Дайджест
18 Июня 2011 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 528

June 14, 2011

EVENT OF THE WEEK

Defamation law to be amended

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested crossing out libel and defamation from the list of criminal offences. He signed a package of amendments to the RF Criminal Code providing for the transfer of libel-and-defamation cases to the category of administrative offences. This means journalists will not be prosecuted for writing "wrong stuff" anymore, and instead of pledging not to leave town or going all the way to jail they will just be required to pay a fine.

One could not say trials on charges of libel (Article 129) or defamation (Article 130 of the RF Penal Code) have often resulted in convictions for journalists, or that the two articles have given too much headache to reporters. But the very existence of those law provisions in the Criminal Code and their potential application against the press have been factors impacting the media community. A journalist under prosecution will not act as independently as he otherwise would; he will have to constantly think of, and try to avoid, likely negative consequences. Therefore, cancelling criminal sanctions for words said or written cannot but cause reporters to feel better.

It is common knowledge that in the majority of civilised countries, journalists have long ceased to be imprisoned for free speech. Now Russia's happy hour has come, even though the above-mentioned sanctions for libel and defamation have seldom been applied in practical terms; rather, they have been used as a kind of "deterrent" for critically-minded reporters.

The Glasnost Defence Foundation has long insisted on re-qualifying libel and defamation as non-criminal offences. At long last, the authorities paid heed to what we had been saying. Better late than never... Hopefully, the RF Federal Assembly will support the presidential initiative and will not take too long to pass it into law.

 

RUSSIA

Samara Region. Village newspaper pressured

By Viktor Sadovsky,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

The district newspaper Stepniye Izvestia (SI), released in the village of Bolshaya Glushitsa since 1930, has suffered a raider attack - a semi-criminal action ordered by the district administration head, Alexander Gribenik. Without explaining the reasons, in violation of the newspaper charter and without coordinating his plans with the staffers, the district leader issued two arbitrary orders: on the dismissal of editor Olga Dubrovina and on the establishment on the basis of Stepniye Izvestia of a budget-financed Information Centre. Moreover, his deputy Nikolai Boboshko came to the SI office with a group of police officers and attempted to introduce a newly appointed Centre chief to the staff.

The journalists took "all-round defence", saying no to the visitors' demands that they leave the office, submit the keys and throw out the editor's personal effects. Also, they appealed for help to the local police and prosecutor's office, only to see both staying deaf to their pleas.

As a result of "local engagements", the regular SI issue was released after a long pause.

The news about the raid on the district newspaper quickly spread around the village, and many indignant readers started calling the SI office offering their help and support.

The staffers, in their turn, requested the readers' solidarity and reported the incident to the Board and Grand Jury of the Samara branch of the RF Journalists' Union. They are preparing an official appeal to the regional Investigative Committee to institute legal proceedings against Gribenik under Article 144 ("Interference with journalists' lawful professional activities") and Article 285 ("Office abuse") of the RF Criminal Code.

The Samara Region administration, too, has been informed of the developments in a provincial village, but has so far shown zero reaction. Let's wait and see...

 

Khabarovsk. Editor of region's most influential newspaper faces criminal charges

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

Lyudmila Boldyreva, editor-in-chief and co-owner of the newspaper Tikhookeanskaya Zvezda, is facing libel and defamation charges. Justice of the Peace I. Sytnik suspects her of criminal offences punishable under Articles 129 and 130 of the RF Penal Code. The parents of Andrei Nemtsov, a murdered student of Far Eastern Railway University, have been recognized as victims and given the status of private prosecutors.

The student was killed in December 2007. The blame was pinned on Anatoly Ivanov, 75, former head of Far Eastern Railway Co. turned Railway University professor, who is now serving a 6-year term in a tight-security penal colony. But a short time ago, the Khabarovsk Region prosecutor received an appeal by five university faculty members who requested a review of the newly surfaced evidence in the case of convicted Prof. Ivanov. A man came to the university saying he had been an eyewitness to the fistfight that resulted in A. Nemtsov's death, of which fact he as a student by correspondence had not known for a long time because he had left Khabarovsk to work in shifts elsewhere right after passing his exams - almost instantly after the incident. He had happened to learn about the fatal outcome from a live TV report from the court sitting that discussed the convicted person's protest against his imprisonment.

Without awaiting the prosecutor's office's conclusions on the new evidence, L. Boldyreva published an article in Tikhookeanskaya Zvezda in April, which was entitled "Who Needs Ivanov in Prison?", questioning the fairness of the convictive sentence passed by the court. The victim's family was appalled. They wrote a protest pointing to the fact that the court sentence had been checked three times, and nine judges had unanimously confirmed it at three different sittings. The protesters accused Boldyreva of deliberately insulting them by publishing "slanderous and defamatory stuff", and thereby discrediting the prosecutors, investigators and judges in the eyes of the public. They also suggested Boldyreva may be seeking to revenge herself on them for "the unfriendly tone of a 2008 telephone conversation in which we expressed disapproval of her publications about progress in the murder case investigation". Some motive for slander, isn't it? In this light, President Medvedev's initiative to de-criminalise libel and defamation seems well timed indeed...

The Glasnost Defence Foundation will follow the future proceedings closely.

 

Perm Region. Editor resigns at newspaper owner's insistence

By Vassily Moseyev,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

Earlier this month, Yelena Orlova, editor-in-chief of the Perm Region's best town newspaper, Iskra, was summoned to the office of the newspaper's owner Sergey Morozov, who politely asked the editor to resign of her own free will.

Orlova is known to be a "rare bird" in our profession. To her, journalism is not merely a job, it is life itself. Over the past eleven years, she has built a brilliant team of co-thinkers, turning her newspaper into number one in the small town of Lysva. It is difficult to believe that of the town's 82,000 residents, 15,500 are Iskra subscribers. The paper is released thrice a week on 24-28 pages.

Having led her newspaper to the regional peak of profitability, Yelena has remained an active reporter - one of those who will never tolerate any pressure and will always be guided by her own vision of events and her own conscience. Orlova has never hesitated to express her attitude to federal or local political developments, and fearlessly criticised poorly performing government officials. Her popularity rating in Lysva over the years has grown really high - much higher than that of any member of the ruling elite.

For more than 20 years now, Orlova has led the Krasnaya Stroka (Break Line) journalistic mastery club, organising professional conferences and training sessions several times a year. It was she who initiated the regional series of festivals and competitions, "Journalistic Spring". In May, the 14th such festival took place. Those unforgettable meetings with, and master classes held by, professors of Urals and Moscow State Univestiries have, too, been a school of free thinking and creative endeavour.

Iskra has never stopped experimenting. Its staffers were among the first in Russia to turn their newspaper into a joint-stock company. Initially, the journalists were its co-owners, and as such they worked quite efficiently for a few years. But then, Orlova said, they "began arguing too much" and finally decided to sell their shares to "an honest and successful businessman". The latter, however, was quick enough to see the volatility of the media market and sell Iskra to Sergey Morozov.

Dark clouds gathered over Yelena Orlova's head fairly often. The editor's policy caused now local authorities, now local businessmen to frown. One is now left to guess who of those might be behind the legendary editor's firing. Orlova decided to resign voluntarily, without a scandal. But to her, the word "pensioner" sounds pretty queer: after many years of work 14 hours a day, she is still strong enough to do at least three persons' jobs. Age is not the thing that matters here.

Knowing how popular she is, Orlova decided against starting an alternative newspaper: she knew the entire Iskra staff would shift there. She took care to preserve her favourite brainchild intact. But with her resignation, a whole era of romantic belief in honest journalism ended in the Perm Region.

Nor many of us journalists believe anymore in media founded by private owners forming the basis of the democratic press. Private media owners, too, often play dirty in Russia...

 

Saratov. Attempt on media holding founder's life

By Natalia Severskaya,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

Sergey Kurikhin, a businessman, deputy of the regional Duma and publisher (the founder of the media holding Vzglyad) was attacked in Saratov at about 11 p.m. on June 9.

His car came under submachine gun fire near the city park, receiving about a dozen bullet holes. The businessman was barely touched but his bodyguard was severely wounded in the head. The police later found a Chechen-made Bors submachine gun with a cartridge pouch dropped nearby.

The regional Investigative Committee instituted legal proceedings on charges of attempted murder of two persons. The police are looking for eyewitnesses, chief investigator Nikolai Nikitin said. Important information may surface after the recordings of nearby security cameras have been studied. Among the likely motives Nikitin mentioned Kurikhin's public and political, or else commercial or publishing activities, and someone's potentially negative attitude toward the victim. Right after the attack, Kurikhin told the police he could not point to anyone he knows as a potential suspect.

Meanwhile, Vzglyad has published a statement in connection with the attempt on Kurikhin's life. It said, specifically, that it is not the first time the media holding comes under aggressive pressure from those dissatisfied "with the principled position of our constituent media outlets - the newspaper Saratovsky Vzglyad, the news agency VzglyadInfo and Internet TV". The authors recalled that Vadim Rogozhin, Vzglyad's first editor-in-chief, suffered a similar attack in 2008, with the perpetrators getting away with impunity.

 

Belgorod Region. Water company's legal claim against newspaper turned down again

By Roman Zholud,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

In February, Vodokanal (a municipal water supply and sewage company based in the city of Valuiki, Belgorod Region) filed a legal claim against a local newspaper, Zvezda, which had published readers' letters criticising the company's poor performance. The plaintiff challenged the stories "A Stinking Problem" and "Trifling Matters" as libellous. Specifically, it claimed that the sewage system criticised by the readers does not belong to Vodokanal and that the company receives no subsidies from the city budget for its maintenance.

The hearings in the regional arbitration court involved Russia Railways Co., Valuiki Vegetable Oil Company (the owner of the sewage system concerned), and journalist Nikolai Aladyin as third-party co-defendants. Local residents (the authors of letters to the newspaper) performed as witnesses.

The court established that some of the challenged phrases related to the Vodokanal director in person (not the company which lodged the legal claim), and that the rest were neither assertions of facts nor smearing statements.

The court also pointed to the fact that ordinary townspeople (like the letters' authors) could not possibly know who the actual sewage system owner was. They addressed their criticism to Vodokanal because that company's name was on their communal service bills.

The court invited the plaintiff to exercise its right of publishing a reply on the pages of Zvezda (as envisaged under Article 46 of the RF Media Law), but Vodokanal refused to, continuing to insist on legal sanctions for the newspaper. As a result, the court turned its claim down in full and charged the judicial costs to the water company.

 

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who joined us in celebrating our Foundation's 20th anniversary - either personally or by sending their congratulations.

Thank you all again! We'll keep doing our best!

***

Some statistics cited

 

OUR PUBLICATIONS

Esprit de corps

By Tatyana Sedykh,
GDF staff correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

I did not protest when they stopped me on the porch of the Vanino Seaport administration headquarters and showed to the office of the chief security guard. That might be expected sooner or later, I thought, although the situation reminded me of the old Odessa joke: "You George keep frying while I go get the fish!"

Bumping into me at the office door, seaport captain N. Tatarinov demanded menacingly, "What brings you here and who do you want to see?" Over the ten or so years I've known him it was for the first time that he was performing as chief security guard. That's why his cold "Follow me!" instead of the usual "Hi!" sent shivers down my back.

Once inside the office, the captain gave vent to emotion. "Why did you write you'd walked aboard that ship unhindered? What were you doing at all inside a restricted area?" And - to one of his subordinates: "Check her documents, if any!"

Asked what the matter was, he got really inflamed recalling the old scandal with reporter Grigory Pasko in Vladivostok. Today, this "Find the Spy" game has come into fashion - probably because secret services need to prove once in a while they honestly earn their piece of bread... "Why do you declare your vessels' coordinates and who do you get them from?" I asked back in jest, hoping he would see the absurdity of the situation. Yet my question nearly finished him. I then had to remind him that his service has, for six years now, circulated its daily vessel coordinate reports for my and other newspapers to print them out. So his shock at the "information leaks" was a little belated, I figured. I also confessed we had long since lost interest in "secrets" of that kind because those data grew outdated before a newspaper issue was released - so why waste page space on that stuff?

Our conversation brought back memories of the witch hunts and of summary executions under Stalin in the late 1930s, and the bitter feeling rose of my living where the notorious transit prison for political dissidents used to be located... Go ahead, try to prove you aren't, say, an African spy, I thought to myself. But I also could clearly see once again it was not the ruling party but its individual representatives who liked practising manhunt time and again... "Why target me?" I thought in despair.

Actually, I knew why. On March 30 this year, the newspaper Moyo Poberezhye featured my report about customs officers detecting excessive radiation background in the engine department of a vessel that had sailed to Vanino from Japan. The radioactive objects were sealed off into a special container, and the whole ship was then decontaminated. I came to the moorings to ask a simple question: what they would do with the radioactive waste. To my utter surprise, I found out I could freely get aboard that foreign vessel in quarantine, because there was no watch, no one at all guarding the ship. I went up to the captain's bridge and into cabins, and not a single person asked my documents.

That was what made the seaport captain so mad. It is still unclear what may be in store for me in the wake of my scandalous report. In it, I hinted that the fight against terrorism should not be reduced only to show-off campaigns like the recent anti-terrorist exercises in the Vanino District, in which 500 officers of the FSB, police, emergency ministry forces and other law enforcement units took part. On the other hand, those exercises did help inasmuch as journalists are now detained on the distant approaches to administrative buildings... That's how vigilant our terrorist-busters have grown! But then again, all the rest are freely admitted into the building where several business companies rent their offices. It's to one company director that I had come that day to proofread an interview he had granted me earlier. After the "educative" meeting with the captain, I was finally shown to the office I needed by a security guard: One cannot be too careful, as the old saying goes...

 

OUR PARTNERS

Conference in St. Petersburg discusses media-judiciary cooperation

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

At a seminar in St. Petersburg on June 4, judiciary officials and journalists discussed cooperation prospects.

The seminar, organised by the Guild of Forensic Reporters, Civil Control Association and Regional Press Institute, brought together active judges, including members of the Judicial Council; representatives of the Judiciary Department under the RF Supreme Court; judicial spokesmen; Board executives and ordinary members of the Guild of Forensic Reporters; journalists; and human rights activists. Participants focused on the practical enforcement of law provisions requiring court decisions to be made public. Pavel Netupsky, director of the Guild's St. Petersburg branch, went into detail about cases where the de-personification requirement concerning judicial decision publishing was either neglected or overstressed (with publishers editing out information that is not qualified under the law as confidential).

GDF President Alexei Simonov not only explained why the administration of justice needs to be transparent but also highlighted the difference between glasnost and freedom of expression. He cited examples of intricate patterns of judiciary-media relations, and asked the rhetorical question: Can a journalist at all be "convenient" to anyone?

A district court chairman told the conferees that since the media have not expressed interest in getting accredited with his court, one may conclude accreditation with ordinary courts is not always necessary, the more so most courts freely admit journalists to hearings. (It was to this free admittance that judiciary officials pointed at one time as the pretext for introducing the current system of accreditation.)

Oksana Mamykina, deputy spokeswoman for the Judiciary Department under the RF Supreme Court, called attention to the heavily underfinanced judicial press services. At present, press spokesmen work for no pay even in regional-level courts, and relevant functions are largely performed by deputy chairmen. Meanwhile, the judiciary spends considerable funds on releasing different publications throughout the country, such as Sudya (Judge) magazine. Journalists attending the seminar questioned the expediency of budgetary spending on that kind of corporate publications, and voiced doubts as to this practice's compliance with existing ethical norms and its efficiency in terms of covering real problems in the area of justice administration.

The Guild of Forensic Reporters presented a freely accessible website featuring a database on judicial decisions passed. At this stage, the site only covers decisions passed by courts in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but in the near future its outreach will expand. As noted by Guild representatives, the website turned out far less expensive than the official Pravosudiye (Justice) web portal which provides only limited access to material. The new site is sure to be useful not only to journalists but also to lawyers, including judges.

 

DIGEST MAIL

Congratulations to GDF on the occasion of its 20th anniversary.

***

Dear colleagues:

I wouldn't like your Foundation to miss the information referred to below. It is about a magazine editor, Sergey Zaslavchik, who finds himself in a potentially dangerous situation.

At one time, after I fell victim to an attack, the GDF offered me invaluable assistance - one simple publication on your website stopped the police and its special units from treating me rashly afterwards.

Zaslavchik himself describes his situation in an open letter posted on his magazine's website (see http://personnage.me/news/2481-jnhgnjhjnx.html). In pretty rough words, the former sniper turned hairdresser and magazine editor tells the story of law enforcement exerting hard pressure on him for a critical Internet publication.

For additional details, see my own postings and publications by Kamchatka-based journalist Igor Kravchuk:

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/garycravt/781158-echo/

http://forum-msk.org/material/power/6446916.html?utm_source=API

http://www.newsland.ru/news/detail/id/714564/cat/42/

http://kamchatinform.ru/News/politic/189.aspx

I think ill practices of this kind need to be monitored, and their causes and consequences analysed. Thanks in advance for any methodological and consultative assistance you may offer to Sergey Zaslavchik.

Sincerely,
Alexei Petrov,
journalist,
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

 

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, 119991 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