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5 Октября 2014 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 675

22 September 2014


STORY OF THE WEEK

State Duma rejects bill giving journalists additional protections

Russia’s State Duma on 17 September rejected a bill on establishing additional protections for media reporters, as proposed by Fair Russia Party MPs in August.

The bill, “On guaranteeing immunity to persons engaging in journalism as a profession”, suggested establishing a special procedure for journalists’ prosecution – the same as the one existing for judges, barristers, auditors, as well as parliamentarians and electoral committee officials. The authors, Mikhail Serdyuk and Oleg Mikheyev, said that “the journalist’s profession is more risky than many other professions, as proven by the widely-known tragic statistics of violence against the press”. They suggested, specifically, making journalists’ prosecution possible only with a warrant from a prosecutor of a level not lower than that of a constituent entity of the Russian Federation.

Yet colleagues did not support Serdyuk and Mikheyev. At first, the Duma’s Information Policy Committee recommended turning the bill down on the grounds that Russian legislation already provides for criminal liability for crimes against journalists, and that the relevant clauses are deemed to be “sufficiently effective mechanisms of media worker protection”. The reference is to Criminal Code Articles 106.2 (“Killing of a person or his/her family members in connection with their being in the line of duty, or as a way to deter them from doing their professional work”) and 144 (“Interference with a journalist’s professional work”).

These arguments look very doubtful. Yes, Article 105 has been applied in real terms but has not worked well enough in respect of media professionals, considering the large number of journalist murders that remain unsolved, with the perpetrators enjoying impunity.

As regards Article 144, while it is in effect, it has not actually been applied. One of the latest examples was the RF Investigative Committee’s refusal on 19 September to start legal proceedings against those who attacked Arseniy Vesnin, correspondent for the radio station Ekho Moskvy v Peterburge, while he was covering a series of pickets by individual protesters in St. Petersburg’s Nevsky Avenue. “The Investigative Committee must have decided I felt quite comfortable under a torrent of kicks by my assailants, who evidently were ‘not’ preventing me from doing my job as a reporter – i.e., that no offence falling under the effects of Article 144 was committed against me,” the Interfax news agency cited Vesnin as saying.

Although criminal proceedings under this article have indeed been started from time to time, few could remember any such case going all the way to court, not to mention its ending in a conviction. According to GDF research, in most cases, charges of interference with journalists’ professional work either have been re-qualified as less serious offences or have entailed purely nominal punishment. The fully solved cases of the use of violence against the press can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Here are some statistics to prove this: Between 2006 and 2014, two suspects have been sent to mental clinics for mandatory treatment (in Saratov and in the Maritime Region); four others have been sentenced to probationary imprisonment terms of 10 to 30 months (in Novosibirsk Region, the Altai Republic, Perm, and Surgut); and only one suspect landed in real terms in a general-regime penal colony for 3 and a half years for assaulting a Channel One correspondent in Vladikavkaz.

As it turns out, the nonworking Article 144 and the fairly inefficient Article 105 of the Russian Criminal Code cannot by any criteria be assessed as “sufficient” mechanisms of journalist protection.

This notwithstanding, the Duma MPs decided otherwise and turned the media security-enhancing bill down.


EVENT OF THE WEEK

Police tracked down attackers of reporters in Pskov Region – so what?

By Natalia Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

In late August, unidentified persons attacked a group of media reporters covering the funeral of soldiers who had died “under obscure circumstances” either in the Rostov Region or in eastern Ukraine. The group of attacked journalists included Nina Petlyanova (newspaper Novaya Gazeta); Irina Tumakova (Fontanka.ru news website); Vladimir Romensky (Dozhd TV channel); Ilya Vasyunin (Russian Planet news portal); and two staffers of the St.-Petersburg-based news agency Telegraf – chief editor Sergei Kovalchenko and correspondent Sergei Zorin.

Kovalchenko and Zorin were detained by plain-clothed men who seized the journalists’ photo camera without any explanation and erased all the images (see digest 672). Kovalchenko reported the incident to the police, which took almost a month to react.

“The Perovsky district police department worked brilliantly,” the Pskov news agency cited Kovalsky as saying. “My report about the attack did not mention any names, because the men who held us at the Vybuty cemetery did not identify themselves either to us or to the police officers who arrived after a while. As police found out later, they were storm troopers from an assault aircraft division stationed in Chernigov. Moreover, the police confirmed the fact of a law violation committed by the assailants – their attempt to prevent us from using the camera, which amounted to interference with our professional work.”

At that point, however, the case was reassigned for handling to military prosecutors. A short time later, the journalists received an official reply from M. Andreyev, deputy chief of the military investigations unit of the Pskov garrison. The letter said that two military servicemen, S. Zlobin and S. Kuzmin, had been found guilty only of a breach of public order – “an administrative offence punishable by disciplinary measures that in line with the RF Army’s service regulations, are to be taken by their military unit’s command”. As can be gathered from this reply, the military prosecutors see the incident at the Vybuty cemetery as “petty hooliganism”, rather than an offence punishable under Criminal Code Article 144.

This seems to give military the go-ahead to attack journalists again and again – under the “threat” of pretty lenient disciplinary sanctions, such as a reprimand, a strict reprimand, no permission to go on a leave, getting stripped of a brave soldier’s breast sign, or – at the worst – getting arrested for disciplinary purposes. But then, the military regulations also say a commander’s sanctions “may be reduced to a reminder to a [guilty] serviceman about the need to duly fulfil his military functions and duties”…


RUSSIA

Regional police investigates attack on, and threats against, journalists in Novosibirsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

Working as a journalist, especially as a TV reporter, has been growing increasingly dangerous in Novosibirsk. Last week, reporters for two TV companies received threats and came under an attack while shooting stories on by far not the most sensitive topic – about a rogue firm making money on bogus deals with job seekers.

First, unidentified characters attacked a Precedent show film crew that was shooting video sequences outside that firm’s office in Tolstoy Street. During an interview with one of the victims, two young men approached the reporters from the direction of the local market and rudely told them to leave. Hearing “no” in reply, one of the thugs kicked the camera off the tripod to the ground and proceeded, along with his companion, to trample on it. When the cameraman attempted to save the apparatus, he received a punch in the face, the SibKrai news agency reported.

The attackers “smashed the camera to bits,” TV show anchorwoman Svetlana Voronkova told SibKrai.

On the following day, a film crew with the news show Vesti-Novosibirsk arrived at the same location to shoot a similar story. Again, the same thugs appeared (according to their verbal description), demanding that the camera be switched off. They did not resort to violence this time, but the threats they voiced sounded really serious.

Both film crews reported the incidents to the Oktyabrsky district police department. The Novosibirsk Journalists’ Union on 16 September urged the regional police chief to take the investigation of the two episodes under his personal oversight. NJU Chairman Yakov Samokhin cautioned law enforcement against looking at the two incidents just as ordinary street hooliganism. “People were doing their professional work, and there’s a special criminal code article protecting [interference with the work of] journalists in the line of duty,” he said. “Naturally, we will press for this particular offence, not a lighter one, to be imputed to the perpetrators.”

The Precedent crew’s camera had recorded the faces of the attackers before it was broken, and so did the Vesti camera, which should make it easier for the police to track the thugs down.


Civic Initiatives Committee in St. Petersburg to draw up a media development map of Russia

By Roman Zakharov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

The St. Petersburg-based Civic Initiatives Committee (KGI) is working on an index that would make it possible to estimate the level of media development in regions across the Russian Federation.

The environment in which journalists and bloggers operate, the quality of their reporting, and the degree to which the public trusts their reports are all meaningful indicators of civil society development. Therefore, the would-be index will reflect not only the status of the media infrastructure but also the levels of information source diversity, and the audiences’ opinions. Based on index data, which will be periodically updated, the KGI will draw up a media development map showing index dynamics both in separate regions and countrywide, and will develop programmes to improve media performance across the regions.

This is an unprecedented survey for Russia, and even international analogues would be hard to name, KGI project director Dmitry Kazmin said. “We don’t analyse media statuses, audience preferences or per capita numbers of newspapers in different regions separately,” he said, “but we seek to unite them all in a single index, while estimating the importance of each to an overall assessment of the media sector’s condition.” The work on the index is led by the TSIRKON research group, with invited experts’ participation already at the model-designing stage, Kazmin added. The expert group involves journalists, media owners and researchers, university professors, and regional and federal officials. “Just as much as society needs to trust the information it receives from the media, the KGI needs to be sure that the expert community and regional authorities trust and comprehend the methodology used in the index,” Kazmin said.

The methodology will be presented at the All-Russia Civic Forum on 22 November.


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Censorship in Khabarovsk Region

By Tatyana Sedykh, editor of Moyo Poberezhye newspaper, Vanino township, Far East

Quite unexpectedly in May, I received a letter from Marina Litvinova, a correspondent for the Khabarovsk-based newspaper Tikhookeanskaya Zvezda (TZ), with enclosed excerpts from a local reader’s message asking TZ if anything had changed since Tatyana Sedykh’s appeal to President Putin, and why the regional media were keeping silent about the matter.

Litvinova asked me to prepare answers to the reader’s questions, which came as a surprise to me, because prior to that, they had actually laughed me out of their newspaper’s office over my December’s appeal to Putin, in which I had put to the president several questions from my own local readers – specifically, about the reasons for many-month delays in wage payments to workers at the Arkaim timber works in Vanino. Taking some time to interview hundreds of people, I did prepare a reply that I sent back to Tikhookeanskaya Zvezda in June. I waited for another month before calling TZ editor Lyudmila Boldyreva to ask when the material would be published. The editor said Litvinova the correspondent was on vacation at the moment but that she would contact me as soon as she returned to work. Marina Litvinova called me in July to say she’d fully done her job and had long since submitted the story to the editor. I sent Boldyreva two more messages which, however, were left unanswered.

I don’t bear a grudge against her, and I don’t want to think self-censorship has played a role. I’ve long known Lyudmila Boldyreva as a kind and responsive person. Yet if my material was stopped by censors, it means someone was interested in that. What worries me is that the public still doesn’t know who in Khabarovsk issues secret orders on keeping mum about how the poor Arkaim workers are managing to survive without salaries, and who sends the president false reports about the timber works’ having “no wage payment default” to its staffers.

I want in this connection to appeal to other regional media heads. You know that censorship undermines people’s trust in the media. The Journalists’ Union of Russia, too, is against censorship. Please make sure the Khabarovsk Region never hears again about situations like the one in which journalist Mikhail Karpach is finding himself now. Both he and I have written about how negligently law enforcement has investigated a fraud scheme that left retiree Lydia Simchuk, 85, a resident of Vanino, without 150,000 roubles of her savings. I’ve more than once reported about her family’s efforts to have this injustice undone through bringing the perpetrators to trial. To learn what practical steps had been taken to solve this crime, Lydia’s son Anatoly Simchuk and I went to see the Vanino district police chief, Mr. Mukhin, recently. But the man started pressing me out of his office, saying he had not invited me. In the process, he was shouting, “This is a specially guarded area, not anything like a newspaper’s office, a hospital, or an administration headquarters!”

I still try to give the Simchuk family whatever information support I can provide. It’s a pity they no longer receive such support from Khabarovsk-based journalists. Anatoly Simchuk told me a few days ago that when he asked correspondent Mikhail Karpach to write one more article on the subject, Mikhail refused to, saying he was “not allowed to”…


Subscription-related problems grow worse in Rostov Region

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Addressing the Regional and Local Media Forum in St. Petersburg in April this year, President Vladimir Putin pledged to do everything to have Pochta Rossii [the monopoly-holding national postal service] reformed “smoothly and accurately, without affecting other sectors, including the media, and without causing them to face difficulties”. Now autumn has come, along with a new subscription campaign, but the situation the media are finding themselves in – particularly regional and local media – has only worsened.

Pochta has nearly doubled its press delivery tariffs since 1 April, thereby pushing subscription prices up 25%. The agency’s management say now that the government has crossed out subsidies for this kind of postal service from the RF budget for the second half of 2014, they are “compelled to raise” the tariffs. No subsidies will be available in the future either, in view of the State Duma’s approving the first version of the bill “On the Postal Service”, which says the government will not compensate Pochta’s delivery-related losses anymore.

Yet during the so-called “transitional” period, old subscription prices were still in effect, and newspapers appealed to their readers to be sure to subscribe before the period expired. Provincial people are very responsive: almost 100% of subscriptions to many local newspapers were purchased during that grace period.

“To our readers, even 100-200-rouble hikes in subscription prices are very tangible: many retirees in rural areas live on pensions of only 6,000-7,000 roubles [approx. US$ 150-180] and are therefore compelled to spend very thriftily,” Svetlana Alipova, editor of the Belaya Kalitva district newspaper Perekryostok, told the GDF. – That’s why it was during the grace period that 98% of our subscribers bought their subscription tickets. Now, they won’t be offered any such benefits anymore, and no discounts are envisaged during the so-called ‘subscription decade’, either. As a veteran journalist and editor, I know that our expenses have always been roughly divided into three portions: we had to pay 30% for the printing services and 30% to Pochta Rossii or its predecessor, Soyuzpechat, while using the rest to pay salaries to the workers, the rent, and for business travelling.”

All local newspaper editors are expecting a major fall in circulations. But the national postal service seems to feel quite comfortable about it. I personally heard Pochta Rossii General Director Dmitry Strashnov saying in reply to journalists’ questions at one media forum that “no more subsidies are needed”, since they don’t cover all losses anyway, while giving his agency a big headache in the form of endless audits by the Chamber of Accounts.

Media managers suspect Strashnov of stretching the truth: the Chamber of Accounts, the Antimonopoly Service and other oversight agencies seem to have failed to accurately assess the alleged and actual sizes of Pochta’s expenses on the delivery of newspapers and magazines. Here is just one example: A subscription to the Rostov-based regional newspaper Nashe Vremya costs 876 roubles today, whereas the newspaper itself retains only 145 roubles of that sum, to pay for everything from newsprint and printing services to worker wages. The rest goes to Pochta Rossii – with no discounts offered to subscribers for next year’s publications.

During the media forum in St. Petersburg, sponsored by the All-Russia Popular Front, someone asked President Putin what he thought about the disastrous situation in the area of subscriptions. The president instructed the government to work out a set of measures in support of the regional and municipal media affected by the price hikes, and even hinted at the possibility of resumed subsidising. “I think this should be – rather, it must be – accompanied by some kind of subsidising,” Putin said.

Actually, many media do receive government support all right. The same media forum heard a very impressive figure announced: the 2014 budget allocations in support for Russia’s print media amount to 70 billion roubles. The only question is which media are entitled to this kind of support, and for what particular merits… Word goes around within the media community about “tremendous” subsidies offered to Rossiyskaya Gazeta [the official government mouthpiece]. And anyone visiting the state procurements website zakupki.gov.ru will easily learn about the cost of PR services provided to regional administrations by local TV stations and local newspapers.

A one-minute report on Don-TR about the Rostov Region government’s “achievements” costs the taxpayers 6,000 to 8,000 roubles, and Media-Yug Publishers’ earns tens of millions of roubles by promoting the regional authorities on the pages of its glossy magazines and other publications that provincial residents have never once seen in their lives.

It looks like our rulers think that those people in the provinces don’t need to read regional and district newspapers either…


NEWS FROM PARTNERS

Amnesty International calls to support 7 October action marking 8th anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder

Ladies and Gentlemen:

On behalf of the international human rights watchdog Amnesty International, I hereby ask you to support an international action in memory of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

7 October 2014 will mark the 8th anniversary of Anna’s death. During all these years, Amnesty International has consistently urged the Russian authorities to effectively investigate her murder, bring the killers and masterminds to justice, and do everything to ensure safe working conditions for the Russian reporters. We believe that over the 8 years, regardless of the convictive verdict returned in this murder case, the Russian authorities have done virtually nothing in the line of protecting journalists.

Amnesty International on October 7 will hold an international action to pay tribute to Anna Politkovskaya and to demonstrate the international media community’s solidarity with their Russian colleagues who continue to work in an environment of limited freedom of expression and insufficient protections from the state.

We appeal to independent media outlets around the world to support this action by making available their front pages (or printed-out screenshots of the home pages of web-based media) for manufacturing paper flowers that Amnesty International activists will bring to the memorial plaque featuring Anna’s name on the wall of Novaya Gazeta’s office building. Also, we ask participating media outlets to write brief solidarity messages and send these to us for posting on the Amnesty International and Novaya Gazeta websites, and, where possible, to place those messages using your own resources.

We think it extremely important to see this action supported not only by international but also by Russian – federal and regional – media. We hope those paper flowers will become symbols of journalists’ sincere support of, and solidarity with, each other.

All independent media are welcome to participate; we are ready to answer any questions you may have, and to discuss the details. You may contact me by dialling (+ 7 495) 690-1852 or by emailing your messages to snikitin@amnesty.org .

Sincerely,
Sergei A. Pronin, Director, Amnesty International Russia

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