2013. Traffic policemen had stopped Yefremova’s car for a breach of the traffic rules and the journalists, who happened to be nearby, started filming the proceedings. At that point, Yefremova attacked the reporters, sending a lady journalist to hospital with a concussion and nearly breaking the videographer’s camera.

This gave rise to legal proceedings against her under Criminal Code Article 318 (“The use of violence against a public officer”) and, to many observers’ surprise, under Article 144.

After several months of investigation, the case was submitted to court, which on 5 February sentenced Yefremova to a suspended 30-month term of imprisonment with 2-year probation, according to a Yugra TV report.

Newspaper in Chelyabinsk Region fails to recover its office equipment seized three months ago

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The equipment was seized during a search of the newspaper Pravda Goroda Zlatousta (PGZ)’s office in Zlatoust, Chelyabinsk Region, carried out in late November by officers of the regional police department on suspicion of PGZ’s involvement in “illegal arms turnover”.

An insider sent the journalists that day an SMS message saying he was ready to share with them some compromising information about one of the mayoral officials, and appointed a meeting. Hopping into a car, two reporters rushed after the would-be sensation. The informer, however, was absent at the agreed place – only a dark plastic bag stood in sight, apparently left for them. The bag turned out to contain parts of a sawn-off gun and a dummy hand grenade; the newsmen had barely touched it when a group of special police officers cracked down full weight on them from ambush.

The journalists were placed in a pre-trial detention facility. One of them, Valery Uskov, told the investigators his full name and gave them the phone number of the alleged provocateur; yet he remains under suspicion. After six days in prison, Uskov and the other PGZ journalist, Vyacheslav Baidariko, were released: a judge had not found any reason to keep them under arrest, because there was no evidence to prove their guilt (see digest 637 [rus])).

Uskov is known in Zlatoust as a prominent oppositionist. He has gathered signatures under a petition to get the mayor to resign; organised protest rallies and picketing actions; and his newspaper has repeatedly exposed local officials’ unseemly dealings. Zlatoust Mayor V. Zhilin has reacted to his activities rather nervously: in an interview posted on the city administration’s website, he said, for example, “PGZ reporters distort the truth, juggle with facts and tell people various nasty things about us, such as we’ve sold a parking lot and the bus terminal, and so on.”

PGZ sued the mayor for this statement but lost the case: a judge found that “the statement reflects residents’ subjective assessments that became known to the administration head from an office memo”.

On 27 January, though, it was the mayor’s office’s turn to lose: a court rejected its honour-and-dignity protection claim against the same newspaper, finding nothing in its publications that might be thought to undermine Zhilin’s public image. That marked a 1-1 draw in PGZ’s litigations with the city authorities; yet the newspaper’s confiscated office equipment has not been returned so far.

Federal TV channels use independent journalists’ videos without permission

By Dmitry Florin, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Arkady Babchenko, a freelance Russian journalist, intends to sue three federal television channels – VGTRK, Channel One and Channel Five-Peterburg – for using his video materials without his consent.

Renowned for his reports from “hot spots”, Babchenko has twice travelled to Kiev since public unrests and the confrontation between law enforcers and Maidan (Market Square) protesters started there. During his latest – January – trip to the Ukrainian capital, he managed to videotape an interview with an officer of the Berkut (Golden Eagle) riot police unit right amid street clashes. He then posted it on YouTube for everyone to see.

After a while, Babchenko saw his video sequences shown on federal Russian TV channels without anyone having contacted him to ask his authorisation.

Channel One aired Babchenko’s interview in a news show with reference to an unidentified user of YouTube, who had copied the video onto his private web page. As for VGTRK and Channel Five, they showed his clip under their own logos, without any acknowledgement of the source.

This is not the first time Babchenko’s video materials are misused like this: Channel One likewise showed another one of his videos without the author’s consent earlier. The journalist lodged a legal claim to protect his copyright, and the channel paid him 30,000 roubles as part of an amicable settlement at the time.

Now Babchenko has officially announced his intent to sue the three federal channels for their violations of his copyright.

 

KAZAKHSTAN

“20-Shi Bap” NGO coalition appeals to MPs to express concern over repressive trends in freedom-of-expression regulation

The Kazakhstani NGO coalition “20-Shi Bap” is deeply concerned over the 29 January plenary session of the Majilis (parliament)’s supporting proposed amendments to the country’s Criminal Code that would impose additional restrictions on freedom of expression.

The unsubstantiated assertion by the draft’s authors that re-criminalising libel would have a “prophylactic” effect outweighed the norms of the international documents ratified by Kazakhstan, as well as recommendations issued by the UN Committee and Council on Human Rights, OSCE, OECD, and the presidential human rights commission.

We see this assertion as inconsistent and dangerous. Once adopted, this principle may become prevalent and, as history shows, may lead to reactionary outrage and create an atmosphere of fear. It is common knowledge that tougher sanctions cannot bring the crime rate down. Crime prevention is effected through the development of legal culture and ethical standards, not through stepped-up repression.

 

Contrary to what the authors of the proposed amendments are claiming, the application of criminal law to persons accused of libel in Kazakhstan is not consistent with European practices. In the EU nations, defamation does not give rise to criminal proceedings, whereas in Kazakhstan, five persons – both journalists and “ordinary” citizens – were tried on libel charges last year alone, and the last imprisoned journalist was released from custody in December. Every year, dozens of cases are registered where people are threatened with prosecution for speaking in public.

In his 2008 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression stated, “The subjective character of many defamation laws, their overly broad scope and their application within criminal law have turned them into powerful mechanisms to stifle investigative journalism and silent criticism.” Toughening liability for defamation while liberalising liability for economic crime would create a legal discord that might render the government’s work of combating corruption impossible, and lead to suppression of civic activity in the country.

We urge you, esteemed deputies, to critically assess the proposed Criminal Code amendments affecting freedom of expression, and to transfer the regulation of defamation-related disputes into the sphere of civil law, as prompted by the development logic of our law-ruled secular state, which sees the individual, and respect for everyone’s rights and freedoms, as its highest values.

[4 February 2014]

The “20-Shi Bap” coalition was established by Kazakhstani non-governmental organisations for purposes of reforming media legislation and bringing it in line with Article 20 of Kazakhstan’s Constitution and the international principles of freedom of expression.

 

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Media-related conflicts registered by GDF Monitoring Service on RF territory in January 2014

Attacks on journalists – 2 (Yuri Surin, photo correspondent, Tverskiye Vedomosti newspaper, Tver; Aleksandr Koryakov, photographer, Kommersant newspaper, St. Petersburg).

Instances of censorship – 3 (Ulagannyn Solundary newspaper, Republic of Altai; Dozhd TV channel, Moscow; media in Dagestan).

Illegal sacking of editor/journalist – 2 (Marina Afanaskina, editor, Ononskaya Pravda newspaper, Trans-Baikal Region; Tatyana Tadyyeva, chief editor, Ulagannyn Solundary newspaper, Republic of Altai).

Detention by police (FSB, etc.) – 6 (Yuri Surin, photo correspondent, Tverskiye Vedomosti newspaper, Tver; Dmitry Vokhmintsev, reporter, 7x7 web news portal, Kirov; Oleg Sukhov, correspondent, The Moscow Times, Moscow; film crew of Den TV news show, Republic of Komi; Ivan Sedush, journalist, Channel 23, Rostov Region; Pierre Avril, correspondent, Le Figaro, detained in Dagestan).

Refusals to provide information (including bans on use of audio recorders and video/photo cameras; refusals to provide accreditation; restrictions on admittance to official events held by government bodies, industrial enterprises or state institutions) – 21.

Refusals to print (or distribute) media – 2 (newspaper Cherkessk: Vchera, Segodnya, Zavtra, Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia; Ononskaya Pravda newspaper, Trans-Baikal Region).

Disruption of radio/TV broadcasts – 23 (Dozhd TV channel – in Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg, Ufa, Perm, Yaroslavl, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, Moscow and Moscow Region, Voronezh, Kurgan, Cheboksary, Tomsk, Chelyabinsk, Kursk, Novosibirsk, Abakan, Surgut, Omsk, Penza, Yoshkar-Ola and Ryazan).

Withdrawal, purchase or seizure of print run – 1 (Novaya Gazeta v Ryazani newspaper, Ryazan Region).

Interference with internet publications – 2 (website www.chugunka.net – Solnechnogorskaya Gazeta newspaper, Moscow Region; website of Vedomosti newspaper, Moscow).

Confiscation of/ damage to photo, video or audio apparatus and computers – 1 (photo camera of Aleksandr Koryakov, photographer, Kommersant newspaper, St. Petersburg).

Administrative pressure (unplanned inspections by sanitary, fire or tax inspectors) – 1 (Ulangannyn Solundary newspaper, Republic of Altai).

Other forms of pressure/ infringement of journalists’ rights – 26.

 

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Conflict at Omskaya Pravda: journalists vs. management

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

For the first time in the nearly 100 years since the first issue of the newspaper Omskaya Pravda (OP) came off the press, OP staffers have openly revolted against their management’s policies. This could hardly ever be expected during the Soviet era or in the subsequent 22 years of Governor Leonid Polezhayev at the regional helm: he used to treat that newspaper, as well as the region’s main TV channel, as “sacred cows”. Any dissenting journalist within the governor’s press pool at the time would have been kicked out with very slim chances of finding an alternative job.

OP staffers say although the current head-manager of the media holding, Dmitry Pominov, too, has threatened to “fire the rebels”, this won’t be so easy to do: the scandal has spilled into the internet, and the public is clearly on the journalists’ side, while the incumbent governor, Viktor Nazarov, seeks to take public opinion into account; judging by the easy manner in which he dismissed Andrei Tkachuk as head of the Press and Telecommunications Department last year, he might fire Pominov, too, as easily.

The journalists have already won a little victory in this conflict: their trade union has succeeded in cancelling the 30% salary cuts recently ordered by the director despite the more than modest existing pay rate (5,000 roubles [approx. US$145] a month per staffer). When ordering the cuts, Pominov said journalists could earn more if they improved their efficiency by writing more than the standard 5-7 news stories they were required to produce daily to justify their stay on the payroll.

Such tough requirements, the director said, were prompted by the need to economise on budgetary funding and to improve the marketability of the media holding’s information products with a view to gradually attaining self-repayment. Presumably, Omskaya Pravda would change significantly after dropping its traditional function of signing the regional administration’s praises, and after coming closer to the ordinary people by starting to provide unbiased coverage of social topics, including sensitive ones, thus “contributing to civil society development”.

Actually, OP has ceased existing as such, though retaining its name; a new legal entity – the Communications and Information Centre – has been established on its basis. The goals announced by its director are correct in principle but hardly attainable at the moment. The trade union says Pominov’s approach was originally wrong: instead of cutting down the journalists’ salaries, he should have started by reducing pay to the managerial personnel, which grew notably larger after his coming to the company last August, with many new positions appearing on the payroll, such as “PR director”, “general division head”, “contract manager”, “content manager”, “advertising manager”, “information support service head”, “information support service specialist”, etc. Journalists say all those persons, while only indirectly contributing to the release of the information product expected to make the company financially self-sufficient, receive much higher pay than the direct product-makers. Their wages are not dependent on either work efficiency or end results. It is difficult to say how efficient all those managers, including Pominov, are in real terms: none of them has ever worked for an independent, at least partially self-repaying, media outlet. Such outlets are scarce in the Omsk Region, and they were established by other people.

The journalists are determined to fight to win; so is their director, it seems. The conflict is unlikely to be settled without the regional administration’s interference. The latter’s decision will determine the future patterns not only of government-media, but also of government-people relations. There is a “wide gap” between the authorities and the ordinary people that he would “try hard to bridge”, the new governor pledged in his inauguration address to the region’s residents.

 

Letters

TO: Alexei K. Simonov

President, Glasnost Defence Foundation

Dear Mr Simonov:

I am writing to you to complain about the situation around the newspaper Za Doblestnyi Trud, based in the city of Gusev, Kaliningrad Region, and myself. I have worked for this newspaper since 1998 – since 2001, as a member of the Russian Journalists’ Union.

Over that time, I have worked my career all the way up from a freelance reporter to chief editor. Like any other district newspaper, we have sought to provide objective coverage of the local developments, while still coming from time to time under readers’ criticism for showing “too much loyalty” to the authorities. I worked as chief editor under Gusev Mayor N. Tsukanov, who is now the Kaliningrad Region governor, and under his successor G. Silenko.

But as V. Perepelov took over as head of the city administration in Gusev, the attitude to our newspaper changed drastically. Perepelov insisted that I should submit to him ready-for-print pages for censorship; when I said no, he threatened to cut short our newspaper’s financing. He was particularly concerned about photo pictures of public events in which he participated: he did not like how he looked on them. But the main reason for my falling into disfavour with the incumbent mayor is that he considers me “one of Silenko’s men”, who therefore needs to be replaced.

The situation grew still worse when I was elected a district Council deputy. Of the 20 deputies’ mandates, 17 are held by United Russia party members and their sympathizers. During council sessions, I have often raised sensitive issues causing Perepelov to frown. Being award that my lonely voice cannot influence the voting results, I have published two newspaper articles expressing my attitude to the payment of pensions to former municipal officials and to the pay rises offered to officials of the city administration despite severe shortages of the budgetary funding. Those publications caused broad public repercussions throughout the district; Perepelov flew into a rage and complained about me to the governor.

I have twice been invited “for a talk” to the regional administration and urged to resign “the good way”, because “by criticising the municipal authorities, you shatter the power vertical”, undermining the positions of the regional governor and, further, of the president of Russia, officials told me.

I was elected chief editor by a meeting of the newspaper founders – 7 journalists and 1 administration representative. Seeing that I will not resign “the good way”, the authorities have put pressure on the founders to call a meeting especially to coerce me into resigning. Two of them have been repeatedly summoned to Perepelov’s office; others have been called on the phone and even been threatened with violence. The message is clear: my replacement is wanted by the authorities, so I must be replaced.

Over the year since Perepelov took over as acting mayor, local residents and businesspeople have filed with the city prosecutor’s office an unprecedented number of complaints – more than under any previous city head. I have copies of several court decisions showing that Perepelov’s behaviour in our municipality has been outrageous from the viewpoint of law. Yet I am afraid I cannot write about this on the pages of our newspaper – I might put my colleagues at risk. Also, I fear for the future of my family, because once orders have been issued to get rid of me, those orders will be carried out at any cost. Even if they don’t remove me physically, I might never be able to find a decent job as a journalist, considering the enclave status of our region. No one would want to employ a person who is “in conflict with the governor”, as the regional authorities have been trying to present our local situation.

In view of these circumstances, I would very much appreciate the GDF’s help and protection.

Sincerely, Sergey Kayukov

Digest editor’s comment:

We are making public this letter because it could be signed by dozens of other district newspaper editors. Until they were on friendly terms with the authorities, they kept working up their careers, fearing nothing. But when they sat down to think about their professional dignity, the level of friendship fell notably – as you can see, it dropped to a point at which journalists started fearing for their own lives and their families’ future. We sincerely sympathize with the letter’s author, but only his colleagues and he personally would be able to defend their professional dignity.

 

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.

Contacts:

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

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