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26 Февраля 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 649

24 February 2014

 

STORY OF THE WEEK

Post-Olympic overview of media situation in Russia

The 2014 Sochi Olympics are over, the winners are known, and the major results are summed up. One of the nicest news is that media workers suffered almost no harm during the Games.

This is seen as a result of the Russian authorities’ “prophylactic engagement” with both domestic and international journalists in the run-up to the Olympiad. Actually, the authorities did not have any special problems with Russian media, most of which were used to working in an environment of restricted freedom. To those that were not, the rules of behaviour during the Games had been explained in advance with the help of such “teaching aids” as media office searches, accusations, prosecutions, and sackings.

Ahead of the Olympiad, international media organisations had complained about tough restrictions on sensitive topic coverage in Sochi. For example, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report that government-controlled media were ignoring such topics altogether and were publishing propaganda instead. Reporters without Borders, too, pointed to problems with freedom of expression in Russia.

On the eve of the Olympics, the authorities reportedly imposed a secret ban on the release of crime reports from Russia’s southern regions. Also, they took other “preventive” measures, actually introducing a visa regime for the visiting media reporters from other parts of the country.

“I made up my mind to go to Sochi to see the Olympic Park to the construction of which I’d contributed as a taxpayer,” journalist Yuri Nikiforov told Grani.ru in an interview. “As a reporter, I’d been banned from the Games long before, so I wanted to go as an ordinary fan. A ticket to the Olympic Park cost 200 roubles, so I bought one; but I also had to show ‘a fan’s passport’, for which I promptly applied [via cell phone]. An hour later, they sent me back an SMS message saying I was refused access to the Olympiad. I wasn’t the only person barred from the Games without any explanation, but my reporting about it, unfortunately, remained largely unnoticed by the public.”

The press, though, ran into problems not only in Sochi. As opponents of the Olympiad attempted to stage some protest actions in Moscow just before the opening of the Games, police cracked down on them, detaining protesters along with reporters who were covering the actions. Grani.ru correspondent Dmitry Zykov was detained outside the Russian Olympic Committee headquarters on 5 February; his colleague Andrei Novichkov – near the Komsomolskaya metro station on 7 February; and journalist Andrei Zubets – near National Hotel on the same day. In Krasnodar on 6 February, Yabloko na Kubani correspondent Olga Zazulya was detained while taking pictures of a one-man picketing action.

Foreign journalists drew especially close attention from Russia’s law enforcement. Back in September, Dutch photographer Rob Hornstra was refused entry to Russia. Fehim Tastekin, a correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Radical, who had arrived to make a report about opponents of the Olympics, was detained for three days at the Sochi airport. Reporter Øystein Bogen and cameraman Aage Aunes, a two-person crew with the Norwegian TV2 television station, were stopped by police six times over two days’ period and were thrice detained while reporting on the impact of the Games’ preparations on local residents. Then a Czech TV crew was detained not far from Sochi by armed men in camouflage uniform, who did not present any IDs. Correspondent Miroslav Karas and videographer Tomas Horak called the Glasnost Defence Foundation on the phone to say they were charged with intruding into a guarded near-border zone. The unidentified captors questioned the detainees and suggested they should sign a protocol of administrative offence – but the journalists refused to. After phone talks with the Czech embassy in Moscow, Karas and Horak got back their documents and were released. Likewise, a BBC film crew was detained on charges of intrusion into a border zone but released after a few phone calls to the authorities.

It may as well be added that the journalists suffered almost no harm during the Olympics in Sochi. There was one officially registered detention case, which was not directly related to sports, though. The former members of the Pussy Riot punk rock group arrived in Sochi on 18 February – only to be immediately detained, along with Novaya Gazeta reporter Yevgeniy Feldman and Radio Liberty correspondent Anastasia Kirilenko, who were filming the police crackdown on the singers. Kirilenko, who was unwilling to give up her camera, had it torn away from her by force. And Feldman’s attempts to explain to the law enforcers he and his lady colleague were fulfilling their editorial assignments, just as the show of his press card, produced no impression on the officers. Both journalists were released later.

Finally, Yevgeniy Babushkin, newsroom head with the web magazine Snob, was detained near the Russian-Abkhazian border on 22 February. The border guards took him to the nearest police station without explaining the reasons why but behaving – just as the local police officers – very politely, Snob cited Babushkin as saying. “Your name is marked red in the [FSB] database,” they told him at the station. “That’s the FSB style, you know… Once the Olympiad is over, you won’t have problems anymore.”

Although not entirely without a hitch, the Olympics went off rather smoothly – at least without open violence against the press.

 

RUSSIA

Court in Voronezh denounces word “werewolf” as “misleading and smearing”

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Leninsky district court in Voronezh on 17 February partially satisfied a legal claim lodged in November by Semiluki District Council deputy Alexei Prochanov against the local newspaper Semilukskiy Vestnik (SV), which had carried an article calling him a “werewolf” and pinning on him the blame for “contributing to the decay of sports in Semiluki” (see digest 638). The MP asked the court to protect his honour, dignity and business reputation.

A judge urged the SV representative to prove that the plaintiff was “a werewolf indeed”. Since no such proofs were presented and considering the findings of a linguistic study carried out by Voronezh State University Professor Joseph Sternin, the judge declared that the word “werewolf” was “misleading and smearing”, and awarded Prochanov 3,000 roubles in moral damages from SV.

The defendant intends to challenge the ruling before the higher-standing regional court.

 

UKRAINE

Vesti correspondent dies of wounds in Kiev

Having been gunned down by unidentified persons in face masks the night before, Vyacheslav Veremiy, a Kiev news reporter for the newspaper Vesti, died at Kiev’s A&E Hospital early on 19 February.

According to Vesti, unknown men in camouflage uniform, helmets and black face masks, armed with baseball bats and guns, attacked Veremiy and his companion, Vesti IT specialist Alexei Lymarenko, at the crossing of Vladimirskaya and Bolshaya Zhitomirskaya streets, near the Chorne Porosya restaurant, late on 18 February.

As the journalists’ taxi halted at the crossing to wait for the green light, several men ran out from a dark corner and started rocking the car and throwing Molotov cocktail bottles at it. They pulled the taxi driver and the two journalists out and proceeded to beat them, leaving the driver with a serious leg injury, and disfiguring Lymarenko’s face. The two men turned to a first-aid station for help.

Veremiy received a bullet in the chest and died of wounds in hospital.

He had just returned to work after a month in sickbed in connection with an eye trauma he had received during a riot police storm on a building in Grushevskiy St. on 20 January, partially losing his eyesight.

Veremiy had worked for Vesti since the very start of the media project. He left a widow and a minor son.

[Obshchestvennyye Kommunikatsii report, 19 February]

 

KAZAKHSTAN

Journalist detained and beaten up

Journalist Andrei Tsukanov has been detained in Almaty and taken to the city police department along with Dina Baydildayeva, Galym Ageleulov and Dmitry Shchyolokov, blogger Rinat Kibrayev reported in Facebook.

According to a Facebook report by Murat Telibekov, head of the Muslims’ Union of Kazakhstan, Tsukanov’s wife said Andrei was detained near his home early on 20 February and sentenced to 18 days of arrest on charges that remained unknown. She said he was on his way to meet with Almaty Mayor Yesimov at the time of his arrest. According to journalist Arkhangelsky, Tsukanov had a bleeding wound on his head.

Andrei Tsukanov was convicted under Criminal Code Articles 355.2 (“Non-compliance with lawful police orders”) and 513 (“Contempt of court”), journalist Zhanna Baytelova reported.

[Respublika-kz.info report, 20 February]

 

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

What are authorities after: glasnost or money?

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Urals media community is actively discussing proposed amendments to the Media Law that would give popular blogosphere resources the status of media outlets. A bill to that effect, which is under consideration in the State Duma, would extend the media’s present-day set of obligations to the community of active and popular Internet users.

As is known, for a blog to be recognised as a media outlet, it must have at least 10,000 visitors a day. According to Ura.ru news agency estimates, the VKontakte social network alone, if browsed for the tag “The city of Yekaterinburg”, would produce links to about 300 blogs with a comparable number of daily visits. Does this mean the boundaries of glasnost are to widen indefinitely now?

The bloggers themselves, however, are describing the would-be law as an absurdity, and pointing to the fact that existing legislation is sufficient for holding any of them liable for any potential abuses. Besides, it is difficult to imagine how Roskomnadzor, the media oversight agency issuing media licenses, might cope with the likely torrent of applications.

The Internet is a decentralized network that would be very hard to regulate, mass communications specialist Edward Chesnakov noted. “If you take four of the most popular web resources – LiveJournal, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube – all of those are legally and physically based in the United States,” he said. “It’s hard to understand how the Russian authorities might be technically able to require the owners of blogs on those sites to register as their blogs as media outlets, or how they might control the number of visits.”

“To register a media outlet, one must pay a duty – that is, contribute to the moneys government officials might be tempted to illegally divide among themselves in the future,” one blogger wrote in a chat forum, pointing to one of the most likely reasons behind the proposed changes to the Media Law.

Bingo!

 

NEWS FROM PARTNERS

Media Defence Centre in Voronezh holds workshop on amendments to Media Law

Journalists and photo correspondents who took part in a workshop organised at the Mass Media Defence Centre (MMDC) in Voronezh on 13-14 February were offered the opportunity to familiarise themselves with new legal requirements to the Russian media and their staffs.

On the first day of the workshop, Galina Arapova, the Centre’s director, chief legal expert and trainer, reviewed the changes made to national media legislation in the past few years. Under the guidance of MMDC legal consultant Svetlana Kuzevanova, the participants then discussed issues related to defamation claims. The first day’s programme concluded with case studies of legal claims lodged against journalists and media.

The second day opened with a lecture on how Russian legislation defines and protects privacy, followed by an overview of legal regulations protecting a person’s copyright to his or her image, and by a discussion of legal disputes over the unlawful publication of photographs in the media.

The workshop attracted 30 participants from the regions of Voronezh, Belgorod, Lipetsk, Tambov and Ryazan.

 

Letters

Dear colleagues:

I’d like to tell you about a curious incident. One management company based in Krasnoarmeisk near Moscow organised a meeting with local residents on 5 February. It had neither the local authorities nor moneybags from other cities behind it – people just came out with a private initiative to enter the services market in a civilized way. Yet they came to face obstacles placed in their way. A group of mayoral officials and MPs, and even a security company head (sic!), came to attend the meeting – along with the chief editor of the Krasnoarmeisk news agency and of the official newspaper, Gorodok, it publishes.

Seconding the officials, the editor delivered a wrathful speech in which she blamed the company representatives for their alleged intent to cheat – and this ahead of their starting to act in real terms! But that’s not the main point, though.

What was really amazing is that she said for everyone to hear she would withhold the news about the meeting and the new management company establishment! A journalist is entitled not to cover an event that, in his view, would not be interesting to the readers. But announcing one’s intention to deliberately hush up a fact marks a totally new approach to journalism – one that has nothing whatever to do with glasnost or the reporter’s duty to keep the public informed.

Sincerely, Valery Pashkov, editor, newspaper Po Sushchestvu, Krasnoarmeisk, Moscow Region

 

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

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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