Дайджест
24 Декабря 2009 года

GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION DIGEST No. 458


TOPIC OF THE WEEK
Media deaths climb to a record level, 2009 CPJ report says

RUSSIA
1. Saratov Region. Media waging civil war
2. Sverdlovsk Region. Newspaper wins precedent-making victory in court
3. Chelyabinsk Region. District parliamentarians crack down on local media
4. Sakhalin Region. Journalists win lawsuits but lose jobs
5. Chita Region. Newspaper at crossroads
6. Republic of Ingushetia. Prosecutor’s office insists on opposition website closure

UKRAINE
TV journalists attacked in Simferopol

GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited

OUR PUBLICATIONS

Times change, censorship remains eternal

OUR PARTNERS
Murdered reporters mourned at Central House of Journalists




TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Media deaths climb to a record level, 2009 CPJ report says

The December 17th report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says this year has seen a record number – at least 68 – journalists killed worldwide in connection with their professional activities. The death toll is fueled by impunity, human rights defenders believe.

Last year’s most dangerous country to report from, Iraq, has lost the sad leadership to the Philippines, where 30 media representatives were killed in a confrontation of clans in 2009. The CPJ list also includes Pakistan, Russia, Afghanistan, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Columbia, Palestine and Venezuela. The deaths of nearly three quarters of the journalists killed since this year began were work-related. Eleven reporters were killed in fire exchanges in the course of hostilities, and seven others died while covering mass protest actions.

The report mentions, specifically, the killings of Novaya Gazeta reporter Natalia Estemirova, freelance journalist Anastasia Baburova, and Dagestani newspaper Haqiqat (Truth) reporter Malik Akhmedilov.

It was a year of unprecedented devastation for the world media, CPJ executive director Joel Simon said, stressing the point that most victims were local reporters covering local community developments. The perpetrators understood, based on life experience, that they would never be called to justice, Simon said.

CPJ experts are still investigating over 20 killings of media workers to find out whether or not they were related to the victims’ professional activities.

After Olga Kotovskaya, ex-director of the Kaskad TV Company, fell from a 14th-floor window in Kaliningrad a month ago, her death was initially thought to be a suicide, but then criminal proceedings were instituted on suspicion that she might have been driven to commit suicide.




RUSSIA

1. Saratov Region. Media waging civil war


By Yuri Chernyshov,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

Striking anti-media actions have been the talk of the month in Saratov.

Earlier, such actions were spearheaded against individual citizens and journalists. Now a new practice has emerged – to disrupt news conferences organized by political opponents and thereby bar many media at once from access to information. This practice, which actually ignores everyone’s right to gather and circulate information, as guaranteed by the RF Constitution and Media Law, was “invented” by the local branch of the United Russia Party (URP) and has been translated into reality by journalists belonging to that organization.

On November 29 they attempted to disrupt a news conference by Valery Rashkin, a State Duma deputy representing the Communist Party faction. According to Alexander Sveshnikov, editor of the newspaper Bogatei, that was “an unprecedented action in the latest history of Saratov journalism”. Of the 30 people attending the conference, 17 were registered as reporters; the rest were URP members and their patrons who had infiltrated into the conference room no one knew how. Those unwanted guests turned the serious event into buffoonery, shouting from their seats, dictating how to conduct the questions-and-answers session and even rushing to the forefront to take over the lead. Some journalists and editors of politically neutral newspapers were compelled to leave the regional Duma’s parliamentary center where the meeting with the Saratov communist leader was held.

Earlier this month, the regional branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union had to step in to defend media outlets – this time, the district newspaper Tselinnik on which the Antimonopoly Service had levied a fine of RUR 240,000 for a violation of the advertising law, and another newspaper, Zerkalo, which had to pay RUR 160,000 on similar charges.

It went as far as Tselinnik editor Marina Yelgayeva’s complaint to President Medvedev about “draconian sanctions putting media outlets on the verge of bankruptcy”. Earlier, she had sent a similar complaint to the regional human rights ombudsperson Nina Lukashova. And Lydia Zlatogorskaya, chair of the Saratov branch of RJU, urged the local Antimonopoly Service head Nikoli Remezov not to charge the fines from the two media outlets.

The editors of three online media – Vzglyad-Info, Chetvyortaya Vlast and Rumorologia.ru – have been under strong pressure since December 2 because of spreading rumors about an epidemic of pneumonic plague, not even pig flu, coming up. Media reports about those rumors – rumors, not facts! – have given rise to the institution of criminal proceedings. Over the past few weeks the three editors have been repeatedly summoned to the police for questioning.

2. Sverdlovsk Region. Newspaper wins precedent-making victory in court

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF staff correspondent in Ural Federal District

A litigation closely watched by the public in and beyond Yekaterinburg has ended in the court passing an unprecedented decision – to compensate a journalist for the damage done by police officers’ unlawful actions.

It all began in a pretty banal way, with Vladimir Konkov, a former construction industry tycoon turned a deputy of the Sverdlovsk Region Duma, suing the newspaper Vecherny Yekaterinburg for “libel”, i.e., for “the deliberate circulation of a priori false information”. The investigation looked strange from the outset. Specifically, the city police were absolutely not interested in finding out whether or not the information which the plaintiff referred to as “libelous” had indeed been such. Nobody seemed concerned about lack of proofs of criminal intent in the journalists’ actions. On the other hand, the law enforcers’ behavior was notoriously rude. Investigator Nikolayev let forth steams of oaths and threats in his phone conversations with newspaper staffers. The city police department, encouraged by Konkov, rushed to publicize its “truth-restoring” zeal and the entire city soon knew that editor Alfinur Sabirova would be “brought for questioning in handcuffs”. The well-tested scheme of getting the desired testimony was set into gear: “You slander two colleagues – we stop picking on you.”

A. Sabirova and all the other staffers declined to give false testimony. But the Leninsky District prosecutor’s office – and this is yet another strange feature – kept giving the investigators ever newer chances by extending the investigation term for a few more weeks several times, and the Leninsky District court canceled the decision to close the criminal case. Even the Prosecutor General’s Office, to which the city’s oldest newspaper appealed for a principled assessment of the course of proceedings, failed to draw a line under the conflict. Investigators of the city police department squirmed like snakes trying to find whatever pretext they could for continuing the investigation. In the long run, they exhausted themselves too, while breaching the provisions of Article 134 of the RF Criminal Code which stipulates that in issuing orders to stop criminal proceedings an investigator shall recognize the concerned person’s right to rehabilitation and notify him/her of the established procedure for claiming compensation for the prosecution-related damage incurred.

It was Vecherny Yekaterinburg that lodged a civil claim for the compensation of damage done to Sabirova as a result of investigator Nikolayev and others’ unlawful actions. The newspaper set an example for all colleagues and other Russian citizens to follow in the event of finding themselves ill-treated by the police. The hearings were held outside Yekaterinburg, in Novouralsk where the “evil spell” of the city police department and Konkov did not work. The newspaper succeeded in proving that Nikolayev had breached the law and that his wrongful actions had exposed the lady journalist to moral damage that needed to be compensated. The money was paid to her a few days ago…

One thing is unclear: Why pay from the state budget for the wrongdoings of specific individuals?

3. Chelyabinsk Region. District parliamentarians crack down on local media

By Irina Gundareva,
GDF staff correspondent in Ural Federal District

Last week, deputies of the District Council of Asha, Chelyabinsk Region, breached the RF Media Law by expelling journalists from a council session discussing a socially vital question – the district budget for 2010. Having just given a good dressing-down to Yuri Bulushev, editor-in-chief of the district newspaper Stalnaya Iskra, and his deputy, for their reporting “from the wrong angle” on the council’s recent decision to scrap the Youth Affairs Department of the district administration, “chief parliamentarian” Vladimir Yevstratov, who is also general director of the local metallurgical plant forming a company town, suggested showing the media men the door to prevent their coming up with “undesirable comments” on budget-related matters. The two journalists had nothing to do but stand up and leave.

In view of the persisting financial difficulties, the parliamentarians decided to prune the district budget by “stopping to finance the online media and withdrawing the equipment and vehicles earlier transferred to the district television company”. This decision actually means the TV reporters united within the Stalnaya Iskra journalistic association may as well tender their resignations in view of no alternative sources of funding. And the district newspaper of the same name will have the municipal order for publishing official documents and legislative acts reduced by one half.

“I can’t think what to do,” editor Y. Bulushev admitted, “now that they are cutting down our budget by 1,200,000 rubles. We cannot possibly raise that much through advertising. With whatever support we still have from the regional budget, we cannot stay afloat long.”

Other district newspapers throughout the region are in similar dire straits, begging not to reduce municipal orders and funding. Vladimir Myakush, Speaker of the regional Legislative Assembly, has sent the Asha parliamentarians a message urging them to find the money to finance the local media. Generally, company towns are in a better position to do that. The metallurgical plant’s own television network and newspaper are not slated for closure. On the contrary, they have been growing ever more active in the run-up to municipal elections scheduled for next March.  It is no one’s secret that in towns like Asha the real power is concentrated in the hands of the head-managers of town-forming companies who exercise tough control over everything and everyone, including local assemblies, municipal administrations, the narrow media market, and small businesses.

4. Sakhalin Region. Journalists win lawsuits but lose jobs

By Olga Vassilyeva,
GDF staff correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Journalist Lyubov Barbashova won all the primary court hearings of honor, dignity and reputation protection claims lodged against her in the wake of her publishing a story in the weekly AIF-Sakhalin-Kurily about abuses of office by Nevelsky District administration officials in the allocation of housing among earthquake victims.

Valentina Kruglik, head of the Housing Department of the town of Nevelsk, and Vice-Mayor Sergey Urvantsev, claiming affected by the publication, demanded a refutation and a total of RUR 1,000,000 in moral damage compensation from the printing house and RUR 600,000 from the article’s author. Judges Irina Kachura of the Nevelsk court and Alexander Karpov of the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk court turned down the legal claims finding nothing offensive to the plaintiffs in the underlying publication – only evaluative statements that could neither be confirmed nor disproved. Appeals against their rulings resulted in Kruglik’s claim turned down in full and Urvantsev’s claim returned for review by a new body of the Nevelsk court.

It may as well be noted that Vice-Mayor Urvantsev (now retired) is currently under investigation on suspicion of office abuse and bribe-taking.

Meanwhile, the lady journalist has lost her job: she was dismissed in November in connection with the closure of the Sakhalin office of the newspaper Argumenty I Fakty.

5. Chita Region. Newspaper at crossroads

By Marina Meteleva,
Zabaikalsky Rabochiy reporter since 1989

The staff of one of Russia’s oldest newspapers, Zabaikalsky Rabochiy (ZR, issued since December 1905), will soon have to look for alternative jobs: at the latest general meeting the acting editor Sergey Zabelin announced ZR would cease existing as a state enterprise and all of its workers would be dismissed.

Actually, the decision to liquidate the state unitary enterprise was taken by the regional government as early as October 6, with a state autonomous newspaper of the same name to be established in its stead. A liquidation commission was set up, and so on.
 
The newspaper’s founders, the Government and Legislative Assembly of the Trans-Baikal Territory, had long recommended changing the media outlet’s organizational and legal form – allegedly, to “meet the demand of the time”. But knowing the implications (mass-scale layoffs), the former editor, A. Barinov, had kept resisting the change as vigorously as he could. After last autumn’s conflict with a vice-governor, he was dismissed (tendered his “voluntary” resignation) and was lucky enough to get an alternative job as head of the information analysis center under the regional railroad department. The other ZR head-managers were compelled to take notice of the conclusions reported to the governor after a comprehensive audit of the newspaper’s financial and economic performance: Zabaikalsky Rabochiy was hopelessly unprofitable. “With a view to optimizing the structure of the region’s state assets and reducing maintenance costs, we hereby suggest liquidating the state unitary enterprise and letting it continue to perform as an autonomous entity,” the report said.

Today, all the other staff workers are uncertain of their future, having heard the acting editor Zabelin (who is also chairman of the liquidation commission) announcing that all the 43 staffers would be dismissed on February 25, with only some of them expecting to be put on the payroll of the would-be autonomous newspaper. “It is too early to say anything definite. The founders have allowed the new leadership some time to form a new, vigorous team. Until then, the newspaper is to be released in the business-as-usual manner. As of January, however, the imprint will say ZR is no longer issued by the state unitary enterprise,” S. Zabelin said.

After the ZR lawyer went into detail about the payment of liquidation-related compensation to the dismissed workers, the most sensitive question was asked: “If the newspaper is to be released as before, on the daily basis, but we cannot expect to be rehired by the new management, who will release it, after all?” “Some staffers will be invited to the new team individually, to automatically continue their work record,” the meeting chairman said. Threatening silence hung over the room, starting to divide the people who had worked together for many years into “insiders” and “outsiders”…

6. Republic of Ingushetia. Prosecutor’s office insists on opposition website closure

By Dmitry Florin,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

The prosecutor’s office in Ingushetia has called to close down several Internet sites.

“In the course of a checkup, the republican prosecutor’s office found that the websites hunafa.com, ingushetiyaru.org, ingushetia.ru, ingushetiya-ru.livejournal.com had posted statements fanning hostility toward other social or religious groups,” the official statement says.

The prosecutors maintain that, while guaranteeing freedom of thought and expression to one and all, the RF Constitution prohibits the abuse of freedom of expression if other people’s rights are affected. Article 29 of the Constitution bans any propaganda inciting social, racial, interethnic or religious hatred or hostility, as well as attempts to assert social, racial, ethnic or language-related superiority.

The prosecutor’s office reminds that federal law provides for the possibility of restricting access to information for purposes of protecting the constitutional system foundations, ensuring the moral and physical health, rights and lawful interests of other citizens, and safeguarding the nation’s defense capability and security. Driven by a desire to have the people’s violated rights restored under the law, the prosecutors have called to restrict access to the above-listed websites and proxy servers.

One of those sites (Ingushetiaru.org) is owned by the Ingush opposition leader Magomed Khazbiyev who took over as the website head-manager after the assassination of his predecessor and friend Maksharip Aushev, a human rights defender who, in his turn, had stepped in after the killing of Magomed Yevloyev.

Talking to one of the website correspondents recently, Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said that the prosecutor’s office had already urged him to close the website down, and told the journalist to make sure not a single unlawful publication would be posted on the website.

One of the recent scandals with broad public repercussions around Ingushetiaru.org flared up in connection with calls to refute the news agency’s report about the program of Ingush people’s resettlement to Sverdlovsk Region having been implemented improperly, to say the least. A staff correspondent’s fact-finding trip to the region had yielded the conclusion that official progress reports were false: no one had expected, or done anything to prepare for, the re-settlers’ arrival, according to local Ingush residents.

Since then, the website has been repeatedly accused of its chat forum featuring too sharp-worded criticism of the incumbent administration. Extremist statements, posted mostly in the nighttime, have been growing ever more frequent, and the website has found itself the target of numerous hacker attacks making the editing of chat forum comments impossible.




UKRAINE

TV journalists attacked in Simferopol


Reporters for Chernomorskaya TV/Radio Company have were attacked on December 15 while shooting some sequences for a story about a conflict between tenants of an apartment block in Simferepol’s Dmitry Ulyanov Street and their creditor who insists on their moving out under a court decision for rent payment arrears.

As a lady invited the reporters to come inside, an unidentified man pushed the cameraman Nazim Bilyalov and struck the correspondent Elena Bychkova on the head. The physician on duty at Semashko Hospital later certified her as having a bruise.

The city police department is currently checking the facts, the Novy Region news agency has been told by a Chernomorskaya spokesman.

[Novy Region-Krym news agency report, December 16]




GLASNOST DEFENSE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited


Last week, the Glasnost Defense Foundation was mentioned at least 15 times in the Internet, including at:

http://www.rian.ru/society/20091215/199237711.html
http://penza-online.ru/news.23082.htm
http://www.lenta.cjes.ru/?m=12&y=2009&lang=rus&nid=17706
http://osradio.ru/personi/21026-severoosetinskie-zhurnalisty-oderzhali-pobedu-na.html
http://www.civitas.ru/news.php?code=8279
http://www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/140/05.html
http://www.riadagestan.ru/news/2009/12/16/89987
http://www.newizv.ru/news/2009-12-17/119155/
http://www.19rus.info/news/47200.html
http://www.gazetanv.ru/archive/article/?id=6106
http://www.gazetanv.ru/archive/article/?id=6107
http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/163263/




OUR PUBLICATIONS

Times change, censorship remains eternal

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF staff correspondent in Ural Federal District

Censorship featured as the main topic for discussion at the latest meeting of the Council of Veterans of the Sverdlovsk Journalists’ Union. Speakers were highly critical of today’s practices. With newspaper pages no longer rubber-stamped by Glavlit [Main Department for Literature and Publishing, est. 1992] or signed by the censor for printing, Ural veteran journalists Boris Timofeyev, Yuri Konshin and Pyotr Evladov believe the situation has been growing worse.

They are right, actually. In the past, would-be publications used to be scanned for anti-Soviet statements, propaganda of the Western way of life and disclosed state secrets. Quite often, a report would be edited out or returned for rewriting; correspondents would have to resort to Aesopian language to have their writings published, or wrap up facts and arguments into metaphors to make their deciphering by the censor as difficult as possible.

One has to agree with the veterans that the genre diversity in olden days was more impressive: today, satirical articles are hardly ever to be found on newspaper pages; even essays are rare. This kind of stuff takes time and a bit of hard work input to prepare. Working at a fast pace as we do today, a newspaper’s content is usually confined to interviews, news conference reports and, at best, a few commentaries.

Veteran journalists know a thing or two about present-day censorship as well. Apart from prepaid articles that a good editor will easily detect and clip out, which is fair and appropriate, there are blacklists of people whose names are tabooed for mentioning in the press or on the air, and there are bans in effect on positive reporting about rivals – political opponents or sponsors of other media. Negative reporting is “a must” in that case. In some media outlets, authors are divided into “loyal” and “disloyal”.

And the notorious “coordination” of publications – is it not censorship? Cross-checking and verifying facts and figures is all right, but it is a totally different story when a government official who has talked to a journalist suddenly breaks into cold sweat (“What will my boss say?”) and starts calling the editor or the newspaper’s owner asking, for God’s sake, to change whole passages in his interview or ban it for printing altogether…

But the number one enemy today is self-censorship, when a journalist shirks “sensitive” themes just to be on the safe side: who wants to be kicked out into the street at this difficult time?

Towards the end of the discussion, the veteran journalists agreed that although the times have changed, there still are quite a few colleagues who adhere to their principles and defend their viewpoints to the end – the more so the readers know the realities of life  all too well to tell a good journalist from one who keeps striking false notes.




OUR PARTNERS

Murdered reporters mourned at Central House of Journalists

For more than ten years now, the Russian Journalists’ Union has paid tribute to the reporters killed on duty by holding meetings at the Central House of Journalists on December 15 to which family members and friends of the fallen are invited. Their number has been growing year by year because there are more than 300 names on the victims’ list now. The vast majority of the killings remain undisclosed, and the perpetrators are still walking free. Reports about violence against media workers and infringement of their rights keep coming from all over the country. The professional community’s calls to end impunity and bring the killers to justice remain largely unanswered. 
RJU president Vsevolod Bogdanov opened this year’s mourning ceremony with a minute of silence. Letters of support and solidarity had come from Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists; Arne Koenig, president of the European Federation of Journalists; the Paul Khlebnikov Foundation; and colleagues from many foreign countries and cities across the Russian Federation. Memory days were held in other parts of the country on December 15, too.

The number of speakers at the ceremony included RJU secretaries, murdered journalists’ family members, and representatives of public organizations. Government officials and the heads of media companies where the victims used to work chose not to attend. Gifts and relief assistance to the families of slain reporters were given by a few Russian philanthropists and the traditional sponsor of Memory Days – Samsung Company of Korea.

RJU will continue actions honoring the memory of the fallen. Next year, a broad-based discussion will be organized jointly with the IFJ, bringing together civil society activists and government officials to focus on the infringement of journalists’ rights in various regions of Russia. The database on violations of media workers’ rights will be regularly updated, and the Club of Murdered Journalists’ Children will continue its work. Many Club members, themselves journalists now, will attend the IFJ Congress in Spain in May 2010.




This Digest has been prepared by the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), http://www.gdf.ru.

We appreciate the support of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Digest released once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.
Distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

Editor-in-chief: Alexei Simonov

Editorial board: Boris Timoshenko – Monitoring Service chief, Pyotr Polonitsky – head of GDF regional network, Svetlana Zemskova – lawyer, Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy – translator, Alexander Efremov – web administrator in charge of Digest distribution.


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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