Дайджест14 Марта 2017 года
Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 791
27 February 2017
Event of the week
EVENT OF THE WEEK
By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District
Russia's Justice Ministry has detected yet another “foreign agent”. As explained on the ministry's official website, a scheduled documentary inspection of the Tak-Tak-Tak Foundation for Supporting the Development of Mass Communications and Legal Awareness has shown that this NGO (uniting lawyers and journalists led by Viktor Yukechev, a prominent media specialist and director of Press Development Institute Siberia) has “earned itself” that status through its work.
The Foundation conducts public probes into socially significant phenomena including corruption, and provides legal assistance for anyone requesting it.
As written on the Foundation's website (taktaktak.ru), “The project is designed for us to help one another. Together - only so - can we make this world fairer and more comprehensible to ourselves. Each of us has run into violations of our rights in various spheres, from a river's pollution to our liberty taken away. We have often had to face problems all on our own, yet it is clear we are not the only ones to have done so, and someone may have already solved some such problems successfully before”.
The number of Tak-tak-tak social network users is 22,500, including more than 150 experts and about 40 legal entities.
That the Foundation has been labelled a “foreign agent” only means that in this country, citizens' interests are deemed to be “hostile” to those of the state.
Here are a few topics “Tak-tak-tak the foreign agent” has looked into (of a total of 112, with the situation changing for the better in more than half of the cases): “The resettlement programme for tenants of shabby housing: People are being kicked out onto the street”; “Adapting housing to the needs of disabled people living in the private sector”; “The state saves money through infringing orphans' rights”; “How to re-light eternal flames across Russia?” (most such flames, which are part of WWII Victory memorials, are inoperative in the country). One may wonder what the Justice Ministry understands as “patriotism”…
Commenting on his Foundation's blacklisting, Viktor Yukechev wrote in his blog: “There are 102 `foreign agents' in Russia today - or else 152, because there is no continuous numbering on the ministry's website, while counting them by crooking one's fingers is, honestly, too tedious a thing to do… Just enter the site of any of those organisations and try to understand what particular `foreign agent' (that is, `enemy') functions they fulfil. And be sure to check what Tak-tak-tak's work is all about. I'll refrain from giving you any more hints”.
Yukechev intends to prove in court that the claims brought against his organisation by the Justice Ministry's Department for the Novosibirsk Region “are senseless and groundless”.
By Vladimir Golubev, GDF correspondent in Urals Federal District
A journalist of the Yekaterinburg-based news agency Ura.ru has taken a lie detector test as part of a criminal case initiated by Russia's former General Prosecutor Yuri Skuratov. The detector was administered to Yulia Litvinenko by independent experts to whom barristers and law enforcement officials in Yekaterinburg regularly turn for help.
In short, the procedure gave the answers to a few most essential questions. One, the polygraph confirmed that Litvinenko had indeed considered the information she used in preparing her story to be trustworthy. Two, she had not taken from anyone any extra money - nothing beyond her regular salary - for preparing the article. And finally, the author had not intended to belie anyone in her publication - she was just reporting information that she believed was true.
“In line with criminal law, a fact of libel can be acknowledged only if it is established that the suspect lied deliberately,” lawyer Pavel Babikov said. “In our case, there was no such malicious intent - there was information gathered in the course of a journalistic investigation”.
As we have reported, in October Skuratov became the main character of an Ura.ru publication. Lawyers with a firm he owns had managed to win in the 17th Arbitration Court of Appeals a case in which the current owners owed to the former shareholders of another industrial plant, Ventprom, 1.4 billion roubles in compensation for damages. The controversial decision of the appellate authority was later cancelled as unlawful by the Urals Federal District Court of Appeals. If it hadn't been, the industrial plant would have been ruined by the compensation payment. Ventprom is one of the world's four plants manufacturing ventilation systems for metros and mines. Besides, 500 plant workers would have been left jobless. Skuratov found that article insulting. Urals journalists, for their part, said they considered his tenure as General Prosecutor as an insult to Russia.
The GDF is closely following the developments.
[Based on Ura.ru reports]
By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District
Alexander Pastukhov, head of the social media division at OOO AktivMedia, is preparing a criminal lawsuit against the management for the non-payment of wages for over two months in a row. He made a statement to that effect during the 20 February preliminary hearing in the Sverdlovsky district court in Perm of his legal claim demanding 95,400 roubles in underpaid wages plus 50,000 roubles in moral damages.
The journalist said he had already complained to the prosecutor's office and the State Labour Inspectorate for the Perm Region. Judge Olga Knyazeva at his request added to the civil case files the inspectorate's reply dated 30 January 2017 and saying that AktivMedia's Executive Director Yekaterina Berber had been held administratively liable for violating labour legislation.
According to the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, the media holding had on its payroll as of 20 February this year (in addition to Y. Berber, ex-deputy major of Perm) also manager Timur Marder, a private entrepreneur from the town of Krasnogorsk near Moscow. A certain Marina Gordeichik was registered as the company's sole founder. As he replied to the court's questions, A. Pastukhov noted: “The actual owner is RF State Duma Deputy Dmitry Skrivanov”.
In digest 788, the GDF reported that five former staffers of Skrivanov-controlled newspaper Zvezda had had to go to law to recover payments due to them for the work done. It looks like the same story is now repeating itself at AktivMedia.
Pastukhov has worked with AktivMedia since December 2014, continuing his career of a successful SMM manager. Currently he holds the social media division head's position with a salary of 20,000 roubles. On 6 December 2016, he was compelled to go to law, relying on the provisions of Labour Code Article 142 (“Employer's liability for untimely payment of salary or other sums due to worker”). Pastukhov, 26, notified the management in writing that he was suspending his work until they paid him in full for the work done. The last time he received his partial payment for October (only 2,900 roubles) was on 6 December, with nothing at all paid to him for November or December. Therefore, on 18 January he decided to sue.
In a conversation with the GDF, Pastukhov said a similar legal claim had been lodged also by Denis Kashnikov, the underpaid former chief editor of the Permskaya Tribuna weekly. Other journalists from Skrivanov's media holding were likely to follow suit, he alleged.
In line with Criminal Code Article 145.1.2, the non-payment of worker wages for more than two months out of lucrative impulse or for other personal gain is fraught for an employer with a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 roubles or even with imprisonment for up to three years.
Belarusian writers and journalists who are not members of the officially recognized creative associations were actually equalised with spongers after the Ministry of Culture approved at the end of January a new list of creative unions excluding the PEN Centre and other non-governmental writers' associations, among them those criticising the incumbent authorities. The Creative Unions List dated 30 January entered into full legal force on 17 February, that is, only three days before the so-called “parasitism tax” was to be paid in Belarus, according to the BBC. For example, Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Aleksiyevich does not belong to any “official” writers' union but is a member of several independent creative associations.
According to the Belarusian Union of Writers chairman, Boris Petrovich, prior to that, members of all creative organisations were exempt from the “parasitism tax”. “Before the Culture Ministry issued its list, tax collectors had no claims against members of our union,” he told the independent newspaper Nasha Niva, adding that his organisation was officially registered and legally equal to the pro-government Union of Writers.
The situation with journalistic associations is much the same: the Belarusian Union of Journalists, also described by critics as a pro-government association, is on the official list of creative groups, while the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists is not.
The so-called “parasitism decree” (“On preventing social dependence”) was signed by President Alexander Lukashenko in April 2015, requiring all able-bodied yet unemployed and non-taxpaying citizens to annually pay an equivalent of 250 US dollars into the treasury. Non-payment entails administrative liability.
[Novyi Den report, 21 February]
By Anatoly Tsygankov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District
Social networks have long become news and expert opinion sources for the media. Yet a negligent attitude to handling material posted online may be unsafe for media outlets; when borrowing someone's content, journalists must not forget that the authors of texts and images publicly available in social networks are protected under the law. Media forgetting or ignoring this circumstance take the risk of getting involved in lawsuits as defendants.
In Karelia, the TNT-Onego channel has been found guilty of violating the copyright to a video posted in a social network and will have to bear financial liability for the offence. It took several court sittings to establish that Onego had used the video in one of its TV shows without the authors' consent, and moreover, had supplied its own offscreen commentary imparting a directly opposite meaning to the video.
Two girl students of Petrozavodsk University, when participating in a youth art festival called Cloudberries, made a two-minute video based on men's beauty contest Mr PetrGU 2016. They themselves wrote the script and directed the shooting of a report on the photo session held as part of the contest. Upon presenting the video, they posted it in YouTube, where it caught the eye of Onego which was preparing its TV show Karelskiy Piston. By borrowing the students' video and adding its own offscreen commentary, Onego turned the whole thing into an ambiguous mess.
Participants in the Mr PetrGU photo session, against their will, illustrated a major paedophile scandal at the Petrozavodsk river transport school that is still having its repercussions in Karelia. The guilty persons have been convicted but the proceedings are still not over, with complaints to be reviewed by the relevant appellate and oversight authorities. Meanwhile, an Onego journalist, in his offscreen commentary to the scandal, attempted to ponder over whether men's contests like Mr PetrGU should be held in educational institutions at all, while hinting very transparently that participants in such contests are only after one thing: that some rich sponsor “drive them away in a luxury car to some crimson-sunset dreamland”. With the offscreen commentary as dubious as that, the young men presented their claims to the video's authors who, in their turn, filed lawsuits against Onego in a bid to prove they had not given their consent to using their material or adding anyone's commentary to it.
Onego did not deny the fact of using the video, while arguing that it had repeatedly done so before because “social networks are in the public domain” and “open to borrowing from”. It described its actions - the use of others' material - as “quoting”, whereas the authors insisted the TV channel had violated their copyright. The law does not allow changing original materials without the authors' consent, abridging or expanding them, adding any commentaries, forewords, afterwords, or illustrations - and generally, explaining or commenting on the original material in any form as a way to ensure its integrity (Administrative Code Article 1266).
The court upheld the plaintiffs' position and granted their claim, requiring Onego to announce its defeat in court in the next edition of Karelskiy Piston by reading out the operative part of the decision. Also, the broadcaster is to pay the video's authors 20,000 roubles in moral damages. Yet Onego will appeal, although the outcome is easily predictable, in our view.
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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