4 Мая 2016 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 751


Media forum in St. Petersburg shows Russian freedom of expression is stillborn

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

The third Truth and Justice Media Forum organised by the All-Russia Popular Front (ONF) in St. Petersburg has again vividly demonstrated that freedom of expression is not born in corridors of power (not even if we formally speak about "public organisations").

The forum, held in Russia's "northern capital" on 4-7 April, just as the two previous ones that took place in 2014 and 2015, produced a mixed impression on the media community.

The distribution of funding remains the greatest "mystery". The assiduous work of the Independent Regional and Local Media Support Fund (which actually is an ONF branch) requires considerable financial input not only to fund the annual forums but also, and in the first place, to organize contests for regional journalists in which the winners receive impressive monetary awards. Yet not a single inquiry filed by the GDF or different media outlets has produced a clear-cut answer to the question of what the exact budget is or where the funding comes from - and this despite the Fund management's original promise to accurately report on the funds spent.

We would refrain from guessing why ONF officials so stubbornly shirk answering the question where the money comes from and where it goes, but if you come to think of it, many media-related public organisations, including the Journalists' Union of Russia with its regional branches, as well as the independent journalists' unions in Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Kuban River area, are under really hard pressure to report on their spending and demonstrate transparency! At the same time, a powerful public association deemed to be close to the government has for some reason or other stayed beyond the focus of public attention, including the attention of the very same media and individual journalists whom it has shown so much favour by inviting them to the forum, giving them contest awards, granting them seats on the Public Council, etc.

On the other hand, the media forum raised quite a few important and urgent issues that are really of interest to the public and government: for example, print media interaction with [the monopoly-holding press distributor] Pochta Rossii; state control over subscription rates, newsprint prices, etc. From this angle, the Truth and Justice forum can indeed be seen as a pad for discussing day-to-day problems facing the media (especially regional).

Also, one would like to hear more discussions about freedom of expression and why journalists are compelled to work under incessant pressure from authorities at all levels. As regards these issues, they received at least some coverage, even if limited, during the previous two forums - but not at the latest one, where officials closed their ranks defending the existing order of things. Presidential First Deputy Chief of Staff Vyacheslav Volodin set the tone by "warding off an attack" by Yekaterina Vinokurova of Znak.com by stating that her question about tougher restrictions imposed on journalists' accreditation for covering elections was a "political" question. Roskomnadzor head Alexander Zharov went as far as accusing Vinokurova of lying after she hinted that the media regulator applied a double standard when issuing its official warnings to media outlets, which in her view was a form of political pressure.

Russia's head of state was unmatched, as always. Vladimir Putin, who came to attend the forum on its closing day, listened favourably to journalists who were complaining, as they usually do, about local officials' arbitrariness, decreasing incomes, stupid laws - anything but the main thing: the stifling atmosphere of propagandistic brainwashing that has engulfed the country. Yet Mr Putin wouldn't be himself if he didn't instantly launch a counteroffensive by shifting the blame for "distorting or hushing up information" about Russia to the western media, and by rounding off his speech with a description of his own vision of a free press: "It can be an enemy only to rogues, embezzlers of state funds, and [outright] gangsters". To this he instantly added, in the most unambiguous manner, evidently to prevent "awkward" questions from overenthusiastic journalists: "As applied to the power system as such, which serves the people, there cannot be such a situation, ever!" (meaning that Russia's incumbent rulers are beyond criticism, the more so because the "Panamagate" scandal, according to Putin, is nothing but "a concoction, a fantasy that isn't worth a brass farthing"). The rounds of applause accompanying the national leader's address to the forum sounded even more impressive than his words.

Media regulator Roskomnadzor in Tomsk Region exists in "another reality"

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The media forum in St. Petersburg also discussed, as one of the major topics, violations of journalists' rights in the regions, among them the Tomsk Region which belongs to the group of 30 constituent entities of the Russian Federation where the level of pressure on the media is "relatively high" (in the "top ten", it is "absolutely high", with physical violence used against media representatives there).

According to the ONF press service, the region was marked as a "problem zone" specifically because of the closure of the Tomsk-based broadcaster TV2 and "lack of clarity as to whether or not its broadcasting licence might be extended". Meanwhile, members of the ONF Centre for Legal Assistance to Journalists read out to the forum participants a Roskomnadzor-furnished info saying that TV2 had "switched to cable broadcasting, an opportunity no one had ever denied to it".

This info shows that the media regulator either forgets about, or never knows what it actually does, or else deliberately misinforms the public while knowing all too well it acts unlawfully. As we have more than once reported in GDF digests, TV2 stopped operating as of January 2015 after the Russian TV/Radio Broadcasting Network (RTRS) unilaterally terminated its contract with the Tomsk-based television company which also was compelled a month or so later to quit cable broadcasting because of Roskomnadzor's refusal to extend its licence.

In the summer of 2015, the media regulator received from Tomsk the full package of documents required to receive a new license, as requested by the media group of which the disfavoured television company is a member. But the decision was negative again, allegedly because TV2 chief editor Viktor Muchnik had "failed to present sufficient evidence" of his not having dual citizenship (see digest 718 ).

In the presence of his colleagues from all across Russia, Muchnik disproved the false information provided by the oversight agency, noting that "Evidently, Roskomnadzor exists in a different reality: it has claimed dissatisfied with the Migration Service document certifying my Russian citizenship and the absence of any other, while not replying anything at all to my question what other documents it might need to make sure I have no dual citizenship," he said. Muchnik added that he was "not in the least surprised" by the Roskomnadzor statement about TV2 continuing cable broadcasting: after what had happened 18 months before, when the regulator first notified TV2 of an extension of its license and then called it all a "computer incident", one could expect the oversight agency to "continue behaving as extravagantly in the future, too".


Judicial impartiality feigned in Karelia

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

Since November 2015, Karelia-based photojournalist Sergei Yudin has been in litigation with the chairman of the Petrozavodsk City Court, seeking to prove that the rules of visitors' stay inside the court building are at odds with the Civil Code and restrict the rights of journalists working there.

A magistrate court, based on a protocol made by city court bailiffs, found Yudin guilty of an administrative offence and sentenced him to 300 roubles in fine. According to the judge, the photographer breached the rules regulating visitors' behaviour inside the city court and banning the use of photo or video cameras in the lobby, corridors, etc. without the chairman's or court administrator's authorisation.

Yudin's attempt to challenge that decision in the Supreme Court of Karelia failed at once, allegedly because the issue was outside that court's jurisdiction. All the three legal claims he subsequently filed with the Petrozavodsk court were returned to him for purposes of "additional clarification". At first, Yudin "failed to mention" in his statement of claim where the said regulations had been published (although the judge knew for certain they were hanging on the city court's official website). Then, he "failed to name" the particular media which had carried the text of the regulations (again, the judge should know perfectly well that the rules had only been published online, which point the claimant especially stressed). His third claim was rejected, finally, for quite an objective reason: since the city court chairman posed in the case as the defendant because of his signature featuring under the questionable regulations, it would be wrong for judges of the same court to review the claim lodged against their boss. The Judicial Department of Karelia recommended hearing the case in any other district court, which was finally done.

The outcome of the 7 April hearing in the Pryazhinsky district court was well predictable. Yudin and his lawyer were trying to prove that the ban on photography inside the court building, specifically, in the corridors, infringed a journalist's and any other person's constitutional right to gather and receive information. This restriction would be fair only inside a special-regime or secret facility, which the city court is not.

The lady representative of the Judicial Department who spoke as a witness for the defence held a different view. Reminding the audience that admittance to the court was stringently controlled by bailiffs, she concluded that the city court was "a closed-type institution", implying that the principles of openness and glasnost could well be restricted there - for example by the existing "Rules of visitors' behaviour…" That was that, and if photojournalist Yudin had breached those norms, the fine levied on him was well-deserved, she said.

Yudin's insistent demand that the Pryazhinsky court judge take note of the fact that a single court's internal regulations contradicted the Civil Code, in which no such restrictions are envisaged at all, was disregarded.

As a result, the court turned Yudin's claim down. The photographer will appeal, first turning to the Supreme Court of Karelia the "impartiality" of which is well predictable, and then going, if need be, all the way to the Supreme Court of Russia. Yudin's case has become a matter of professional principle for journalists across the republic.

Migration service in Khabarovsk Region quick to deport a person but not to reply to media inquiries

By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

In March, the management of the online periodical publication Debri-DV turned to Dmitry Dudin, head of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) Department for the Khabarovsk Region, asking for information. They also asked for a meeting with Yelena Sivova, a Russian woman born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, whom migration officials had taken away from the village of Zavety Ilyicha where she lived with her relatives, to place her into a temporary shelter for foreign citizens in Khabarovsk.

Dudin did not reply to the media inquiry within 7 days as prescribed by the law and did not notify the journalists that he needed more time to review it. At Debri's initiative, Yuri Berezutsky, the regional human rights ombudsman, sent Dudin a similar request, but to no avail again. Meanwhile, migration service officials transferred Sivova to Moscow for subsequent deportation to Tashkent.

What was so interesting about Sivova to journalists and why were FMS officials so frightened by the very possibility of reporters' meeting with her? For the first time, the life story of our former compatriot was described by the independent newspaper Moyo Poberezhye based in the township of Vanino. In her letter to the editor, Sivova said she had been seeking Russian citizenship since 2009, since she did not have any housing or relatives left in Uzbekistan - unlike in Zavety Ilyicha village, where she had nieces ready to share their home with her and arrange her registration. Yes, she herself was to blame for missing the deadline for extending her temporary registration, but she had never hidden from the authorities and had always come to the migration office when summoned. Actually, that letter was a cry from the heart of a naïve person who believed that if she was born in the Soviet Union, was an ethnic Russian, and had no other place to live than that village in the Far East, the officials should help her overcome the difficult situation. She wrote to President Putin twice, in March and October 2014, and called him on the "direct line" once. Her letters produced replies like her case was "being reviewed", and her phone call resulted in "We'll call you back" said on the other end of the line. The issue remains unsettled still.

Tatyana Sedykh, editor of Moyo Poberezhye, who is a prominent human rights activist and a laureate of the Andrei Sakharov Award "For Journalism as an Act of Conscience", asked colleagues from Debri-DV to meet with Sivova, who was then in detention in Khabarovsk. "Notwithstanding the media publications and my and her [Sivova's] appeals to the human rights ombudsman," Sedykh told the GDF, "the result was as follows. One of her nieces called me and said that [FMS officials] had detained Sivova right on the street, without even a cell phone on her, and had rushed her to Khabarovsk where she was tried and convicted on the following day. Her relatives had been told so by others. Where was she now? What was happening to her?"

Debri-DV reprinted from Moyo Poberezhye the letter of a former Soviet woman dreaming to live in the Far East, and appealed, together with the ombudsman, to the FMS. As we said, no reply followed, while Sivova was urgently deported.

The story is not over yet. Debri has asked FMS chief Konstantin Romodanovsky to look into why his subordinate Dudin violated the Media Law by not furnishing an official reply before the law-established deadline; why Khabarovsk FMS department spokeswoman Yekaterina Bykova did not fulfil her promise to call back and tell if the journalists' inquiry had been duly reviewed; and whether Sivova's deportation was connected with the filing of that inquiry. The district court decision passed in Sivova's case has not yet entered into force and will be challenged, which means the woman might stay in Khabarovsk for two more months as a minimum.


A journal for newlyweds, or PR management specifics in Rostov Region

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

Since this year began, the Rostov Region administration has posted more than a dozen ads on the website Zakupki.ru announcing its wish to purchase, by auction, some print media premises and some radio and TV air time. Oddly enough, it has not procured everything it needs as a one-time purchase but has broken the trading process into a chain of separate auctions. For example, the Don-TR broadcaster (a branch of the federal channel VGTRK) has received a total of 47.5 million roubles in the course of five online auctions, and the state unitary enterprise Don-Media, uniting the newspaper Molot, a TV channel, and a press centre, has got more than 57.5 million, also in five auctions.

What are they paid for? For preparing and publishing "socially significant" articles and TV stories - although personally, I think the two Don companies wouldn't ever dare to publish "antisocial" stuff even without getting those very impressive sums of money. Another 86.5 million roubles has gone to other media, specifically to municipal district and city newspapers (which have been awarded a total of 25 million, with non-municipal outlets barred from the auctions altogether). The rest of the money has been distributed among publications and news agencies of various profiles, from the regional offices of popular federal newspapers (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Komsomolskaya Pravda, etc.) to Rostov-based glossy magazines that are distributed on airplanes and far-distance trains, or at different forums and exhibitions. Among the "lucky ones" on the list of budgetary fund recipients there is even a quarterly magazine "for Rostov Region residents who have filed marriage applications, and for the parents of newborns living in the region".

Notably, the very same media received funding according to the same scheme - under the disguise of auctions - also in 2015 and 2014, which makes one wonder why these particular newspapers and magazines, not others, are "the chosen" ones. Meanwhile, it is strictly prohibited under the law to enter into the requirements specifications describing the objects of purchase any particular details that may give one bidder a definite advantage over the others - regardless of what is being purchased: a spade, a tractor, or page space in a newspaper or magazine. In our case, however, the requirements specifications consist entirely of such particular details: each publication slated to get the money is encoded in terms of a particular circulation, periodicity, size of audience, etc. Sometimes, journalists cudgel their brains trying to see in what way they in particular differ from the rest.

But then, that's not the biggest problem, really. The main thing is to understand how those budgetary injections affect editorial policies. Naturally, all "sponsored" material is coordinated with the ordering party in advance (which fact the readers and viewers are not supposed to know); and in everything else, content-wise, one had better refrain from "hurting" the customer, unless one wants to be crossed out from the "sacred" list. Does this mean that the news agency Interfax-Yug, which has "won" more than 2.6 million roubles in an auction held by the Rostov Region administration, will only report positively on the local authorities' work from now on? (A funny note: Interfax-Yug won its "hard victory" bidding against - who do you think? - Interfax-Povolzhye!)

Can one really expect objective coverage to be provided by reporters with Don-TR or, for that matter, with Molot which with as ample financing as it gets can afford tossing thick stacks of newspapers into the mailboxes of multi-storey apartment houses absolutely free? But then again, why not print it in any number of copies if there's a long-existing regional law guaranteeing 90-percent reimbursement of the regional newspapers' costs of newsprint, printing services, and press delivery, and 70-percent reimbursement of the same costs incurred by the municipal district and city newspapers? In addition to that, Don-Media, the owner of Molot, had 50 million roubles paid out to it in a lump sum from the budget last year without any "formalities" like contests or bidding.

The regional budget allocations for media support "are to total nearly 360 million roubles" in 2016, Sergei Tyurin, head of the Rostov Region administration's Information Policy Department, told Donnews.ru. In addition to bidding for the right to publish "socially significant" material, media will be separately paid under each task programme (education, healthcare, etc.).

"How is media support organised elsewhere in Russia?" I asked Vladimir Dmitriyev, a Media Union activist and head of the Print Media Directorate of the Novgorod-based regional state-run Info-communications Agency, who came to Rostov to share with participants in the Southern Spark journalistic contest his experiences of running district newspapers. He was very much surprised to hear that our regional and municipal newspapers get 70-90% of their printing and other costs reimbursed. "Nothing of the kind is practised in my home region," he said.

This topic - who pays the press and for what - has been growing exceedingly popular lately. ONF has been paying special attention to regional authorities' spending on media support. Some hotheads have suggested introducing administrative or even criminal liability for officials of any rank engaging in self-PR. The Rostov branch of ONF had long kept silent on the issue until its co-chairman Mikhail Popov finally wrote in his Facebook blog three weeks ago that he and his colleagues were "launching a system of anti-corruption monitoring to see how budgetary funds are distributed among the local media".

Well, we do wish the guys every success! Bidding organisers have acted so hastily of late that they've compressed the whole process - from inviting bids online to stopping to accept applications - into four or five working days. The latest bidding, the results of which are still unknown, was rather curious: 1,290,000 roubles from the regional budget was offered for a 50-minute TV feature about activities of ethno-cultural public associations, customs and traditions, and profiles of prominent representatives of ethnic groups living in the Don River area. Since in line with the terms and conditions of the contest, only television companies broadcasting to at least half of the region's population were eligible to participate, one would be right in expecting that money to go to the same Don-TR again…

That makes 26,000 roubles per a minute of air time. Well, inter-ethnic friendship does seem to be highly valued in this country today!

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.


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