1 Апреля 2010 года


UNESCO calls year 2009 saddest for journalists

Journalists show professional solidarity

1. Sverdlovsk Region. Independent newspaper denied distribution services
2. St. Petersburg. Martial arts training organized for media workers
3. Moscow. South African journalist under surveillance: why?
4. St. Petersburg. Reporters barred from news conference
5. Sakhalin Region. Newspaper wins two court cases
6. Republic of Karelia. Newspaper officially warned for featuring “extremist” caricature

Some statistics cited


UNESCO calls year 2009 saddest for journalists

The UNESCO report presented on 24 March, entitled “The Safety of Journalists and the Risk of Impunity”, says last year set a new record as regards the number of journalists killed – a total of 77, more than the previous (2006) record with 69 reporters killed, among them 62 in Iraq alone.

Little has changed since then: journalists continue to be attacked, arrested and killed. The report says over the past two years the majority of murdered journalists worked in countries at peace, investigating and reporting corrupt practices, human rights abuses and drug trafficking. Most of them were targeted deliberately, the authors point out.

The peak seen in 2009 can be partly explained by the murder of about 30 journalists in an ambush in the Philippines in only one day last November. That put the country at the top of the list, followed by Iraq, Mexico, Somalia, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Georgia and India.

The report notes that in most cases the killers have not been prosecuted. In this connection, UNESCO Director General Irina Bogova called for additional measures to ensure journalists’ safety because impunity encourages the perpetrators to continue targeting reporters, posing a serious threat to freedom of expression.


Journalists show professional solidarity

Ever more video clips compromising journalists and opposition politicians have been posted on the Internet.

One was entitled “Oreshkin, Yashin and Fishman – Corrupt Officials”, featuring Novaya Gazeta observer Dmitry Oreshkin, Solidarity movement leader Ilya Yashin and Russian Newsweek editor Mikhail Fishman attempting to bribe a traffic policeman. The three officials identified the clip as a provocation – a compilation of different video sequences. A few days later, another video clip appeared on the Web featuring Fishman sniffing some white powder in the company of two girls. That was followed by a series of media reports about a large-scale web campaign aimed at discrediting M. Fishman.

Although expressions of professional solidarity are rare today, this time the journalistic community rose up in protest against the provocations: anyone risks becoming the main character of this kind of video clips. On 23 March the board of the Moscow Journalists’ Union and the editors-in-chief of several media outlets made a statement expressing “serious concerns” over the smearing campaign launched against their colleague.
The statement said the methods used by the organizers of that campaign “indicate that we are watching a preplanned and well-organized provocation against not only a single colleague but also the journalistic community as a whole. We are being shown that any media outlet may find itself any moment now the target of an anonymous blackmail scheme plotted by persons with connections in the law enforcement agencies and political groups. We are also being shown that editorial policy makers need to be guided not by the norms of Russian legislation or professional ethics but by personal safety considerations in the first place. We are convinced that the present situation is unacceptable to this country where press freedoms and privacy are guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The statement was signed by Pavel Gusev, president of the Moscow Journalists’ Union and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets; Vitaly Abramov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Izvestia; Filipp Bakhtin, editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine; Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the Ekho Moskvy radio station; Vladimir Gurevich, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Vremya Novostei; Filipp Dzyadko, editor-in-chief of Bolshoi Gorod magazine; Nikolai Zyatkov, editor-in-chief of the weekly Argumenty I Fakty; Maxim Kashulinsky, editor-in-chief of the Russian-language edition of Forbes; Mikhail Komissar, general director of the news agency Interfax; Ilya Krasilshchik, editor-in-chief of Afisha magazine; Viktor Loshak, editor-in-chief of Ogonyok magazine; Sergey Muravyov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Gazeta; Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta; and Azer Mursaliyev, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Kommersant.

Below are some comments concerning the posting of the smearing video clips on the Internet:

“It would seem gone are the times when ‘a person resembling the Prosecutor General’ [a hint at the Yuri Skuratov scandal – Translator.] was featured in a compromising video context. We all have grown mature and learned a lot over the years. Yet it turns out some are resorting to ‘bad old’ methods again to smear a journalist,” said Izvestia editor Vitaly Abramov.

Journalist Olga Bakushinskaya commented: “People are seriously concerned about the notorious video clips about Yashin and Fishman. As for me, I feel disgust but no worry about it all. Why worry? We just need to take things like that into account – considering our long experience of living with the KGB…”

Some even see the provocation as signaling “an improvement of morals”: no one was killed or beaten up, after all… “Are we witnessing the coming of an era of mercy?” someone nicknamed “Bikertroll” wrote on the LiveJournal web forum page.


1. Sverdlovsk Region. Independent newspaper denied distribution services

Retail distributors in the town of Beryozovsky, Sverdlovsk Region, are refusing to sell the newspaper Zolotaya Gorka (ZG). According to the editor-in-chief, Pavel Shabelnikov, his newspaper has been under pressure since 25 February, when he took the liberty of disagreeing with a collective appeal by local parliamentarians concerning the performance of the local head of the Investigative Committee under the prosecutor’s office. The deputies assessed the editor’s comment as a challenge to the town administration and proceeded to put pressure on his media outlet.

“In early March, the town’s largest food store network, Flagman, belonging to Alexander Patrushev, deputy head of the Beryozovsky Duma, terminated its distribution agreement with Zolotaya Gorka on the pretext of having to re-conclude it in view of a new trade law passed. Negotiations on the new agreement are still underway,” P. Shabelnikov told the Revda Info.ru news agency. According to him, the Kirovsky trade network, whose director was running for the regional Duma, terminated its press distribution agreement with ZG too. A third network unofficially asked to suspend newspaper deliveries until the end of elections.

Another serious blow was the refusal by the owners of 9 of the town’s 14 press kiosks to sell Zolotaya Gorka. The editor says his staffers will have to get busy distributing the newspaper personally.

“If they don’t stop placing barriers in the way of our newspaper’s distribution, ZG will have to appeal to the law enforcement bodies for help,” P. Shabelnikov said.

2. St. Petersburg. Martial arts training organized for media workers

A nationwide action “Force of the Word” has been launched in St. Petersburg with a view to securing the safety of journalists while performing their professional duties, the Lenizdat.ru news agency has reported.

The action is co-sponsored by the Russian Martial Arts Union (RMAU) and the RF Journalists’ Union. The goal is to teach media workers the basic martial art techniques enabling them to ward off an attack, improve coordination during work in pairs (reporter – cameraman), and protect their photo and video apparatus. The training is also expected to improve journalists’ stamina, concentration, reaction and general working ability.

A series of professional trainings, master classes and consultations by renowned martial arts fighters and crisis center psychologists are scheduled to be held between this March and November.

The initiative seems timely: on the eve of the opening ceremony, on 23 March, the newspaper Gazeta reported on a session of the European Parliament in Moscow that had concluded – contrary to President Medvedev’s statements – that no real improvements had occurred in Russia as regards the journalists’ safety. With the law enforcers apparently unable to protect the media workers against criminal pressure, it is high time journalists themselves started taking care of their personal safety.

3. Moscow. South African journalist under surveillance: why?

By Natalia Severskaya,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

John Helmer, the Moscow-based correspondent of the South African newspaper Business Day, came to the GDF headquarters on 26 March to say he has had problems ever since he published a story about the Russian aluminum corporation RusAl.

Late last year, he was approached by RusAl representatives who said they did not like his publications. On 21 December a man identifying himself as FSB Senior Lt. Vladimir Yakovchenko, attempted to get into John’s apartment but was not let farther than the lobby. He went away having taken some photo pictures of the staircase and Helmer’s door.

He came back a week later with two colleagues, but they were not let through even into the lobby because after a call on the entrance door intercom Helmer looked out the window and saw the uninvited visitors. He called the police and the three men were taken to the Khoroshevsky District police headquarters where they were asked to show their IDs, questioned, searched (the search produced a report on the journalist’s surveillance), and released.

J. Helmer filed with the district police chief, Col. K. Botashev, a report on attempts by unidentified persons to contact him “under circumstances that might have threatened my life and safety”, and asking for measures to be taken to protect him. A lull followed, with no information about the law enforcers’ reaction coming in. In February 2010 it turned out the investigation had been terminated. In early March the journalist challenged the district court decision not to institute criminal proceedings against the persons who, in his view, had intruded in his private life (an offense punishable under Article 137 of the RF Penal Code), encroached upon the privacy of his home (Article 139) and interfered with his lawful journalistic activities (Article 144 of the same Code).

The story has been described in detail by foreign-based media, but not by Russian ones. For further information, click on:


4. St. Petersburg. Reporters barred from news conference

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

Some news media based in St. Petersburg have got accustomed to their reporters being barred from time to time on some pretext or other from attending news conferences held by official authorities – but not by business companies. Yet on 19 March, Stockmann Group of Finland, a long-time market player in Russia and the Baltic Region, broke the good tradition by hiring the PR agency SPN Ogilvy to bar Novaya Gazeta and Zaks.ru reporters from its news conference.

The conference was dedicated to a “burning” issue – the renovation (rather, the construction from scratch) of a building in downtown St. Petersburg, at the crossing of Nevsky Prospekt and Vosstaniya Street. This construction ordered by Stockmann Group has proceeded in an atmosphere of scandals – complaints filed by tenants of neighboring buildings and public activists, and even criticism by administration officials.

Novaya Gazeta and Zaks.ru correspondents were not admitted to the news conference – first, on the pretext of their absence on the list of accredited journalists (although the reporters showed their accreditation certificates), and then because of “biased coverage of the construction project”, according to an SPN Ogilvy staffer who refused to identify himself. Who made that decision – the Finnish company or the PR agency – is still unclear.

Russian legislation provides for administrative and criminal liability for meddling in journalists’ professional activities. Article 58 of the RF Media Law, for one, stipulates that “infringement – in whatever form – of media freedoms by administrations officials… or restrictions on contacts with a journalist… entail criminal liability”. Article 144 of the RF Penal Code says, “Interference with journalists’ lawful activities by coercing them into the circulation, or refusal to circulate, information shall be punishable by a fine of the convicted person’s salary or other income for up to six months, or by coercive labor for up to 180 hours, or by correctional labor for up to one year.” The media outlets whose reporters were barred from the news conference are planning to complain to the prosecutor’s office and request due investigation of the incident and due response measures to be taken in respect of the law violators.

5. Sakhalin Region. Newspaper wins two court cases

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

Two legal claims were lodged last year against Visit Publishers’ and an author of the Kholmsk-based newspaper Visit, Vladimir Podsevatkin, to be considered by two different courts. A few days ago, both courts found in favor of the defendants.

The first claim was considered by Judge Loseva of the Kholmsk town court. A local parliamentarian and the owner of two managing companies, S. Dolzhenko, wanted a refutation of statements contained in the article “Who Are the Slaves?”, with RUR 100,000 paid to him in moral damage compensation.

The court established that Podsevatkin’s publication did not contain any statements that could be checked in terms of whether or not they truly reflected the actual state of things; it only featured his personal assessment of the performance of deputies of the town Legislative Assembly. As regards his criticism of their efficiency, it could not be interpreted as the spread of “smearing” information.

The author’s statements about Mr. Dolzhenko as head of the two managing companies are evaluative, too, and based on true facts of life.

As regards public apology, which the plaintiff wanted to be published in two newspapers – Visit and, for some unclear reasons, the municipal newspaper Kholmskaya Panorama – the court explained that such a refutation could not possibly be demanded under the law and that the judicial costs (RUR 200) would be payable by the plaintiff himself.

The second case was considered by Judge Kim of the Sakhalin Region court of arbitration, with RosShelf Co. Ltd. claiming RUR 1,000,000 from V. Podsevatkin in moral damage compensation for the publication “Will Communal Service System Survive Crisis?” which the plaintiff found to be “libelous”. In particular, RosShelf was dissatisfied with the sentence, “It seems the goal is not to bring the utilities in order but to quickly spend the allocated budgetary funds.”

As in the first case, with reference to Item 9 of a previous RF Supreme Court decision, the court defined the controversial sentence as evaluative and reflecting the defendant’s subjective opinion, and turned down the legal claim in full.

Significantly enough, the newspaper Visit, being an advertising publication with not a single professional reporter on its payroll, has actually turned into the district’s sole opposition newspaper to which regional residents have contributed their reports about things of vital importance. As a result, the municipal newspaper Kholmskaya Panorama, with a circulation of 2,000, lags far behind Visit which has a circulation of 9,000 – in many respects, due to such “ordinary pensioners” as Podsevatkin who are sick and tired of the poor performance of local communal service providers.

6. Republic of Karelia. Newspaper officially warned for featuring “extremist” caricature

By Anatoly Tsygankov,
GDF staff correspondent in North-Western Federal District

The prosecutor’s office in the town of Kostomuksha, Karelia, has officially warned the newspaper Novosti Kostomukshi (NK) for what it considered to be an “extremist” caricature featuring the Nazi swastika and eagle.

Both the sanctioned editor and Karelia’s entire journalistic community are bewildered by what is going on. Moreover, the prosecutor himself must feel his “anti-extremist” warning may be insufficiently justified. The warning he issued does not mention the fact that the conflict flared up over a caricature featuring a man with the back of his head shaven in the form of a swastika and eagle, wearing a khaki uniform and pinning onto a wall an ad that reads: “Black hands wanted. Not slavery”. NK editor M. Bershtein tried to explain that that was only a caricature borrowed from a source that was explicitly referred to, but his arguments were disregarded.

Together with the NK editor, we can only suppose the city prosecutor may be lagging behind on reports about “counter-extremism” measures, and he may be hoping that the caricature may bridge this gap by passing for a real “extremist threat”.


Some statistics cited

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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:
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