Дайджест
19 Мая 2011 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 524

May 16, 2011

 

TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Blogger pressured by law enforcement

A campaign has been underway to turn Alexei Navalny, a blogger and prominent fighter against corruption, into a culprit.

Prior attempts to get criminal proceedings instituted against the founder of the RosPil anti-corruption project were frustrated by law enforcers in the Kirov and Volga Federal Districts, who failed to find any elements of crime in his actions.

Actually, Navalny is charged with property misappropriation “without signs of theft”: as a public advisor to Kirov Region Governor Nikita Belykh, he allegedly persuaded the management of the KirovLes timber company to sign an unprofitable contract, which resulted in the company’s losing RUR 1.3 m. This is how the situation is seen by the RF Investigative Committee, which finally did institute criminal proceedings against Navalny recently – based on the testimony obtained from only one person, Vyacheslav Opalev, who is currently under investigation on suspicion of inflicting a RUR 200 m loss on the company. Navalny rejects the charges brought against him as trumped-up ones. “Proving that it was a leonine contract would be impossible, since the accounting documents prove the opposite,” he told the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

“The whole thing looks pretty absurd,” Kirov Region Deputy Governor Maria Gaidar commented. “It’s not clear at all why Navalny should have persuaded KirovLes to behave unlawfully, what kind of offence that behaviour might have constituted, or, most importantly, how Navalny might have possibly profited from that.” The Kirov governor himself, too, sees the charges brought against his ex-advisor as ungrounded.

Meanwhile, the suspect has not received any official documents indicating he is under investigation; nor does he know the date when criminal proceedings were started against him. What is known is only that Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin confirmed on May 10 that his committee “has instituted criminal proceedings against Moscow lawyer Alexei Navalny under Article 165.3b of the Penal Code on charges of embezzlement through deception or defraud without signs of theft”.

“This is indeed ridiculous to think embezzlement without theft is possible,” Radio Liberty cited Navalny as saying. “The Investigative Committee cannot even charge me with stealing that million.” Yet he did not rule out he may be arrested: “I know who I am dealing with, so I think I may well end up behind bars. But then, a person can only be arrested if a law court decides so, and the charges against me are so absurd that I think no judge in his right senses would take them seriously. Besides, getting me under arrest would require proving that I’ve been hampering the investigation or may attempt to escape, which would be equally difficult to prove.”

Those clumsy attempts to compromise a corruption fighter have been yielding the opposite results. Navalny has been gaining popularity, and the number of his sympathizers and supporters has been growing.

Clearly, A. Navalny is such a big headache for his opponents that they grab at any chance to get him prosecuted – even without fearing to look ridiculous.

 

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Scandal gives rise to serious discussion

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

RosKomNadzor (federal service overseeing public communications) has officially warned Fontanka.ru, a prominent St. Petersburg-based web publication, of its being in breach with existing legislation, and required it to remove one of its stories from the website – a measure that gave rise to heated debates in and beyond the journalistic community. The GDF correspondent took a closer look at the reasons.

Early on May 10, Fontanka.ru published a story about teenager cruelty: four teenagers accused a fifth, the youngest, of losing 10 roubles and subjected him to torture, actually raping him with a shovel haft. They recorded the process, as it is often done today, on a cell phone camera and showed it proudly to their classmates. That is how the incident became known. Surprisingly, it never occurred to the school administration to report it to the police!

Based on evidence gathered from different sources, Fontanka.ru published a weighed account of what had happened, with comments by a lawyer and a police officer. The story was written as required under the law, so as to avoid identification of either the victim or the underage culprits. But Fontanka also posted the underlying video recording, with the characters’ faces unidentifiable.

That is what triggered a major scandal. According to Fontanka editor-in-chief Aleksandr Gorshkov, he had several phone calls from high-ranking government officials who demanded that he immediately remove the feature from the website, and the RosKomNadzor warning was promptly issued. The video was removed, although it is still available on the Internet on sites beyond RosKomNadzor control. The story remained on the site for anyone to read.

So what was it that angered the government officials so much? In their view, the publication was one “propagating violence and cruelty”, which attitude was shared by some public activists who hastened to condemn Fontanka without even bothering to read the story. By the weekend, passions had gone up really high, with people in and outside St. Petersburg actively discussing whether or not Fontanka servers had become temporarily inaccessible by a pure coincidence, if support or condemnation was to be expected from the stirred-up Public Chamber, and whether Fontanka would be able to effectively defend itself against a likely lawsuit …

Since just a few commentators had seen the scandalous video, the question was not how lawful or unlawful Fontanka’s posting was but how ethical it was to make it public – and this, as we said, despite the editor’s having done everything to avoid identification of the participants in the sad incident.

One important aspect does give rise to concerns: most debates focused on Fontanka’s editorial policy, not on the criminal behaviour of the teenagers involved. It was not until last weekend that a few interesting statements were made public by pedagogues and psychologists about how serious the problem of teenager cruelty is and how it can possibly be tackled. We are to wait and see whether Fontanka’s story – pretty ordinary, yet with broad repercussions – will become a topic for a serious public and professional discussion of a nationwide scale.

Meanwhile, one should hope the court considering Fontanka’s protest against RosKomNadzor’s warning will show maximum objectiveness and impartiality. Indeed, it might be difficult for the judge – presumably a person of sound mind – to watch ordinary kids torturing their peer. And will he or she be able to see behind the publication of this shocking video the broad public interest which is the driver of any responsible journalistic reporting?

It may as well be noted that it took much time and effort to persuade the controlling agencies and judicial authorities that a media outlet must not be held liable for comments posted by anyone on its web forum (you may remember the Glasnost Defence Foundation took an active part in settling that matter). It is about time government bodies and society as a whole understood a cornerstone principle of journalism: if public interest requires some inconvenient, disgusting or even shocking information to be published, a journalist must consider it his duty to meet that demand!

 

RUSSIA

Republic of Dagestan. Journalists condemn colleague’s murder and appeal to RF President

By Magomed Magomedov,
GDF staff correspondent in North Caucasian Federal District

A round table in Makhachkala, Dagestan, May 11, brought together media representatives from across the republic to discuss the situation with encroachments on the life and health of journalists. The conference was called by the Dagestani Journalists’ Union in the wake of the May 8th killing in Derbent of Yakhya Magomedov, editor of the Avar-language version of the Islamic newspaper As-Salam (see Digest No. 523).

Speakers pointed to the fact that Magomedov is the 14th journalist killed in Dagestan over the past ten years, and that law enforcers’ passivity in investigating those killings is really alarming.

“Law enforcement’s inaction and the journalists’ feeling of insecurity may boost self-censorship,” Biyakai Magomedov of the Dagestani newspaper Chernovik warned. “Reporters may start hushing up any instances of injustice they know, because they will face the sad choice – to live or to publish.” Kachar Abacharayeva, editor of the Lak-language newspaper Ilchi, pointed to journalists’ disunity as an aggravating factor, and Naida Khaspulatova, director of the republic’s news agency Dagestan, recommended that journalists immediately report any threat they receive to the law enforcement bodies.

The conference appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev to: (1) amend the Criminal Code so as to qualify interference with lawful journalistic activities as a grave offence, and re-assign investigation of this kind of cases from the RF Investigative Committee to the FSB; (2) set up an inter-agency commission of law enforcement representatives to check progress in the investigation of all attacks on journalists, and ensure that officers found guilty of inaction be called to responsibility. Besides, Dagestani journalists asked Medvedev to require the republic’s head Magomedsalam Magomedov to personally oversee the investigation of each encroachment on media workers’ life and health, and annually report on the findings to the country’s leadership.

 

Perm. Legal claim against TV company turned down

By Vassily Moseyev,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

The regional court in Perm has turned down a protest by Oleg and Svetlana Gorbushin against a primary court’s ruling to turn down a legal claim they filed against the regional TV/Radio Company “Perm”.

In July 2010, the news show Vesti-Perm showed a report by Irina Rassudikhina about a pensioner, Alexei Gorbushin, who had to sleep on a bench in the open because his family had driven him out of his house. The author said the man’s son and daughter-in-law were known to abuse alcohol and frequently quarrel.

Oleg and Svetlana Gorbushin did not see the TV story themselves – they learned about it when acquaintances started calling them on the phone to ask why they treated the elderly man the way they did. Six months later, they decided to sue the TV company “for libel” – evidently, as a way to replenish the family budget. They claimed a refutation and RUR 100,000 in moral damage compensation.

In February 2011, court hearings were held during which a TV company representative confirmed the fact of the story’s having gone on the air, and even presented its script. But the video itself had been destroyed one month after the show, as prescribed under the law. Having heard out the witnesses and read the script, a district judge found no evidence of the TV company’s having circulated any false or reputation-ruining information about the plaintiffs and turned their legal claim down.

In late April, the higher-standing regional court confirmed the primary court’s ruling.

 

Moscow Region. Police investigator held liable for inaction

By Natalia Severskaya,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

Valery Katkov, editor-in-chief of the Moscow-based newspaper Zhulebinsky Bulvar, told the GDF late last year of his intention to appeal to the RF Public Chamber in connection with the inaction of law enforcement agencies in the town of Lyubertsy near Moscow. On April 13, 2008, he was attacked and beaten up, after repeated threats from a certain “initiative group” notorious for its arbitrary behaviour. The attack gave rise to criminal proceedings under Article 112 of the RF Penal Code (“Infliction of moderate bodily damage”). However, the law enforcers were in no hurry to start an investigation. “The police haven’t even tried to track down the man who attacked me,” Katkov said. “And this despite my describing him in detail, pointing to the house where he lives and the car he drives, and naming the guy who tipped him off as to my whereabouts. Moreover, attempts have repeatedly been made to close the case and to accuse me, instead, of an administrative offence.”

The editor asked the Glasnost Defence Foundation to support his appeal to the Public Chamber. The latter accepted his complaint and forwarded it for verification to the Moscow Region police headquarters.

Finally, a reply came saying that criminal investigation of the case has been resumed and that Lyubertsy’s chief police investigator “has been called to responsibility for inaction”. The regional police department took the investigation of Katkov’s case under special control.

 

Republic of Karelia. Regional FRP branch wins in court against two newspapers

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

Karelia’s branch of the Fair Russia party has filed legal claims against several republican newspapers at once. During the latest elections to the City Council of Petrozavodsk, the newspapers Moskovsky Komsomolets v Karelii, Karelskaya Guberniya, Petrozavodskiye Gorodskiye Stranitsy and Sovet Perevalki published materials that the FRP qualified as “damaging the party’s reputation”. All those publications cited one and the same interview with G. Fyodorov, an FRP nominee for a seat on the Council who withdrew his candidacy in the middle of the election race. Fyodorov sharply criticised his fellow candidates and even suggested some of them might have paid for their nomination.

Initially, the legal claim was filed against Fyodorov, but after he stated in writing that he had not granted an interview of that kind to any newspaper at all, the FRP sued the media outlets that published the alleged fake.

During the hearings, the plaintiff’s lawyers demanded proofs of the accuracy of the statements cited in the interview, which the defendants could not provide. They did not have a single audio recording or a written transcript of the interview signed by Fyodorov; still worse, the journalist who had allegedly interviewed the candidate failed to appear in court (he had signed his publication by an assumed name, and none of the four newspapers agreed to disclose his real identity). As a result, the court decided that the publication did discredit the FRP candidates and charged RUR 250,000 from each of two newspapers, MK v Karelii and Sovet Perevalki, in moral damage compensation to the plaintiff, while relieving the other two newspapers of any liability as media outlets that had merely reprinted the notorious interview. The court also required the guilty newspapers to give the Fair Russia party the opportunity to publish a reply to clarify the situation to the readers.

Neither the plaintiff nor the defendants were satisfied with the court ruling which they have protested to Karelia’s Supreme Court.

 

Perm Region. Frank discussion of journalistic work

By Vassily Moseyev,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District,
Jury member of Journalistic Spring festival

The 14th regional press festival “Journalistic Spring” was held in Berezniki, Perm Region, on May 14-15, organised by the regional branch of the Russian Journalists’ Union (RJU) and the newspaper Bereznikovsky Rabochiy. The event brought together representatives of more than 40 print media outlets.

Since the very first festival, held at the initiative of the independent newspaper Iskra (city of Lysva) in 1998, the programme has included master classes, a journalistic contest, and best practice sharing.

This year’s master classes for journalists were conducted by RJU Secretary Vladimir Kasyutin, Novaya Gazeta observer Galina Mursaliyeva, and Tatyana Frolova, deputy head of the Periodical Press Department at Moscow State University’s School of Journalism. Editors of local newspapers held a roundtable to discuss the ongoing media reforms which are expected to end in the closure of municipal media outlets in the Perm Region.

The journalistic contest showed that newspapers unrelated to government authorities fare the best at informing their readers. Among the city newspapers, the main prize was shared by two rival versions of Iskra published in Kurgur and Lysva. The newspaper Rakurs (town of Kudymkar), established a little more than a year ago, was named the best among the district newspapers.

In the most interesting and exciting part post-festival event, jury members and contest winners of previous years met on the following day to analyse and discuss in detail the works submitted for competition in all the 23 nominations. This open and friendly discussion is worth many special lectures on journalism, participants said.

Very significantly, the journalistic festivals in the Perm Region are financed with newspapers’ own funds and local charity donations.

 

BELARUS

Reporter for Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta sentenced to suspended two-year term of imprisonment

The Zavodskoy District court in Minsk has sentenced journalist Irina Khalip to a suspended two-year term of imprisonment, the BelaPAN news agency reported. Also, it sentenced Pavel Severinets, chief of staff of Vitaly Rymashevsky, a former candidate for presidency, to three years in an open correctional facility, which term includes the time he served in pre-trial detention. And Sergey Martselev, chief of staff of another presidential candidate, Nikolai Statkevich, was sentenced to two years in jail with a two-year suspension period.

The court ruled to release Khalip, Severinets and Martselev from detention right in the courtroom, requiring them to stay in Minsk until their sentences come into full legal force.

The sentence to Irina Khalip is absolutely unfair, Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov commented. “Anyway, it’s a convictive sentence, which is against the constitution – she was just fulfilling her journalistic duty,” Muratov told the Interfax news agency. He said the court decision, in a sense, is akin to Khalip being taken hostage. “She is required to stay in Minsk and return home by 10 p.m. Should she say or write something in protest, she would go right to the labour camp,” Muratov said, adding that “the other sentences are still more appalling”.

[Dw-world.de report, May 16]

 

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited

Last week, the Glasnost Defence Foundation was referred to at least 10 times in the Internet, including at:

IFEX: Journalist beaten after photographing demolished house

Civitas: Arkhangelsk journalists complain to VGTRK General Director Oleg Dobrodeyev about censorship attempts by local TV/Radio Company management

Guard: Journalists stage protest action

http://guardmag.com/corporative/show/id/30

Caucasian Knot: Crowfoot: New database on violations of journalists’ rights to become practical reference source in their defence

 

OUR PUBLICATIONS

20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day marked in Leipzig

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

The 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day was marked at the Medientreffpunkt Mitteldeutschland media congress in Leipzig, Germany, on May 3.

The annual congress in Leipzig brings together media representatives from all over Germany. The list of guests from associated spheres includes advertising market, cinema, entertainment industry and IT specialists, as well as politicians – party leaders, heads of regional governments, and Bundestag deputies.

Discussions are aimed at assessing the status of the media sector in the broader sense, with its current transition to digital broadcasting, the growing share of entertainment programmes, relationships with partners in other European countries, etc. Some topics highlight social concerns, e.g. the steady shrinkage of the local newspaper sector in Germany, or discussion of parliament-media relations by German politicians with representatives of the Russian State Duma and Estonian parliament, with Hungarian observers attending.

Programme events related to World Press Freedom Day included a serious discussion mediated by a representative of the RSF (Reporters Without Borders) office in Germany, focusing on problems facing the journalists worldwide, such as the declining quality of journalism, or public perception of journalism as an “applied” profession supposed to defend the interests of certain social groups or, at best, public interests. But even in the latter event, journalists are often accused of subjectivity and bias.

The gap between professional standards and journalists’ actual efforts to keep those up was discussed no less substantively than the difference between the wishful thinking of statesmen and heads of international organisations and the real steps they take to ensure the press freedom they claim to be defending. In the final count, it is up to journalists themselves to defend their own ideals and their profession, and no one can do that better then them, conference participants concluded.

At a seminar sponsored by groups in charge of public TV and radio broadcasting in Saxony, a Glasnost Defence Foundation representative presented the GDF Glasnost Map, expressing concern that the journalistic community is not always ready to effectively defend press freedom – a point shared by colleagues from other ex-Soviet countries, among them Ukraine.

 

OUR PARTNERS

Journalistic competition announced

The programme “I Have the Right”, in partnership with the Glasnost Defence Foundation, announces a journalistic competition “I, You, We Have the Right”.

Eligible for participation are professional journalists and freelance reporters for print and online media covering legal education and human rights defence topics in 16 administrative regions (grouped into four units):

  • Voronezh, Belgorod, Tambov and Kursk Regions;
  • Nizhny Novgorod and Ryazan Regions and the Republics of Mariy El and Tatarstan;
  • Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Kemerovo and Altai Regions; and
  • Perm, Sverdlovsk and Kirov Regions and the Republic of Udmurtia.

The group of organisers includes the Glasnost Defence Foundation (Moscow) and its partners – the Press Development Institute Siberia (Novosibirsk), Media Rights Centre (Voronezh), Media Technology Centre (Nizhny Novgorod), and the Perm Region branch of the RF Journalists’ Union (Perm).

The goal is to identify and reward professional journalists and freelance reporters contributing to broader public awareness of people’s personal, socio-economic, civil and political rights and mechanisms of their implementation, and informing the public about individuals who succeeded in effectively defending their rights.

Works submitted for the competition will be considered in the following nominations:

  • Print media publications (articles or series of articles)
  • Thematic periodical (no less frequent than monthly) publications (newspapers and magazines)
  • TV stories and shows
  • Radio features
  • Web publications (independent, not duplicating “traditional” media)
  • Social networks on the Internet (blogs, live journals, etc.).

Details (Russian)

 

This Digest has been prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation (GDF),

 

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 Yefremov – web administrator in charge of Digest distribution.

We would appreciate reference to our organisation in the event of any Digest-sourced information or other materials being used.

Contacts: Glasnost Defence Foundation, 4, Zubovsky Boulevard, Office 432, 119992 Moscow, Russia.
Telephone/fax: (495) 637-4947, 637-4420, e-mail: boris@gdf.ru, fond@gdf.ru

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Архив
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