Дайджест
20 Апреля 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 750

STORY OF THE WEEK

Journalists advised to file income statements

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

The general public lists journalists along with law enforcers among Russia's "foremost corruption fighters". Yet the National Plan for Combating Corruption, endorsed by President Vladimir Putin on 1 April, points to journalists as "potentially corrupt" individuals themselves. So far, though, they have only been advised to file income statements through their representatives: for example, it is recommended that public associations of professional media workers "and others, whose work is deemed to be aimed at defending public interests and attracts increased public attention," should publish statements reflecting their incomes, expenditures, assets and property-related obligations on the official websites of their respective organisations or in the media, according to Item 22 of the anti-corruption plan.

Back in November 2015, Sergei Neverov, secretary of the United Russia Party's General Council, already urged journalists at a forum of local party cells to disclose their incomes. Yet later he said in a statement that that would "not be a mandatory requirement for all the journalists and editors to comply with". Nevertheless, the anti-corruption plan instructs all professional journalistic organisations to report on the fulfilment of the plan recommendations before 1 September 2017.

According to media law specialists, only budget-financed state and municipal media, in contrast to independent or privately-owned media, should file income statements, which is only logical: how can you possibly misspend budgetary funds if you do not receive any? Yet there is a "but": many formally independent media do receive - in the process of so-called "public order placements" - big amounts of money for the provision of so-called "information services" to government bodies in the form of featuring "socially significant material" in newspapers, radio broadcasts, and on TV. In the Rostov Region, for example, millions of roubles of budgetary funds are allocated for the purpose.

Well then, let the managers and staffs of that latter category of media prove they have not grown "too fat" biting off from the budgetary cake! In reality, though, things may turn just the other way round, and independent media outlets pursuing really independent editorial policies may find themselves forced to declare their incomes. Now that independent journalists' trade unions have been popping up one after another in different regions across Russia, it may well be that they in particular will have to bear the bulk of financial responsibility in line with the newly-approved anti-corruption plan - just to stay aware that "it's not all that simple" to position yourself as an "independent journalist"!

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Tragedy as a news-making event

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

Journalist and theatre critic Dmitry Tsilikin was found dead with numerous stab wounds in St. Petersburg on 31 March 2016. Though most observers do not think his death was work-related, this tragedy is yet another reason for taking a closer look at morals within Russia's professional media community and society as a whole.

At first glance, it would seem it was not all that bad as far as humaneness and compassion were concerned: the body was found rather soon, in many regards due to the quick reaction of colleagues, specifically Yelena Volgust of Peterburgskiy Teatralnyi Zhurnal, for whom Dmitry's silence on the mobile phone was a sufficient reason to sound the alarm, find his relatives, alert the police and, finally, break into his apartment.

On the other hand, for a number of colleagues his death became an excellent news-making event resulting in details of the tragedy discussed at length live on the air and online. Such open expressions of cynicism by "yellow-press" and crime reporters can be expected each time some celebrity dies. Was it really worth devoting front pages and headlines to "exclusive" news reports about the exact amounts of blood spilled in the apartment where the victim's body was found?

Very notably, in 2007 Tsilikin contributed to the newspaper Delovoy Peterburg an article titled "The Shameless Behaviour of the Living", in which he very subtly described this "syndrome of callousness" displayed by his fellow journalists in the face of a human tragedy - namely, a person's death.

One passage in his article read: "When I asked, `A good friend of mine has been killed - you happen to know any details?' I heard in reply: `Go browse through the Yandex news.' Well, that was quite a technological approach - the news providers thus very `humanely' spared the guy who'd broken the tragic news to me the painful need to retell me the circumstances of the murder that came to be described in every detail in news agency reports about the fire in the victim's flat where his body was found naked, the number of stab wounds he'd been left with, the murdered man's full name (that's for certain!), and all the darksome and dubious pages of his biography (of which there were indeed quite a few, to be honest)".

Tsilikin's article did sound bitter, and yet the author could not suggest any way out. "This problem, I'm afraid, is insoluble because the more piquant, the dirtier the details, the more likely you are to sell the resulting news story," he wrote. In conclusion, though, he cautiously called on colleagues to think - if not out of remorse then out of common sense - over "What if a reporter or a videographer tried to imagine that the body under this white sheet were not just `yet another crime report's material' but his own son, wife, brother, mother, or father? But then, it isn't something one can expect to be taught at a school of journalism…"

At a ceremony on April 1 - one day after the tragedy - to honour the winners of St. Petersburg's largest Golden Pen journalistic competition, journalists stood up in a minute of silence in memory of Dmitry Tsilikin. They also awarded him - posthumously - with the winner's title in the Cultural Space nomination.

Discussions that followed were of a mixed nature. Most attendees looked shocked and dispirited; many said kind words about their slain colleague, praised him as a good professional, and recalled moments of joy in their collective work. At the same time, others were discussing details of his private life and even calling him a "peculiar sort".

On the whole though, there were almost no mean, the less so dirty, comments about the deceased among the journalists - unlike among the general public: commentators in different social networks tried to out-Herod Herod writing dirty things about Tsilikin, with the most "innocent" musing on why "other journalists get killed too, but no one ever writes about them". Regretfully, by far not all of the social media have removed such comments from their websites yet, which fact speaks for itself.

That's how a human tragedy once again highlighted the good and the bad in people. Hopefully, at least some of the discussion participants will sooner or later understand that the Russian proverb "You either say good things or nothing at all about the dead" is a wise one, indeed.

RUSSIA

State Duma deputy claims 10 million roubles from Omsk-based web news agency in "info-terror" compensation

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

MP Oleg Denisenko, a member of the Communist Party faction in the State Duma, announced at a 31 March news conference his intention to file a legal claim against the web news agency SuperOmsk. While noting that this would be his first-ever lawsuit against a media outlet, and that he regretted the need to litigate with the press, "They are the limit," he said.

His statement of claim mostly refers to events of 7 to 8 months ago, when Denisenko was running for Omsk governor against the incumbent regional leader, Viktor Nazarov. SuperOmsk provided actually daily coverage of his personality and activities using word combinations and expressions that, in the view of those who "ordered" those news reports (which fact Denisenko does not question at all), should have caused potential electors "to feel negatively" about him. Specifically, journalists called him "The `Red' Dandy" (meaning that the Communist nominee is fastidious in dress), and "Athlete in Leggings" (as the caption read under a photo showing him working out in a gym).

The MP believes the "aggressively negative PR campaign" launched against him on a popular news website displayed all the signs of "info-terrorism". Prior to his election to the State Duma, he had fought real terrorists as a deputy commander of the Alpha combat unit which took part in the operations to free hostages from the Nord-Ost theatre in Moscow (2002) and from a school in Beslan, North Ossetia (2004). He retired from active service in the rank of a colonel in 2005.

Proceeding from the gravity of the "terrorist threat" - even if imaginary - posed to him, Denisenko will claim an apology and 10 million roubles in moral damages from the SuperOmsk website owners. He will file his claim in Moscow because he does "not trust" the Omsk judiciary, he said; a formal reason for doing so, according to his lawyers, is that material being challenged was reprinted by a Moscow-based media outlet.

Denisenko explains his somewhat belated reaction to the publications by a need for his lawyers to study the texts "in full detail" before preparing a statement of claim. But then, with the next Duma election scheduled for September, his action does seem to be well-timed.

Media regulator's central management censures Far Eastern branch for arbitrary behaviour

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

In December 2015, the Far Eastern department of the media regulator Roskomnadzor received an inquiry from the web publication Debri DV about whether or not it was possible to publish the lists of World War II soldiers buried on the territory of Poland and Germany, with full personal details, so their relatives could be sent memorial certificates.

The Far Eastern officials, with reference to the Personal Data Law, replied - quite unexpectedly - that they could "not allow the disclosure of the dead soldiers' personal data without their heirs' consent". Considering the 70-odd years that have passed since the war, the regional media regulator actually nipped the patriotic-memorial initiative in the bud.

The Moscow headquarters of Roskomnadzor saw the regional colleagues' behaviour as a breach of the Personal Data Law provisions and an instance of contempt of the central apparatus' decisions. Back in 2015, Moscow circulated an instruction making the said law inapplicable to the Soviet Army soldiers and other WWII participants, and allowing the publication of lists of participants in that and any other wars without any additional authorisation.

A note posted on the Roskomnadzor website says an internal inspection of the Far Eastern branch's performance is pending.

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Media-related conflicts registered by GDF Monitoring Service on RF territory in March 2016

Deaths of journalists - 1 (Dmitry Tsilikin, "Culture and Society" columnist, newspaper Chas Pik, St. Petersburg)

Attacks on journalists and bloggers - 5 (Lena Maria Persson-Loefgren, Sveriges Radio correspondent, Øystein Windstad, reporter for Norwegian monthly Ny Tid, Alexandra Yelagina (The New Times) and Yegor Skovoroda (Mediazona), Anton Prusakov, former reporter for business daily Kommersant, blogger Mikhail Solunin, and Ivan Zhiltsov, spokesman for Committee to Prevent Torture - all attacked in Ingushetia; Sergei Ovsyannikov, Yevpatoriyskaya Zdravnitsa correspondent, Crimea; film crew with Tula News Service, attacked in Tula Region; Igor Rudnikov, founder and editor, newspaper Kaliningradskiye Novyye Kolyosa, Kaliningrad; Yulia Skornyakova, Chita.ru journalist, Chita)

Attacks on media offices and TV stations - 1 (office of Smolenskaya Narodnaya Gazeta, Smolensk)

Instances of censorship - 3 (City Channel One, Nizhny Novgorod; Obratnaya Svyaz TV show, Orenburg; Deita news agency, Vladivostok)

Criminal charges against journalists, media and bloggers - 7 (Viktor Krasnov, blogger, Stavropol; Alexei Kungurov, blogger, Tyumen; Konstantin Zharinov, blogger, Chelyabinsk; Said-Emi Khasiyev, chief editor, newspaper Molodyozhnaya Smena, Grozny; Andrei Bubeyev, blogger, Tver - 2 criminal charges; Olga Li, editor, newspaper Narodnyi Zhurnalist, Kursk)

Illegal sacking of editor/journalist - 1 (Artyom Kudinov, chief editor, Doc22 news portal, Barnaul)

Detention by police, FSB, etc. - 2 (Alexei Kungurov, blogger, Tyumen; film crew with Ukrainian television channel STB, detained in Kursk Region)

Denial of access to information (including bans on audio/video recording and photography; denials of accreditation; restrictions on visits to or presence at events held in government agencies, at industrial enterprises, in state institutions, etc.) - 30

Threats against journalists, bloggers and media - 3 (Viktor Krasnov, blogger, Stavropol; Erik Kituashvili, blogger, founder of Smotra.ru, Moscow; film crew with Tula News Service, Tula Region)

Disruption of TV and radio broadcasts - 1 (Radio Ekho Moskvy, in Tyumen)

Closure of media - 2 (newspaper Yarkamsk, print version, Smolensk Region; newspaper Krimska Svitlitsya, Crimea)

Withdrawal, purchase or confiscation of print run - 1 (Smolenskaya Narodnaya Gazeta, Smolensk)

Interference with internet publications - 2 (Akulypera.rf news site, Vladivostok; website of Russian branch of Transparency International, Moscow)

Damage to photo, audio and video apparatus and computers - 9 (telephone of Lena Maria Persson-Loefgren, Sveriges Radio correspondent; notebook PC, audio recorder and modem of Mediazona journalist Yegor Skovoroda; telephone and photo camera of blogger Mikhail Solunin; telephone of Ivan Zhiltsov, spokesman for Committee to Prevent Torture - all equipment seized in Ingushetia; telephone of Andrei Shalayev, chief editor, Bessmertny Barak project, in Vladimir Region; PC of Dmitry Tsilikin, Culture and Society columnist with Chas Pik newspaper, St. Petersburg)

Other forms of pressure/infringement of journalists' rights - 39

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

GDF challenges Justice Ministry decision to add it to "foreign agent" list

By Alexei Sokolsky

I did not hear the phrase "All rise: the Court is coming!" because journalists had not been let through into the Gagarinsky district courtroom at first. Yet neither did I have the time to "get offended in all seriousness" or ask "How about glasnost and all?" because at that moment the door opened and the press was invited inside, where the issue of glasnost was being considered in the form of the Glasnost Defence Foundation's lawsuit against the Justice Ministry which had added the GDF to its "foreign agent" list at the end of last year.

The measure was preceded by an unscheduled inspection in response to someone's complaint the text of which was never shown to GDF representatives - not even in court. The author's identity, too, remains unknown. Evidently, that person (or a group of persons) maintains a very specific relationship not only with the Glasnost Defence Foundation but with glasnost as such as well…

Is the "foreign agent" label good or bad for the GDF, one may ask trying to show off as a simpleton. According to Justice Ministry officials, including a certain Mr Yeshkin, the man who carried out the unscheduled inspection last October, "The formula `NGO fulfilling the functions of a foreign agent' bears no negative connotations whatsoever, as acknowledged even by the RF Supreme Court".

"Why stick on this tag at all?" I wanted to ask there and then - but the Constitutional Court was not within reach, while I as a person officially uninvolved in the case might be easily ejected from the Gagarinsky district court for asking "irrelevant" questions.

My doubts were dispelled by GDF President Alexei Simonov, who, when asked by the court how the inspection had affected the work of his foundation, said: "I started feeling like a man with a yellow star on my jacket - a disgusting feeling, really. The GDF has been disgraced. Officials from `competent agencies' have been visiting our latest schools for journalists and bloggers to check whether or not our lectures `shatter the foundations of the Russian Federation's state system'".

Also, Simonov complained of "additional headaches" in the form of a double volume of reporting, fewer phone calls from fellow journalists, and 300,000 roubles in potential fine for the GDF's disagreeing to put on the "foreign agent" label voluntarily.

In line with effective legislation, NGOs receiving foreign financing and engaging in political activity shall be deemed to be foreign agents. Alexei Simonov did not at all deny getting funds from abroad because, as he explained, when the GDF was being established in 1991, several media outlets and creative associations had clubbed together to finance it - only to become impoverished and unable to help anyone a year later. The foundation was then funded by a number of Russian private television companies, of which Simonov was very proud. But the times changed, and so did the opportunities open to the GDF…

"We tried hard to find some domestic sources of funding, but each time it came to money kickbacks, which caused us to drop those attempts. We didn't want to get criminalized - not even out of a desire to help fellow journalists," Simonov said.

He proceeded to explain why the GDF had been established and what it was busy doing now.

"From the very outset, our foundation has sought to create a legally acceptable environment for journalists' work. Professional media lawyers simply didn't exist at the time, so we attempted to train them," Simonov said. "We also organised training courses for journalists later, while gathering facts - unfortunately, very numerous - about violations of their rights. We worked to create an atmosphere in which journalists could work normally - with access to information in accordance with the law, without getting beaten, and so on… At one time, we could afford hiring lawyers to defend journalists in court, but today, we don't have the money for that purpose anymore. Today, we continue to work in two directions. One, we organise schools for young journalists and bloggers whom we attempt to teach the ethics and methods of conducting journalistic investigations. Two, we continue gathering and publishing facts about violations of journalists' rights".

Asked if that could be seen as engagement in politics, Simonov answered negatively.

"I think engaging in politics is trying to get elected to an official post to be able to govern others. We don't need that. We do not engage in politics. Or maybe Justice Ministry representatives think we do by describing various events in our weekly digests? Say, that a governor has introduced censorship in the region he is in charge of? But censorship is against the Russian constitution, which means we defend the constitution against being interpreted in the wrong way!"

Among the "pro-politics" arguments cited by the Justice Ministry, I was really shocked to hear that oppositionists Alexei Navalny, Rustem Adagamov and Boris Akunin had been among the speakers during GDF schools for journalists and bloggers. Not a single witness, though, confirmed that fact in court, while Alexei Simonov said he had "met Navalny once at Memorial", had only heard about Adagamov from others, and had "not met Akunin in person ever once in my life".

Meanwhile, a document read out by the judge said that attendees of the school in Yaroslavl had been shown an Akunin video (sic!).

"You mean he was present there that way?" the judge asked the ministry representatives, hearing in reply: "Videotaped presence is tantamount to personal presence".

On hearing that, I took pains to keep as low a profile as possible, as if I, too, were someone's "agent" or "spy": I happened to have a book by Akunin in my knapsack, and if they found it, wouldn't they qualify it as "evidence" or an instance of the disfavoured oppositionist's "graphic presence" in the courtroom?

Fortunately, the hearing was adjourned after the Justice Ministry representatives said they had all the necessary evidence "in principle", although not "at hand". They promised to present it during the next court sitting. As for me, I decided to bring another, "less dangerous", book next time.

P.S. Before getting rid of the "harmful" book by Akunin, I opened it and read the following: "You know what genuine patriotism is? It's acting in your homeland's interests even if that takes going against your rulers' will". Well, heresy pure and simple, isn't it? What if Justice Ministry officials read this and take note of it?

NEWS FROM PARTNERS

Urals Board for Complaints about the Press established in Yekaterinburg

By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District

A ceremony held at the House of Journalists in Yekaterinburg on 28 March announced the establishment of the Urals Board for Complaints about the Press. The new public structure is the second regional body so far to review complaints about the media in terms of their observance of the norms of journalistic ethics. Also, it will be in charge of human rights protection in the media sphere. The first regional board, established in Kazan, Tatarstan, started operating last November. The next is to be set up in the Altai Region.

The Urals event was held as part of an assize session of the All-Russia Public Board for Complaints about the Press that involved its co-chairman, Mikhail Fedotov, and board members Yuri Kazakov, Manana Aslamazyan, Vladimir Bakshtanovsky, Leonid Nikitinsky and others. According to Fedotov, who is also head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civil Society Development, it is not accidental that the new board has been established in the Middle Urals, a region with a very well-developed school of journalism: "For quite a long time, we were reluctant to set up such boards at the regional level. But the Sverdlovsk Region's experience and extensive network of media outlets that enjoy real independence and self-sufficiency is a guarantee that such a body can work efficiently here. This will contribute to creating a free-press culture".

Boris Lozovsky, dean of the school of journalism at Urals Federal University, who coordinated the establishment of the new board, explained in what way this will be different from the regional Grand Jury: "It will review complaints about the wrongdoings of media outlets and individual journalists, whereas the existing Grand Jury of the Sverdlovsk Region Creative Union of Journalists will look into conflicts within the media community".

The new organisation, just as its federal-level prototype, consists of two chambers, 15 (not 25) members in each. The Media Audience Chamber involves ex-Governor (currently Senator) Eduard Rossel, Sverdlovsk Philharmonic Theatre Director Alexander Kolotursky, Karavella (Carvel) Club commodore Larissa Krapivina, Hero of Russia Serik Sultangabiyev, and Sutyazhnik (Litigator) President Sergei Belyayev. The Media Community Chamber members include the entire body of the regional Grand Jury, including another coordinator of the new board's establishment, Sverdlovsk Region Human Rights Ombudswoman Tatyana Merzlyakova, as well as the chief editors of Oblastnaya Gazeta and Kommersant-Ural, Dmitry Polyanin and Nikolai Yablonsky, Uralskiy Rabochiy division head Lyubov Shapovalova, and Radio Liberty editor-in-chief, Grigory Gilevich. More members will be appointed to the board shortly.

Individuals or companies described in what they view as "unethical" publications will be able to appeal to the board if unwilling to go to law or complain to Roskomnadzor. "You will be offered the choice between filing a lawsuit and appealing to the board. If you go to law, you should proceed along this judicial path, because the public board will be unable to cancel a court decision and will not even try to do that, just to uphold the prestige of the judiciary. But if you come to the public board, while your counterpart is unwilling to, then you'll be able to turn to a court of law later, using the board's decision as an expert conclusion," Fedotov explained.

At their first joint sitting, the members of the two chambers reviewed a complaint about the Tyumen-based web portal Park72.ru which had published a series of angry news stories about a local hotel, Kolos, whose director, Valentina Balkanova, had appealed to the board claiming that the publications were "untrue" and "scaring potential clients off". Yet a video conference with her revealed that the lady director had not even attempted to contact the web portal administration to ask them to remove the articles or add her commentary.

The portal's owner, meanwhile, reacted to the board appeal negatively: "Who are you and why do you expect us to furnish a reply? I am a businesswoman, and why are you taking my time? I've checked a few things and I will not deal with you - I'll deal only with government agencies!"

Well, although starting a dialogue at once turned out impossible, the board ruled to pass a decision in 7 to 20 days.

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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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:
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