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4 Марта 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 744

24 February 2016


STORY OF THE WEEK

Last TV company shut down in Arsenyev

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

TV TREK, the last television company in the Far Eastern city of Arsenyev, was shut down on 10 February, Maritime TV correspondent Vadim Perevalov reported, citing as the reason the 100,000-rouble fine the media regulator imposed on the broadcaster in the wake of its 9 May programme dedicated to Victory Day, in which a World War II veteran was shown smoking without the officially-required warning note about the hazards of smoking featured on the screen.

The history of Arsenyev television started in the 1990s, with two local broadcasters, Arsenyevskaya Studiya TV and Usadba, consecutively established and closed over an 8-year period. TV TREK had operated long enough to mark its 16th anniversary before it was shut down. Residents used to like the company and its programmes in which local issues were discussed at length; they liked that 9 May programme as well. “The 100,000-rouble fine became an unbearable burden, the last straw, for our crisis-stricken company,” staffers said in their interviews for the GDF. “The advertisers’ pool had been shrinking from year to year, while the debtors, among them the city administration, were not in a hurry to pay. We’d accumulated huge rent arrears, the salaries were meagre, and the company was heavily understaffed… The owners saw no future for TV TREK, and no one was willing to purchase it as a business.”

“We actively looked for potential investors,” shareholders’ representative Zhanna Chikrizova, chief editor of Puls Publishers’, said. “We kept posting ads, but investors from Vladivostok and Ussuriysk decided against going into Arsenyev which they saw as a bad choice particularly from the view of commercial advertising.” Local broadcasters in smaller cities have been shut down one after another all across Russia, and where they still operate they are financed exclusively by sponsors or owners.Arsenyev residents are regretting TV TREK’s closure badly. “Of course, we will miss that channel greatly and would very much like to see it go on the air again,” they told the GDF. Yet the system of elections to government bodies – until recently, a major source of additional funding for small broadcasting stations – has now changed, and no one cares anymore for either local television or the future of the team of journalists forming “the Maritime Region’s best municipal TV company”, as acknowledged during the 2014 Far Eastern Media Summit.

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Ridiculous: Karelia Supreme Court pronounces two old Russian proverbs “untrue” and “subject to disclaiming”

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

Here’s a court warning: using Russian proverbs is unsafe for journalists.

Not a single court across the Russian Federation had ever questioned journalists’ freedom to cite old sayings and proverbs in their texts until the Supreme Court in Karelia recently created a precedent. Its judges passed a ruling saying that two proverbs – “Every law has a loophole”, and “The law books are holy, but law enforcers are dashing villains” – if addressed to anyone in particular, may now be seen as “the spread of untrue information” entitling the affected person to demand a disclaimer.

It all started with a dispute that occurred last summer between officials of the Kalevala police department and the district newspaper Severnyye Berega (SB). After a local Juvenile Delinquency Inspectorate official questioned a suspected 11-year-old offender in the absence of his parents, which is against the law, SB editor Lyubov Gorokhova, who was preparing a report on this unlawful act, decided she should first seek comments from the Interior Ministry.

The ministry replied that the boy had been questioned “in full compliance with existing procedural requirements” and that his parents’ presence “was unnecessary”. Knowing the legal case in full detail, and based on the materials she had gathered by that time, plus the ministry’s official reply, Gorokhova published an article in which she used the two above-mentioned proverbs to hint that the law enforcers may have felt free to interpret existing legislation too broadly.

Taking that as an insult, the Karelia Ministry of the Interior turned to the city court in Kostomuksha filing an honour-and-dignity protection claim. The court, however, turned that claim down, causing the ministry to appeal to the higher-standing Supreme Court. The latter passed a really curious decision, upholding SB’s protest against a minor’s interrogation by police in the absence of his parents, but declaring that the author’s use of the two proverbs was tantamount to spreading untrue information about the police official concerned.

Commenting on the Supreme Court’s decision, an Interior Ministry spokesman said the ministry was “satisfied and waiting for the newspaper to publish a disclaimer”.

Editor Gorokhova is still wondering how she might possibly “disclaim” the Russian people’s centuries-old wisdom and what in particular she is supposed to disclaim. The Supreme Court did not order any linguistic study of her publication, and it is unclear on what grounds it passed the kind of decision it did. Now Severnyye Berega, in its turn, has appealed to the Supreme Court Presidium to challenge the ruling which Gorokhova sees as a restriction on freedom of expression and one’s constitutional right to free thought.

Since the “Russian proverbs case” is being ridiculed all across Russia as a kind of stupid joke, the Moscow Police Trade Union has advised its colleagues in Karelia to take a closer look at the lawbreaking police official’s performance, rather than claim offended by Russian proverbs.


RUSSIA

1. Yekaterinburg court warns: social media contacts may be legally punishable

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

The Zheleznodorozhny district court in Yekaterinburg has passed a convictive sentence in the case of local blogger Yekaterina Vologzheninova, 47, an unmarried mother charged with reposting pro-Ukrainian articles and pressing “like” icons under similar online publications.

Vologzheninova created a personal page in the VKontakte social network in 2012, the Ura.ru news agency reported. In 2014, she made the reposts which gave rise to the legal proceedings against her. One was a caricature of a man resembling the Russian president. Others included a picture of a Ukrainian girl from the ranks of supporters of Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, and news reports about Russian volunteers fighting in Donbas. All of those posts, in the view of investigators, “insulted and humiliated” Russian citizens. The legal proceedings were started under Criminal Code Article 282 (“Instigation of hate or enmity, as well as disparagement of human dignity”).

As established in court, the blogger had a total of 127 posts on her page, and only 4 subscribers, but the investigators said that the fact of her blog having been accessible to all was the key argument against her. Vologzheninova herself insisted she did not mean to instigate hate toward anyone, and just tried to bring closer an end to the war in Ukraine, while seeking to learn through her reposts what other people thought about the issue. She said she did not know that reposting such texts and pictures was forbidden, and that she did not want to disparage anyone’s dignity. Judge Yelena Ivanova, when passing her judgment, took into account the fact that Russia is a pluralistic country with different political parties and no state ideology, but she agreed with the investigators that Vologzheninova did instigate enmity. The caricature-related charge was lifted.

The court ruled to have the blogger’s notebook PC destroyed along with the mouse, and sentenced Vologzheninova to 320 hours of corrective labour (four hours a day after work). The trial caused such broad public repercussions that diplomats from several foreign states came to attend one of the hearings. Vologzheninova intends to appeal.

The GDF will closely follow the developments.

2. TV film crew attacker fined in Chelyabinsk

By Irina Gundareva, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

A convictive sentence has finally been passed in respect of the attacker on members of a Telefakt show film crew.

On 9 August 2015, as fire was being extinguished in an abandoned grain elevator in Chelyabinsk, an intoxicated man later identified as Alexander Solyayev attacked the film crew, aggressively screening the lens with his hand, pushing the cameraman back toward his car, and knocking the cell phone out of the hands of a girl correspondent who was videoing his threatening behaviour (see digest 718).

Since video sequences of the attack were later shown in a Telefakt news show for the viewers to see the attacker’s face, the court decided against applying Criminal Code Article 144 (“Interfering with a journalist’s lawful professional activity through coercing him/her into circulating or not circulating information”).

Charging Alexander Solyayev under Article 116 (“Beating”), the Sovetsky district court in Chelyabinsk sentenced him to a fine of 30,000 roubles payable to the television company.


3. Maritime newspaper Arsenyevskiye Vesti in dire financial straits

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

As many other independent newspapers, Vladivostok-based Arsenyevskiye Vesti is finding itself in a very difficult financial position.

Editor Irina Grebneva has appealed to the readers with the following message:

“The well-known independent newspaper Arsenyevskiye Vesti, as many other media outlets, is on the verge of closure today. Word has gone around that it has already been shut down, yet it is being released still, although on fewer pages, with reduced circulation, and with the staffers receiving no salary at all for quite a long time.

“You readers supported us when the regional administration tried hard to eject us from all offices and all printing houses; you stood by during the chain of trials we’ve had to go through; and even as the authorities threw me into jail, many readers came to attend the hearings in the regional court. You expressed solidarity with me as I was holding that desperate, almost insane, hunger strike outside the regional prosecutor’s office in defence of human rights activist Ilya Komlev – and we did get him out of prison by concerted effort! Not everyone was able to come in person to give us a helping hand when we needed it, but many wrote letters with passionate words of support. You never were indifferent and read our newspaper from cover to cover… Yet the authorities, as before, feel hostile toward us, particularly during election periods. It was in the run-up to, and during elections that they raided our offices and arrested our staffers; they ceased struggling with our newspaper as frantically as they used to only after their vote-rigging reached horrific, monstrous dimensions.

“Over time, our newspaper has acquired impressive political weight and influence. We have won an international Press Freedom Award and have scored a victory in the European Court of Human Rights, so the rulers no longer dare to bring criminal lawsuits against our journalists or put political pressure on us. But now that many companies throughout the country are going bankrupt because of the crisis, the authorities feel it’s a convenient time to stifle our disagreeable newspaper economically. If you happen to buy Arsenyevskiye Vesti from a street vendor on Friday, then you’re lucky to come across a vendor not from Vladpressa and not from Rospechat, because the latter two agencies sell our newspaper only on special orders for which they sometimes charge extra. Our main debt is to the printing house for newsprint and printing services, and it amounts to 1,240,000 roubles as of today. This sum is huge, but if it were not for the crisis, we could have easily repaid it from advertising revenue. It is the crisis that have made some newspapers scrap their print versions (which have grown tremendously expensive because the advertisers have almost ceased placing ads), leaving only their online versions. We cannot and do not want to follow in their footsteps because we know you need our newspaper more than ever today. The rulers are shifting the burden of the crisis onto your shoulders, and if Arsenyevskiye Vesti shuts down, then who will tell you about your rights, about swindlers trying to extort imaginary debts from you for undelivered utility services, about the seizure of your property, and even about the abduction of your kids?

“We have always stood by you in difficult situations, and it is on your solidarity that we count today. We are interested in the very fact of your showing solidarity, be it even a hundred roubles that you may be able to donate. And if you are holding this issue of Arsenyevskiye Vesti in your hands or reading the editorial online, this means you have heard our plea for help. I am sure we will overcome the current hardships together.”

4. Perm court backs tax-evading MP by reference to “tax secrets”

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

The Perm Region Court on 24 February removed the press from the courtroom to review behind closed doors a 1-million-rouble claim lodged by the tax collectors against regional MP Alexander Fleginsky, a member of the ruling United Russia party, whose interests were represented in court by lawyer Alexei Bogdanov.

When requesting that the court ask “outsiders” out, Bogdanov referred to Tax Code Article 102 (“Tax secrets”). Perm District Tax Service official Yana Antonova left the matter to the judges’ discretion. The civil law appellate panel announced a break, and seven minutes later Presiding Judge Olga Yeletskikh said the rest of the sitting would be closed to the press. She did not read out any justifying determination, although this was required in line with Article 11.6 (“Glasnost and openness of the trial”) of the Code of Administrative Procedure.

It seemed Judges Olga Yeletskikh, Natalya Ovchinnikova and Tatyana Nikitina (returning officer) had not read Tax Code Article 102.3.1, which stipulates that information about “tax law violations and related liability measures” does not constitute a tax secret.

The press was invited back into the courtroom only to hear the appellate panel’s decision which left the 29 October 2015 ruling of the Perm district court (where the hearings were held openly) unchanged. The judges ignored the GDF correspondent’s request for them to clarify the decision and name the exact amount payable by the defendant. Unofficial sources later said the tax collectors had been awarded more than 1 million roubles from Fleginsky in individual property tax arrears.

Previously, on 15 December 2015, the regional court of arbitration ruled to withhold from Fleginsky as a private entrepreneur more than 755,000 roubles in land tax arrears for 2014, as demanded by the Sverdlovsky District Tax Service in Perm. A week later, the decision was posted on the arbitration court’s website for everyone to read. Still earlier, on 9 October 2013, the Perm Region Court at an open sitting satisfied the demand of Inter-district Tax Service No. 11 based in the city of Solikamsk for 4.3 million roubles to be withheld from Fleginsky in individual property tax arrears. That time, the MP failed to pay the tax levied on his personal property – 23 facilities on the premises of Berezniki Airport. The regional court and a district court in Perm then additionally charged several hundred thousand roubles to Fleginsky in fine for his failure to duly pay that tax. All the court sittings were open to the press.

So why did Judges Yeletskikh, Ovchinnikova and Nikitina choose to cover yet another one of Fleginsky’s law violations by reference to “tax secrets”? We address this question to the Perm Region Judge-Qualifying Board.


OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Reasons behind TV2 broadcaster closure a state secret?

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

As it turns out, the Antimonopoly Service (UFAS) in Tomsk on 19 December 2014 warned the TV signal distributor, the local branch of the Russian TV and Radio Broadcasting Network (RTRS), about the inadmissibility of taking the TV2 broadcaster off the air. The channel’s lawyers learned about the fact of UFAS standing up for TV2 as late as now, having already filed a legal claim against the antimonopolists challenging their refusal to start legal proceedings in the wake of the channel’s unlawful shutdown.

This is not the sole paradox in the history of TV2’s closure: to make this operation look “legally impeccable”, the state represented by different government agencies had to act with utmost accuracy to ensure that as many participants as possible would remain “in white gloves”. As the GDF has repeatedly reported, RTRS cancelled its agreement with the TV channel unilaterally, at a month’s notice, refusing to carry its signal starting 1 January 2015. Officially, it had been “offended” by its business partners who “politicized” the breakage of a feeder in April 2014 which resulted in TV2 broadcasts suspended for 45 days (while a directive from the media regulator Roskomnadzor said that unless the station resumed its broadcasting within 5 days, its license would be suspended). Hundreds of TV viewers took to the streets to hold pickets and rallies, which helped resolve the technical problem sooner.

After the “natural monopolist” refused to extend its agreement with the broadcaster, TV2 complained to UFAS. As it turns out now, the Antimonopoly Service warned RTRS that breaking off with TV2 was an unlawful thing to do, and that it should undo the injustice “by re-concluding the agreement before 1 January 2015”.

“Up until now, UFAS representatives have kept silent in court that such a directive ever existed,” TV2 lawyer Anastasia Olgovskaya told the GDF. “Moreover, they have based their position on the argument that there allegedly were no reasons for issuing it.”

At one of the latest court hearings, on 16 February, UFAS deputy head Igor Butenko said that although RTRS failed to fulfil the directive, the law violation had “vanished” by itself before the established deadline; he did not specify, though, how that might have happened, Olgovskaya said. Asked by the GDF how RTRS possibly managed, without eliminating the highlighted violation, to make it “melt into thin air”, Butenko replied: “The warning was based on the assumption that RTRS dominated the market and, specifically, dominated TV2. A few days before the New Year – on 28 December, I think – RTRS officials presented a number of documents, including a presidential decree, which said that RTRS’s main task was to service some federal TV/radio companies, while the rest was left to its own discretion. The decree did not task RTRS with servicing TV2. This circumstance, of which we had not known before, caused us to doubt the fact of RTRS domination over the Tomsk-based broadcaster, and as long as such doubts existed, we were in no position to start legal proceedings. Those doubts were eliminated by the court where TV2 turned simultaneously with filing its complaint with us; the court decision was not in the broadcaster’s favour.”

Igor Butenko failed to name the date at which the presidential decree he referred to was issued. The one “On creating the state unitary enterprise ‘The Russian TV/Radio Broadcasting Network’” (in its editions of 19 November 2003, 22 March 2005 and 29 March 2008) does not say a single word about “tasks” set before RTRS.

These tasks are mentioned in a decree issued later, on 24 June 2009, “On all-Russia mandatory TV and radio channels accessible to all”, which indeed lists the companies which RTRS must service on a mandatory basis, among them Channel One, Rossiya, Rossiya-24, NTV, Peterburg-5, Match TV, etc. As regards other broadcasters, the decree says RTRS may, but is not obligated to, conclude broadcasting agreements with them. But it does not cancel the obligations RTRS bears in line with antimonopoly legislation, either: even after the decree was issued, RTRS remains a monopolist dominating many regions, including Tomsk, where there is no alternative to it. So the UFAS-claimed “doubts” about its dominant position are irrelevant.

According to Butenko, RTRS has presented to UFAS a “top-secret” document specifying the grounds on which it may cancel an agreement with a TV/radio company. The document has been added to the case files but its content is banned for disclosure. Asked if this “top secret” concerned TV2 in particular, the official refused to reply.

The Tomsk Region Court of Arbitration on 19 February turned down TV2’s legal claim against UFAS. The justification is still unknown, since the judge read out only the operative part of the decision.

From all of the above, one can deduce that it was head of the Russian state in person who decided the fate of the Tomsk-based broadcaster. At least, he is very well informed about the case: a petition signed by 15,000 Tomsk residents during a protest rally in a biting frost was submitted to the presidential administration a year ago but was left unanswered.


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