Дайджест
2 Февраля 2017 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 786

23 January 2017

STORY OF THE WEEK

Kyle Pope's open letter to Trump cited at Press Day meeting in Rostov-on-Don

By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District

A meeting dedicated to Russia's Press Day took place in Rostov-on-Don last week, attended by Governor Vassily Golubev and Mayor Vitaly Kushnaryov. Someone provided a script that struck many as funny, particularly as regards the anchor's remarks about Donald Trump's meeting with staffers of The New York Times and telling them, "If I didn't read your newspaper, I could live 20 years longer". The anchorman's comment was, "Our governor, Mr Golubev, reads only the right newspapers and watches only the right TV channels".

Small wonder, therefore, that such an introduction was followed by the handing of awards to journalists working for "the right" media - regional, municipal and others - formally independent but tirelessly singing our "dear" authorities' praises - or limiting themselves to mentioning "separate setbacks" as allowed by those at the helm. "Not only do you reflect the ongoing developments - you also are able to demonstrate to the government and society (let me stress, to demonstrate in a constructive way) which problems and sensitive points on the region's map need to be given special attention," Golubev said addressing the regional journalists attending the meeting. Those unable to highlight problems "constructively" were left without any awards at all.

Maybe by a queer coincidence, Trump's personality was actively discussed at the very same time on the other end of the world, by American journalists. Kyle Pope, chief editor of The Columbia Journalism Review, wrote on behalf of the U.S. press corps an open letter to Trump titled "Ground Rules Are Ours - Not Yours - To Set", actually urging the president-elect in an ultimatum-like manner not to close press rooms in the White House, not to cancel news conferences, and to provide continued access for reporters to the new president.

Personally, I saw that letter as a bit too bombastic, and I am not sure the author had the right to speak on behalf of the entire U.S. media community. This is a matter to be discussed separately, and preferably, over there in the home country. But we do invite Kyle Pope to Russia on a kind of "experience-sharing" mission. Let him try to get some information - not even from President Putin or Governor Golubev, or Ms Yeliseyeva, the Rostov Region Employment and Social Development Minister - at least from a department head or a rank-and-file specialist knowing how to calculate the living wage amount in Rostov. The reading public is very much interested in learning this, whereas officials are stubbornly keeping mum. I've been unable to get any reply from them - either oral or written - for over a month now.

They say after the previous GDF digest report about the Rostov press being unable to get any information even from the spokespersons for regional ministries and other government agencies (see digest 774 ), the regional administration's Information Policy Department head, Sergei Tyurin, gave his subordinates - those very spokespersons - a good dressing-down at a planning meeting. That did not help much, however: interviewing the regional Ministry of Agriculture about how well swine-breeding develops in the Don River Area still remains impossible.

Well, are you picking up the gauntlet, Mr Pope? The conditions are simple: you go interview the chief specialist at the Rostov Agriculture Ministry's Livestock Farming Department, and I go interview President Trump. Who of us will succeed? I think the outcome is quite predictable.

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Worldwide concerns over threats against Caucasian Knot editor leave Russian authorities indifferent?

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

In our January 9 digest (see digest 784 ), we reported about threats against Grigory Shvedov, chief editor of the Caucasian Knot independent web publication, posted by Chechen Parliament Speaker Magomed Daudov in his Instagram blog.

On the same day, Shvedov filed with the Russian Investigative Committee a statement that read, "I think that Magomed Daudov's Instagram post should be qualified as a criminal offence falling under Article 144.3 - obstruction of a journalist's professional work combined with violence against the journalist or his family, or with damaging or destroying their property, as well as with threats to resort to such violence".

In the two weeks that have passed since then, solidarity statements have been published, and concerns over the human rights situation in Chechnya have been expressed, by many international organisations and representatives of foreign states, among them the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, the EU Mission, the French Foreign Ministry, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the EU Human Rights Commissioner, the head of the EU Mission to Russia, Amnesty International USA, the human rights watchdogs Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the European Federation of Journalists (EFL). Some of them, in addition to condemning the threats against Caucasian Knot, have launched their own campaigns urging the public to send protest messages to Russian Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin and Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov.

Messages of solidarity with Grigory Shvedov and in defence of freedom of expression in the Chechen Republic, posted on the newspaper Novaya Gazeta's website and on the web portal Human Rights in Russia, have been signed by hundreds of people, including Moscow Helsinki Group leader Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Democracy and Human Rights Development Centre head Yuri Dzhibladze, Committee Against Torture chairman Igor Kalyapin, as well as leaders and correspondents of the Glasnost Defence Foundation.

As to the Russian authorities, they have kept silent.

We have reported that the publication in Daudov's blog was not the first instance of pressure on Caucasian Knot. In September, its correspondent Jalaudi Geriyev was sentenced to three years in jail on rather queer charges of "drug possession", which conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of Chechnya in December. Caucasian Knot now intends to challenge the two decisions in higher-standing Russian courts and in the European Court of Human Rights.

RUSSIA

Sacked media editors in Omsk Region go to law demanding reinstatement

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The chief editors of three Omsk-based newspapers, replaced because of their alleged "incompetence", have lodged legal claims against the Omsk Region Government's Main Information Policy Department (MIPD). As we reported in digest 782 (see digest 782 ), MIPD refused to extend contracts with several editors because they failed to meet the "new competencies" requirement - a notion that the department's chief, Stanislav Sumarokov, refused to clarify, although in his comments for the Biznes-Kurs weekly he indicated that his agency would like to see life described on the pages of rural newspapers in "brighter" tones. "You shouldn't paint everything in black," he said. "There are other colours, too. People need to have some positive benchmarks".

Evidently, the editors of most local newspapers (there are 32 of them, in all) have coped with this task more or less successfully, since MIPD did extend contracts with them, though for only one more year (previously, the contracts were concluded for 3 years, and before that, they used to be of indefinite duration). Either the "new competencies" are short-lived, or else MIPD is not sure local editors will be able to meet this requirement. Clearly, with a contract as short-term as now, they will do their best to describe life in as "bright" tones as possible, and to look for "benchmarks" that are far from the gloomy reality in which they themselves may get dissolved at any moment (according to the regional Employment Office, joblessness in rural areas is thrice as high as in the cities, and sacked journalists find it next to impossible to find alternative jobs).

Yet as he was taking over as regional head just a few years ago, Governor Viktor Nazarov gave media workers directly opposite instructions, saying that colouring the truth was "unacceptable" and that the press and TV "must report the full truth, even if bitter"; his statements are still quoted on many websites, and the Regional Information Policy Concept he signed in 2013 is still in full legal force. Its basic principles include "executive power openness", "equality of all information users regardless of their social standing", "guarantees of the citizens' lawful rights and freedom to express their views", etc. It is these principles that the editors with whom MIPD failed to extend contracts used to be consistently guided by in their work.

Specifically, Nasha Irtyshskaya Pravda and its chief editor Yevgeniya Ostraya kept winning regional Journalistic Mastery Awards every year, and in 2015 this newspaper (issued in the Bolsherechensky district of the Omsk Region) hit Russia's "Top Ten Newspapers", which fact was reflected in the laureate's diploma handed to Ostraya by the regional branch of the Journalists' Union - evidently, in acknowledgement of her former "high competencies" - just days ago, on January 20, already after her sacking, or "posthumously", as Yevgeniya wrote ironically in her Facebook blog.

Over her 4 years at the helm, the circulation of Nasha Irtyshskaya Pravda grew fourfold and the newspaper became 70% self-sufficient. This indicator is higher only at Tarskoye Priirtyshye, whose chief editor Irina Mezenina was likewise given the sack by MIPD without explanation (maybe because of an "incompetent" front-page report about a rally of protest against soaring utility rates, illustrated by photos of activists waving red flags). Nor does Viktor Sidorenko, editor of Ihre Zeitung issued by the Azovsky district community of ethnic Germans, know what his guilt is in the eyes of MIPD. "I went over there, met with Sumarokov and asked him, `Why?' but received no answer," Sidorenko told the GDF. "My record of work as a reporter is 40 years, and I can tell you there was no such outrage even in Soviet times. Yes, they did practise censorship, but they clearly told the editors what was allowed and what was not".

The claimants will insist on their reinstatement and on getting their reputational damages compensated. This seems to be the main point: they bear no responsibility for the regional authorities' drastically changing their political course. "I could hardly ever work any longer having this kind of leadership [over me]," Ostraya said. "But I think it essential that these officials are tried and held answerable for their actions. And they will be, because keeping mum is no go in this case".

Journalists score yet another judicial victory in St. Petersburg

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

It would seem it is good that several ruinous legal claims against media outlets have been rejected in court lately - yet how much time, effort and money this struggle has taken for the journalists to reaffirm their self-evident right to report the news truthfully, even if bitterly! The reference is to the long-standing conflict between St. Petersburg media and the Trade Unions University (SPbGUP) based in the same city.

For quite a few years, the Glasnost Defence Foundation's Monitoring Service, which registers violations of media and journalists' rights, has followed the processing of legal claims lodged against the press by the above-named university led by Rector Alexander Zapesotsky, numerically outstripping those filed by all the other higher-education institutions in Russia's northern capital.

In 2016, tensions rose to a point at which we called the situation "trench warfare" (see digest 741). The battle was over the media's 2014 reaction to the university's decision to oust 150 students at once. After nearly two years of judicial disputes, the journalists won a landslide victory by scoring five (sic!) court decisions in their favour, although the outcome had been actually unpredictable: early last year a court of appeals unexpectedly satisfied SPbGUP's claim against the online news agency Zaks.ru. Yet the journalists appealed to the higher-standing Supreme Court which upheld their position and cancelled the previous court's decision on 16 November 2016.

As a result, all the five lawsuits filed by SPbGUP against the media last year were turned down, saving impressive compensation amounts otherwise payable by the web-based publications Bumaga, Zaks.ru, The Village, and Lenizdat.ru.

Media lawyers had warned from the outset that there was no reason for filing any legal claims at all, because all published stories no more than cited activists' opinions that were not presented as facts of life. Even if erroneous, those opinions were nothing but personal views expressed by particular individuals. Moreover, SPbGUP suffered no reputational damage since its website regularly published really impressive data on enrolment and the high degrees of knowledge shown by applicants during entrance exams.

The first judicial victory scored by journalists this year was marked by the 18 January 2017 decision of the North-Western Federal Arbitration Court to reject SPbGUP's appeal against Lenizdat.ru from which it claimed 5 million roubles in alleged "reputational damages and loss of profit".

Businessman in Voronezh awarded 5,000, instead of 1 million, roubles in moral damages from news agency

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The Kominternovsky district court on 16 January completed the hearings of businessman Vadim Ishutin's lawsuit against the regional news agency Chernozemye over the publication "Voronezh Public Activists Determined to Legitimately Cope with Legacy of Ishutin and His Bosses from Regional Policy Department Hen House", carried in October by the newspaper Ekonomika I Zhizn-Chernozemye and posted on the agency's news website.

The critical publication was about the deplorable state of the city's utility services caused, in the author's view, by the Voronezh Communal Chamber established by Ishutin. The plaintiff claimed that his portrayal as "Vadim Ishutin the rogue" was "insulting, humiliating, and derogatory".

At first, he wanted only to see the news agency disclaim the publication and remove it from its website. Yet in the course of judicial proceedings, he added the demand that he also be paid one million roubles in moral damages.

The court ordered an expert study by linguists who did not find any "insulting" statements in the publication, while noting that its content was "on the whole humiliating" - an expression they did not bother to clarify.

It may as well be noted that Ishutin earlier had requested the start of administrative proceedings in connection with the same publication, but another court, and later an appellate panel, had not found any insulting statements in it.

The latest court sitting ended in the judges' satisfying his lawsuit partially, slashing the claimed compensation amount to 5,000 roubles from 1 million, and charging the linguistic study costs to the defendant.

SeverPost correspondent barred from mayoral conference in Murmansk

By Alexander Borisov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District

As a SeverPost news agency reporter attempted to enter the Murmansk mayor's office on 20 January, she was stopped by security guards who demanded her documents. At the moment, an administration conference was in progress, discussing the allotment of "social housing" to residents in need. Yet the reporter never made it to the conference room, not even after showing her press card. After a brief phone consulting with someone, the guards demanded her accreditation certificate, even in spite of her counterclaim that no accreditation document was required for a journalist to visit the mayor's office. As press pool members explained later, the lady reporter "could not be let through because the conference had already begun and was being held behind closed doors".

"Definitely, security and mayoral officials' actions can be qualified as obstruction of a reporter's lawful professional work," Dmitry Vysotsky, the SeverPost chief editor, told the GDF. "This has not happened for the first time and is turning into a kind of routine in Murmansk. Clearly, the [officials'] unlawful behaviour was deliberate in this case, and the goal was to prevent a journalist from getting access to information that might `compromise' the incumbent municipal leadership".

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

"Special operation" disrupted: Protests against soaring utility rates fuel judicial disputes in Novosibirsk

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The organisers of a rally of protest against soaring utility rates in Novosibirsk have been filing multimillion lawsuits against federal media and what they refer to as the "secret website misinforming city residents".

Viktor Kozodoy, an ex-governor of the Novosibirsk Region, and Sergey Dyachkov, a former mayoral official, have lodged lawsuits against the web news portal FederalPress and several regional supplements to the newspapers Moskovskiy Komsomolets and Komsomolskaya Pravda which circulated allegedly false information about the two men's intention to organise on 29 January a rally of protest against "attempts to undermine the municipal healthcare system".

Reports on the topic have been published by several other media, but the first one was posted on the Secret-media.com, a news website that is little-known in Novosibirsk. Yet despite its modest number of subscribers (with nothing known about the number of its visitors or "likes" they have clicked on) and the lacking output data, the web resource seems to be quite influential, considering that its publications have caused a whole four federal media at once to react (including the Regnum news agency in addition to the three above-mentioned ones). All the four reprinted the posted article's text (with all of the grammar mistakes it contained, as highlighted by the Sibkrai.ru news web portal) as a kind of directive what to do.

The article said that Mr Kozodoy, who is "close to ex-Governor Vassily Yurchenko, who was fired by President Putin for `lack of trust' resulting in the start of criminal proceedings against him, is the ideological leader of protest actions in Novosibirsk".

The anonymous author put forward two versions: either "protests are inspired by the ex-governor wishing to `rise from the ashes' at a certain moment and spell out his political ambitions", or else Kozodoy and his close associate Sergey Dyachkov themselves "have organised protest actions challenging the incumbent administration" with a view to "accumulating [negative] facts for negotiations in the run-up to future election campaigns".

The rally which is indeed scheduled to take place in Novosibirsk - though one day earlier, on January 28 - will not be against "undermining the municipal healthcare system", as was reported in the "secret files", but against soaring utility service rates, which the municipal and regional authorities have decided to raise 15% as of 1 July - and this despite the federal government's instruction to keep the rates under 4% in the region. This action will be a follow-up to the one initiated also by Dyachkov and Kozodoy - held on 24 December 2016 - when nearly 300 people came to the monument to Tsar Alexander III on the Mikhailovskaya embankment of the Ob River at minus 30 degrees Centigrade to voice their protests against rising utility rates. Now the mayor's office has authorised a similar rally in downtown Novosibirsk, in front of the monument to Lenin, expected to attract about a thousand activists.

Social media chat-forum participants have been debating who might need this provocative publication. Kozodoy believes it was ordered by PR specialists from the team of incumbent Governor Vladimir Gorodetsky with a view to start an info-war. In his comment for the GDF, the former regional vice-head alleged that "deputies and assistants must be whispering into his [governor's] ear" about some conspiracy and conspirators, and themselves "fanning the fire" in an attempt to get paid as much as possible for "putting it out". "Any warfare needs to be financed, and if federal media get involved, the amounts of payments will grow manifold," Kozodoy said. Yet finally, he observed, the governor himself found himself set up: "Now Moscow knows that the region is financially unstable, that local elites are fighting among themselves, that public protests are on the rise and that generally, the regional administration is losing power - and all this is just a year before the presidential election starts!" he said.

Some social network commentators also think that Gorodetsky and his team are to blame for this "info-provocation"; others point to the Siberian Energy Company, the monopoly-holding utility service provider on the regional market, as the likely initiator interested in changing the agenda from utility services to healthcare, which, too, is a very sensitive issue for people in and beyond the Novosibirsk Region.

Viktor Kozodoy has written in his Facebook blog that he intends to claim no less than 2 million roubles in moral damages from federal media.

Sergey Dyachkov, too, is preparing to file legal claims. Asked by the GDF if this didn't look much like a "special operation" and whether he would sue the primary information source, the Secret-media.com news website, he said, "We're thinking about that".

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.

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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:
Полезная деятельность Фонда защиты гласности за 25 лет его жизни