Дайджест25 Февраля 2017 года
Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 790
20 February 2017
Story of the week
STORY OF THE WEEK
By Boris Timoshenko, head of GDF Information Service
The Investigative Committee department for Ingushetia suspended the criminal probe into the attack on journalists and rights activists near the Chechen-Ingush border in March 2016, journalists' lawyer Andrei Sabinin has said.
“The case has been put on hold as the attackers have not been identified,” Sabinin said, adding that the case was pending review at the prosecutor's office.
On the 9 March evening, unidentified criminals attacked a mini-bus carrying a group of reporters from Russia, Norway and Sweden together with personnel from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture on a press tour of the North Caucasus. Several cars pulled it over by the roadside and then two dozen thugs armed with sticks got out of their cars, dragged the passengers and the driver out of the vehicle, beat them up and took away their mobile phones, a notebook, a voice recorder and a camera. Then they torched the mini-bus and sped away.
Seven people were injured in the attack; all were diagnosed as having cranial wounds, concussions, lacerated wounds, and numerous cuts and bruises.
The attack caused a public outcry and the presidential Human Rights Council, the OSCE media freedom representative, Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International all demanded an investigation. Both State Duma lawmakers and Kremlin officials condemned the attack, and Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Interior Ministry to look into the case.
With the Interior Ministry supervising the probe, head of the North Caucasian Federal District Interior Department Sergei Chenchik and Igushetia police chief Alexander Trofimov were ordered to “take all measures to identify and detain the persons involved in the attack on media representatives,” according to the Interior Ministry press release.
Ingushetia's police department initially filed the case under Criminal Code Article 213 (“Hooliganism”) and Article 167 (“Deliberate destruction of, or damage to, property”). The charges of robbery (Article 162) and obstructing legitimate professional activity of journalists (Article 144) were added later (see digest 746-747).
Shortly thereafter, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Savenkov reported that “the investigators, despite extensive efforts, have been unable to identify the attackers”. The case was handed over to the Investigative Committee Department for Ingushetia.
A subsequent report said the cameras installed on the checkpoint next to the scene of attack had been out of operation because of cable rupture. The checkpoint's dashboard camera was also out of order. The same report, citing the Investigative Committee department for the North Caucasus, said 150 witnesses had been questioned and 25 expert examinations had been carried out and that police still had no leads.
The probe suspension report came on 15 February. It is common knowledge that such crimes are hardly ever solved in Russia. Apparently the criminals will go unpunished yet another time.
By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District
Michurinsk prosecutors have granted a man's defamation claim against a newspaper. Michurinskaya Mysl editor-in-chief Dmitry Polyakov said he had received a statement signed by the deputy city prosecutor demanding disciplinary measures on the journalist for alleged “disrespect of honour and dignity of the citizen mentioned in a newspaper issue”.
The “House Bursting at the Seams” carried by Michurinskaya Mysl told a story of a city resident seeking to draw public attention to the rundown house in which she lived. The city administration refused to acknowledge the fact despite expert assessment. The newspaper reported that Town Hall officials doubted the quality of the inspection. The expert felt offended and filed a complaint with the prosecutors blaming the newspaper for some reason rather than the administration. After a check, prosecutors said “the journalist must respect a citizen's honour and dignity” and ordered the editor-in-chief to make amends.
The editorial office called the prosecutors' decision illegitimate and said it would challenge it. The editor-in-chief took the case to the Media Defence Centre under the All-Russia Popular Front whose experts promised to stand up for the media outlet.
By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District
The regional media community was shocked to learn that the leading local newspaper with a print run of more than 600,000 might shut down. On 14 February, the Uralskiy Rabochiy editorial office marked the 110th anniversary of its establishment, and three days later, a word leaked out that the founders of the media holding, former top Yekaterinburg officials, were actually giving up on the newspaper leaving Vechorka the only media they would finance.
Things took a bad turn for the newspaper several months ago. In December, Uralskiy Rabochiy, hitherto printed in colour, became black-and-white, shrank to four A3 format pages, cut its printing schedule to four days, and took out TV programmes. Subscribers were bewildered. The worst news was the dismissal of ten newspaper staffers and it seemed that more job cuts would follow.
The regional Union of Journalists promised newspaper veterans to look into the matter while understanding that the final decision rested with the founders. At the party marking the newspaper's jubilee anniversary the veterans met with media holding director Yevgeny Tulisov who said Uralskiy Rabochiy would continue to publish. However, he said it was uncompetitive in the media market “in the current difficult financial and economic situation” and therefore needed a powerful sponsor in the person of regional administration. The necessary talks with Sverdlovsk Region officials were carried out.
The question is why the regional authorities would want a second newspaper as they have long been funding Oblastnaya Gazeta while treating Uralskiy Rabochiy as their adversary. The former will obviously take over Uralskiy Rabochiy after de-privatization and create a website under its brand. In that event the newspaper will lose its subscribers because electronic media gather different audiences, experts said.
Regrettably, it is not the first such case in Sverdlovsk Region. In late 2016, the Yermak television company affiliated with the Urals Presidential Envoy's office stopped broadcasting. All the journalists were fired. The journalists told the audience however that they would try to revive Yermak.
GDF will follow up on the story.
By Alexander Borisov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District
A layoff notice marred Valentine's Day for Arctic TV channel staff as they learnt that one third of the jobs would be cut. Though camera crews and correspondents tendered their resignations of their own accord, it was clear that they hated to quit the jobs they had had for years.
“The golden parachute,” or benefit for termination of employment, was insignificant, but the outgoing personnel hardly had any choice as the television channel administration had already made redundancy plans. Wage delays became routine in the summer 2016. In some cases, leave allowances were not paid until after the employee's holiday.
By the autumn, a decision was made to liquidate the Cable Network Company (PKS) and nearly all the staff was transferred to Dwalin Ltd. (bearing the same name as the dwarf in the Lord of the Rings bestseller). The new company made a poor start, with salary payments split in three or four parts and kept off the books. Complaining to the Labour Inspection Department would avail nothing. Dwalin hardly made it through the first six months and collapsed; by that time the 24-hour television channel only employed four journalists, four cameramen and two drivers. Anchor-produced programmes were terminated with news bulletins remaining the only original content, and that was largely taken up by mandatory coverage of regional and municipal administration's policies.
By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District
The magistrate court of Stavropol's Promyshlenny district cited the statute of limitations as it dropped criminal proceedings against local resident Viktor Krasnov accused of insulting believers with social media posts.
Digest 748 ((www.gdf.ru) covered Krasnov's trial. He had been sued by his VKontakte social media opponents after he wrote in his blog that “there is no God” and that the Bible “is a book of Jewish fairy-tales”.
Krasnov was accused of insulting believers' feelings, but the case was suspended as the court ordered a linguistic expert examination which however substantiated the charges. On 14 February, the court dropped the proceedings due to the statute of limitations. The blogger refused to admit his guilt despite the magistrate's insisting on his doing so.
The injured parties and the prosecutor did not object to dropping the case, but Krasnov's lawyer said the prosecutors might “change their mind”.
By Anatoly Tsygankov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District
Karelia's Court of Arbitration has reviewed a statement of claim by Petrozavodsk Airport against the Vesti Karelii online newspaper. The plaintiff accused the website and its correspondent Svetlana Lysenko of damaging company reputation by regular airport operation reports, and demanded that the media delete the articles from the website and archive. Lysenko's reports were based on the results of inspections by transport prosecutors and the Federal Antimonopoly Service, as well as on court rulings which Petrozavodsk Airport had never challenged. Yet the journalistic investigation relying on documents and interviews with airport personnel, including former employees, prompted a legal action by the company. The only possible motive is to intimidate Vesti Karelia so that it never again brings company problems to public attention.
The long-outdated Petrozavodsk Airport has been implementing a modernisation programme supported by federal authorities. It is an important air link between Petrozavodsk and Moscow and other Russian cities needed by Karelia residents. Airport infrastructure construction is supervised by Deputy Secretary of Russia's Security Council Secretary R. Nurgaliyev. The public interest in the project is tremendous, so Lysenko's articles on Vesti Karelii website are popular with the readers and understandably irritate the Petrozavodsk Airport administration. The airport authorities scrutinized several of her reports and demanded that 11 passages be recognized as invalid and harming company reputation. The plaintiff insisted that the stories be taken out, but stopped short of claiming damages.
The Court of Arbitration took three months to review the case and the judge finally acknowledged that the journalist's reports contained authentic information (confirming poor maintenance of the airport terminal and equipment) and that Petrozavodsk Airport's claims had to do with her fact-based views rather than the situation she had highlighted. Consequently, the court did not meet the claim, so the editorial office does not have to disavow the disputed passages and will keep the journalist's articles intact in the website archive.
By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District
The Motovilikhinsky district court in Perm on 17 February dismissed an official's claims to ban photography and filming at court hearings. Earlier, Pavel Pakhunov, 44, first deputy head of the Perm Administration Land Department, was detained on suspicion of taking a 525,000-rouble bribe.
Orenburg-based Pakhunov has occupied a top Perm Region post in the past two years. He has been on the regional commission for land auctions, municipal land lease and non-delineated ownership plots. The Federal Security Service and Investigative Committee said the official received on 15 February a large bribe from businessman Yevgeny Gunin for allotting him a city land plot. The deal had been arranged through the official's friend Semyon Yevdokimov.
On 17 February, camera crews of four television companies and a dozen reporters from print and online media gathered at the Motovilikhinsky court which was reviewing pre-trial restrictions for Pakhunov and Yevdokimov. The former, in the defendant's glass box, demanded that the court ban the filming. His lawyer Larissa Zhdanova said that publicity had been working against the official's children at school.
Deputy head of the Investigative Committee office for the Motovilikhinsky district Anton Dolganov replied to judge Anton Dolmatov's question: “The case materials contain no state secrets or sensitive information related to the investigation. I do not object to filming”. Yulia Okulova, senior aide to Perm's Motovilikhinsky district prosecutor, said, “We're having an open hearing”. After hearing out the parties, Judge A. Dolmatov permitted photography and filming.
The pre-trial restrictions hearing for intermediary Yevdokimov was as transparent. Media reported that both bribery case suspects were placed under arrest until 14 April.
By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District
Kuban River area farmers' struggle for the right to work on their own soil has outgrown regional publicity to attract global attention. Mainstream media reporters and their colleagues from foreign countries such as Germany have visited the Krasnodar Region to highlight the farmers' protest. Journalists easily get access to regional courts' hearings over land disputes. Not so with district courts.
Attending an open district court hearing over land issues requires that journalists meet a plethora of excessive requirements. For example, they need to forward a written notification to the court stating the journalist's plans to attend the hearing, show that the coverage of proceedings has been scheduled by the editorial office, and even answer the question, “Which party do you side with?” Meeting all the requirements however does not give you an ironclad guarantee that you'll make it to the courtroom.
On 9 February, a district court in Yeisk was hearing a takeover case involving a local agribusiness. The agro-firm's legal papers were damaged in an administrative building fire in the autumn of 2016, but the larger part of documents was later restored. The hearing promised to be very interesting and attracted regional media's attention.
However, Federal Judge Pyotr Vikhor, on hearing that a film crew from the Krasnodar-based Spravedlivaya Kuban TV programme arrived at the court, denied them access, though all participants in the hearing did not object to the presence of journalists. This is how the judge explained his decision: “You requested Yeisk district court chairman to accredit the journalists. The district court does not handle accreditation issues”.
“Accredit” and “give access” reasonably mean the same thing. The popular Ozhegov Dictionary “defines `accrediting' as `acknowledging the journalist's right to obtain certain information and providing assistance in the process.' That is, the judge, by permitting the journalist to attend the hearing, assists him in obtaining the information on the case under review,” said one journalist as he was trying to argue his case. However, the judge ordered him to leave the courtroom.
Defending the journalist's right to obtain information, the editorial office complained to the regional Judges Qualification Panel over district courts' double talk as the law does not require any accreditation for the journalists attending open court hearings.
By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District
Stavropolskiye Vedomosti has carried four “whistle-blowing” articles since the beginning of this year directly pointing to corruption schemes. It should have made anti-corruption campaigners happy to see yet another outlet upholding their cause. However, the articles attacked neither an official nor a business person, judge, prosecutor, or police officer, but a journalist! Otkrytaya Gazeta editor Lyudmila Leontyeva was the target in several “expose” writings pointedly titled “Tax for Leontyeva” and released in instalments numbered 2, 3, 4...
These are not “open letters,” though they are clearly addressed to the regional governor, Vladimir Vladimirov. The open-letter genre is a desperate measure concerning a topic critical for the public that the authors earlier tried to convey to the official in a different manner but failed.
All the four Stavropolskiye Vedomosti articles seeking the governor's attention are plain squeals. Regrettably, such a genre does exist, and has been quite popular recently. In an article titled “Grassroots Squeal” (“Modern Squeal: Style, Originality, Motives, and Characters”), the newspaper Novaya Gazeta references Prof. Valery Nekhamkin to define squeal as an information process to pass sensitive but not necessarily authentic information to the authorities about a person so that measures be taken against him. Novaya Gazeta adds that modern squeals should specifically note the targeted person's disloyalty to the authorities and other alleged crimes”.
The four “articles” in Stavropolskiye Vedomosti fit into the description. Following is their summary.
The author asks the governor to pay attention to the fact that his ministers of road facilities, construction, health care, and education spend “too much money” on government-funded subscription of the newspaper Otkrytaya Gazeta. The article liberally uses newspaper space to list all the subscribers, including state-owned enterprises, hospitals, colleges, etc. and cites, the number of copies ordered, and their cost. How did the author obtain this information which is in fact a commercial secret? “Found a data sheet in the street,” the author joked. The invariable conclusion in all his four articles is that the ministers make municipal companies subscribe to Otkrytaya Gazeta in order to avoid journalists' criticism. Subscription is payment for keeping silent, “a shield from frenzied criticism”. The governor should take a closer look at his subordinates, the author says, and “think about why they support the media which continue frenzied pecking at the regional leader”.
It is unclear why the squeal list includes colleges (controlled by federal authorities) and private agribusinesses, chemical and gas sector companies. They do not pay budget money to subscribe to the newspaper (in order to pay for silence as the author alleges), hence the governor has no influence on their commercial activity. The author's innuendoes that subscription expenditure is compensated by tariff hikes that cause public indignation indirectly impacting the governor are hilarious.
One more time I have to say that in my stories, journalists increasingly often become the “bad guys” abusing openness and independent media.
One can understand the authorities who hate public control because they all do. It is much more difficult to understand the journalists who help hurt their colleagues. Perhaps, those who reject the Russian Journalists' Ethnical Code principles do not belong to them. The Code says that “A journalist only recognises the jurisdiction of his colleagues, rejecting any pressure or interference attempts by government or anyone,” and that “A journalist avoids the situation where he could harm personal or professional interests of his colleague”.
If you suspect your colleague of unfair competition, tell him so, and raise the issue with your professional community. Colleagues' opinion and reputational losses are far more important to a true journalist than any pressure by the authorities.
The thing is that it is useless to invoke ethnical norms for the regional media community which cannot articulate its reaction to threats against journalists and even to their murders.
The Otkrytaya Gazeta editorial office knows the officials in the focus of journalistic investigation who use the unscrupulous Stavropolskiye Vedomosti. The newspaper shared its knowledge with the readers in the latest issue. It plans to sue the Stavropolskiye Vedomosti editor for “disseminating damaging and false information” and “divulging legally protected commercial data” about the newspaper's business partners.
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.
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