Дайджест20 Апреля 2017 года
Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 797
10 April 2017
Event of the week
EVENT OF THE WEEK
By Vladimir Dymov, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District
Six months ago, Sakhalin-based ASTV information and entertainment channel correspondent Lyubov Barabashova sent her stories to the Truth and Justice contest sponsored by the All-Russia People's Front (ONF). One was about a new neighbourhood smothered in dirt because the developer had “forgotten” to build roads though people had already moved in, and the other about petroleum products waste “recycling”. The very topical reports were presented wittingly, with photos that could have made settings for horror movies. Lyubov won the contest receiving congratulations from ONF Sakhalin branch head Krill Kobyakov and press secretary Daniil Pankstyanov. However, she later was asked (on behalf of Kobyakov who apparently felt uncomfortable to make such a request in person) to remove an earlier comment on astv.ru that had nothing to do with the contest. The comment, titled “Bastardish State,” addressed domestic violence decriminalisation. “Decent countries toughen penalties for family violence whereas here in Russia some stupid bastards think that the attacker should not be held to account if the victim's bones aren't broken. In this country, `kitchen fighters' have hardly ever been brought to justice, but from this time on they'll be in their right. Every other day we break news on grown-up children killing mothers and husbands killing their wives. I can bet my life that the victims, before they were murdered, had been beaten up `without much damage to their health',” Barabashova wrote.
Her re-tweets concerning Navalny's election campaign were also unwelcome.
It was made clear to her that if she withdrew her comments everything would be fine and she would get a money prize. If she left them as they were, she would get nothing. Barabashova was somewhat surprised as she had not expected a money prize. She believed she would be fine with a commendation. “I visited the contest website to find that the winners were indeed entitled to 200,000 rubles each”. The money prizes were to be handed in at an award-giving ceremony at the Petersburg media forum. “I talked to my colleagues about the odd situation”. If prizes were due and her name was on the winners' list, surely she would receive hers?
Her name was then taken off the winners' list: “Yesterday, the name was there between Gilayna Balayeva (Kalmyk Republic) and Nadezhda Barsukova (Saratov Region)… Today, it is missing”. ONF Sakhalin branch head Krill Kobyanov declined to give explanations on this account.
Barabashova is a popular regional journalist having many subscribers on the channel and social media, so the authorities might have been afraid that the incident would come into the limelight; they put her name back on the winners' list. She was never invited to the forum and the prize money was just transferred to her bank card.
“So it goes, my friends,” the mistreated laureate wrote on Facebook. “My stories are good enough to win, but I failed a test of patriotism and love for the Motherland”. The contest was held by the foundation supporting independent regional and local media. It apparently rations their independence!
By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District
Khanty-Mansi District Court on 5 April ordered custody for OTV-Yugra telvision channel editor-in-chief Eduard Shmonin. The journalist was taken to a pre-trial detention centre where he will spend the next two months.
His colleagues told the GDF that Shmonin was facing criminal charges of extortion, slander, coercive transaction or coercive refusal to enter into transaction, and illegal production and circulation of pornographic materials.
The last charge was brought in connection with a clip posted on Chinovnik.ru which had been set up by Eduard Shmonin several years ago; it showed a legislator and a nominee from Nizhenevartovsk engaging in gay sex. The video was posted ahead of 2016 regional elections in Russia.
“By that time, the website had changed hands three times, and Shmonin certainly had nothing to do with it. We quit the website three and half years ago. Shmonin has been Yugra Public Television head since January 2014,” Shmonin's colleagues said.
“Regional investigators are trumping up a case while trying to frame him as the one who posted the compromising material,” journalist Mikhail Kokorev told the GDF. In his opinion, the other crimes he is accused of look doctored. “The channel fulfilled an advertisement order to highlight a sport event, namely a biathlon championship, we've been paid for it, the clients are happy, so what `extortion or coercion' are they talking about?”
OTV-Yugra television personnel are confident that law enforcers are taking revenge on the editor-in-chief for the “Criminal Oil” broadcast on New Year's Eve. It told about a shadow turnover of Surgutneftegaz petroleum products covered by high-ranking security service officials (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MZs8mDmlsE ). This turnover fetches a monthly revenue of some 300 million roubles, according to the television company. After the broadcast, several criminal cases were filed against the editor-in-chief one after another.
On 5 April, police searched OTV-Yugra's office and apartments of its personnel and contributors seizing computers, data storages, documents and draft versions of programmes.
By Galina Tashmatova, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District
At long last, Krasnodar Region police opened a criminal case over attack on Radio Liberty Russian Service correspondents Sergei Khazov-Kassiya and Andrei Kostyanov in the town of Kropotkin.
The regional police department's press service confirmed to the GDF that criminal proceedings had been instituted over robbery. The investigation is ongoing.
The journalists were attacked on 28 March (see digest 796). On that day, regional farmers were to have begun a second tractor march on the Russian capital. The plans were voiced back in February. The starting point was Kazanskaya settlement. On the eve of the action, correspondent Sergei Khazov-Kassiya and cameraman Andrei Kostyanov were stopped near the hotel by nine unidentified men wearing masks. Having sprayed Mace in the journalists' faces, they threw them to the ground and began to kick them. The attackers took their notebooks and cameras and fled.
The journalists said they found nearly all their things the attackers had taken away in their hotel room save the small amounts of money they had had on them. Even if the investigators track down the attackers, the sum of damage is too small, so the initial charge (robbery) is likely to be changed to hooliganism. In actual fact however, the incident packs cumulative charges including obstruction of journalist's work.
By Anatoly Tsygankov, GDF correspondent in North-Western Federal District
Russian legislation commits editorial offices to sending copies of newspaper and magazine releases to the Roskomnadzor media watchdog and the Book Chamber on the date of their publication. The federal law “On Obligatory Copy of Documents”, which was last updated in 2016, is rather strict on tardy editorial offices and mass media. A failure by a media outlet to send a copy of its periodical to the above agencies on the date of publication is an administrative offence punished by a 10,000- to 20,000-rouble fine.
However, an editorial office is not necessarily always guilty of the delay which can occur due to mail service errors. It might be that the Book Chamber did not register the arrival of the copies on time and this information was sent to Roskomnadzor. Of course, editorial offices can send obligatory copies late for this or that reason. Karelia's Chief Editors Club recently discussed the issue.
In principle, the practice of mailing newspapers and magazines which originated in the pre-computer era has long needed an overhaul. All government bodies are now adopting e-document management. It is much more convenient and cheaper for editorial offices to send electronic copies of their releases instead of mailing hard copies. That would reduce Roskomnadzor's workload and save editorial offices' mailing costs. For example, mail expenses of weekly newspapers in Karelia which is not very far from Moscow amount to 3,000 to 10,000 roubles a year, a modest sum compared with what newspapers in Russia's Far East have to pay.
Karelian district and republican newspapers' editorial officers repeatedly asked the Russian parliament to amend the law “On Obligatory Copy of the Documents” to enable them to send newspaper and magazine copies in PDF files to fewer obligatory destinations.
By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District
The Motovilikhinskiy district court of Perm granted the claim by Zvezda newspaper letters section head Anastasia Miftakhova on 27 March. The Social Insurance Fund is to pay Miftakhova 30,900 roubles in arrears on monthly child care allowance. Subsequent payments should come from Gazeta Zvezda JSC which has been cash-strapped for six months.
GDF digest 793 reported that Anastasia Miftakhova, a mother of two children, had to enter into litigation with the newspaper owned by a dollar millionaire, State Duma deputy Dmitry Skrivanov (see digest 793 ). By the third case hearing, the defendant, Gazeta Zvezda, obtained a Sberbank (Savings Bank) document stating that the client had been listed, debiting priorities had been set, but that 27 payment requests for over 2.7 million roubles had not been met by March 15, 2017. Judge Tamara Shirokova decided that the allowance should be paid by the second defendnant, the Social Insurance Fund. The Fund's representative Maria Alexeyeva stated that the Social Insurance Fund would lodge a complaint with the Perm regional court. In that event, the journalist would have to wait for several months to be paid.
On the same day, 27 March, the Perm Arbitration Court began to review a 1.2-million-rouble debt claim against Gazeta Zvezda filed by the JSC Publishing and Printing Complex Zvezda.
Meanwhile, lawmaker D. Skrivanov has not paid for the controlling stake in Gazeta Zvezda he acquired almost a year ago, as shown by the amicable agreement (effective as of 3 April) with businessman Kirill Markevich, who was deputy head of the administration of former Perm Region governor Viktor Basargin. In the spring of 2016, Markevich brokered the sale of five media companies under his control. After partial payment, the outstanding debt was estimated at 14.5 million roubles. In contrast to Miftakhova's case, lawmaker Skrivanov was able to meet this large liability. Under the amicable agreement endorsed by Magnitogorsk's Lenin district court on 17 March 2017, Skrivanov guarantied the payment of 159,600 U.S. dollars (more than 9.4 million roubles at Russian Central Bank exchange rate) to businessman Markevich.
By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District
Journalists continue to give eye-witness accounts of how law enforcers interfered with their coverage of 26 March anti-corruption rallies.
KAVPOLIT news portal correspondent Faina Kachabekova not only saw the methods the police used to disperse the protest action, but also watched the detention of a journalist from a vantage point she took near the Sovetsky District Police Department. In her story posted on the KAVPOLIT website, she recounted how police demanded that Khabib Aigumov put away his camera.
“Law enforcers have a phobia: they fear cameras like plague and demand that they are not filmed, saying they hate it. Federal laws say nothing on this account. The presidential decree `On Additional Guarantees to Citizens' Right to Information' allows making video recordings without having a journalist's card.
“Tell me, on what grounds do you prohibit the recording?” Aigumov asked a police officer.
“I've told you, put away your camera, I don't want to be filmed,” he replied raising his voice. He repeated his order not to film several times, and then grabbed Khabib by his arm and had his colleagues help him drag the cameraman into the police department.
Faina Kachabekova narrates: “Trying to stop the illegal detention, I told the police that I was a journalist, that I had a press card and that Aigunov was making a recording at my request.
“I phoned police department press secretary Ruslan Ibragimgadzhiyev to tell him that law enforcers had detained my acquaintance without giving reasons. A bus carrying new detainees pulled up and Eto Kavkaz correspondent Vlaidmir Sevrinovsky and Kommersant reporter Sergei Rasulov got out. Their detention surprised me, and I phoned the press secretary again.
“`Enter the building,' a police officer suddenly told me.
“`I will not, why should I,' I said while continuing talking with Ibragimgadzhiyev.
“`Then get the hell out of here,' a `polite' plainclothes man standing together with the police told me.
“`I won't, why should I,' I told him.
“A police officer approached me, caught my hand and began to pull me towards the police department.
“Under the federal law on police, a police officer addressing a person shall state his/her post, rank, name, and at the person's request produce his/her police ID, then explain the reason for the approach. In case of restriction of a person's rights or freedoms, he/she shall explain the reason for the restriction and the respective rights and duties of the person.
“But the officer who was detaining me did not know it or didn't want to know as he was abusing his powers”.
A second policeman joined him and, issuing threats, they dragged Faina into the building. She still had the phone line open with the police spokesman and the latter could not but hear what was going on. Inside, a policeman snatched her phone from her hand ignoring her KAVPOLIT correspondent ID.
Some half an hour passed, and the journalists were ordered to go to the police chief's office. Head of the district police department Kurbanov introduced himself by his first name Murad as he began talking to reporters. Spokesman Ruslan Ibragimgazhiyev, who was by his side, introduced himself by his full name.
Kurbanov paid particular attention to Vladimir Sevrinovsky who he believed had no business coming here from Moscow. Sevrinovsky said he was an ethnographer studying Dagestan's culture and traditions. He was writing a book and was very interested in the region, so he came and went as he wished.
The talk with Murad Kurbanov lasted for about half an hour. He was particularly interested in why the journalists had taken part in the rally.
“Of course, we tried to explain that under the federal law on the mass media a journalist `has the right to visit specially protected places of mass disorders and mass gatherings and attend meetings and demonstrations,' Kachabekova went on telling. “It is hard to say if he understood us. Kurbanov kept asking Sevrinovsky to name the hotel where he was staying `in order to ensure the journalist's safety.' Later, I was asked to leave the room and take all the things out of my handbag and then take off my overcoat. A policeman, without introducing himself, inspected my handbag and felt my coat, and then returned my things to me. However, he took away my voice recorder which had been turned off, along with my player. The other correspondents were searched in the same manner one after another. I was the first to be set free; the police returned by tablet PC but asked me to delete the rally video.
“I asked the duty officer to justify his demands. `It is not my wish, it's an order from my superiors,' he gave a nervous reply.
“I was unable to find out which police official had issued such orders, so I gave up after a five-minute bickering with the officer and deleted the clip (which had been sent to the editorial office by then, anyway). The police returned my phone but its password had been disabled. Later I found out that the video on my phone had been deleted without my knowledge.
“Half an hour later, police released Khabib Aigumov, Vladimir Sevrinsky and Sergei Rasulov,” Faina Kachabekova said.
By Anna Lebedeva, GDF correspondent in Southern Federal District
In the early hours of 6 April, an explosion occurred near a school in downtown Rostov-on-Don. A flashlight rigged with explosives blew up in the hands of a passer-by who had picked it on the sidewalk. The incident occurred just a few days after the St. Petersburg Metro blast; unsurprisingly, Rostov residents found it scary to think what could have happened if the flashlight had been picked by a child hurrying to school. On 7 April, Internet reports said similar booby traps had been found on the Don Embankment and Pushkinskiy Boulevard.
On the same day, the press service of the Investigative Committee department for the Rostov Region circulated a press release denying the information. The suspicious flashlights were examined by engineers who said they did not contain explosives and were safe. What an odd story: I often walk along the Embankment but I have never seen flashlights scattered around there. Apparently somebody wanted to hype up the tensions in the city. As always, the authorities blamed the citizens who posted the information about the flashlights on the Internet and the journalists who reported it on their media websites.
“The Investigative Committee Department for the Region of Rostov warns against dissemination of misinformation about the incident and reminds that trustworthy data is the official information coming from the body which is conducting the investigation,” the press release said.
The Investigative Committee also warned the media about potential liability for disseminating false or unconfirmed reports.
What kind of liability is meant here and when does it come into play? This question, crucial for all correspondents (not mentioning editors) is still unanswered. On Friday, 7 April, spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee's Rostov Region department Galina Gagalayeva promised to call back the GDF to clarify the matter. However, she could not be reached on the phone at work and her mobile phone didn't answer on that day and later on Monday.
Also on 7 April, the Don Media Press Centre hosted a discussion hard on the heels of the latest developments. The Safe City discussion was attended by expert of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee Prof. Igor Dobayev of Southern Federal University, FSB Colonel Dmitry Kotelnikov representing the Expert Centre, and political analyst Yuri Girenko. They were unanimous that the tensions in Rostov had mounted because of social and mass media reports unconfirmed by government bodies.
“It would not have happened if social media were safeguarded or correspondence could be withdrawn,” Kotelnikov said. He said blocking correspondence was technically difficult yet feasible.
The www.1rnd.ru news portal reported that the expert called for setting up a dedicated unit for bringing media up to date, to assist law enforcers and emergency services battling such contingencies. Meanwhile, such a unit had already been set up as it turned out. Rostov Region government information department head Sergei Tyurin said that all the press services that had to do with the incident had actively exchanged information and coordinated their positions the day before. “But with the investigation still in progress there wasn't much we could discuss,” Tyurin said as he explained the ensuing information vacuum.
Yuri Girenko referred to the bulk of social media users as people with low social responsibility who “cannot be reached as long as they sit on their sofas at home feeling safe”. The expert suggested extending the operation of the mass media law to bloggers and social media administrators meaning that they should be made responsible for dissemination of false information. However, he said he believed that tougher punishment was not needed and that the fact of punishment was more important.
Does it follow that mass media should not write or talk about current events until they receive an official confirmation from police or the Investigative Committee? One can hardly imagine this format of work in modern media space. Hearing it reminds you of something half-forgotten, a whiff of the time when people in the Soviet Union never heard of domestic plane crashes. It happened only because such accidents were not reported in newspapers or the Vremya evening news TV show.
Fortunately, there were many CCTV cameras installed around the scene of the incident near the Rostov school. On 7 April, as the discussion was underway, detectives detained a suspect in the crime, which was conveniently used to tame the journalists' tongues a bit. It turned out that the man was not a terrorist but a jealous husband who had put the flashlight on the ground just minutes before his acquaintance (whom he suspected of attentions to his girlfriend) was supposed to pass that place on his way to work. As was expected, the man picked up the improvised explosive device which went off in his hands injuring him. He was rushed to hospital. This is an official version of the incident. As for other versions, well, we've been warned...
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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