Дайджест
26 Августа 2011 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 533

August 22, 2011

 

TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Predetermined municipal elections in St. Petersburg

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

By the time this article is published, the victory of incumbent St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko in the ongoing municipal elections will most likely have been announced. Exchanging her gubernatorial seat for that of Speaker of the State Duma’s Council of the Federation has cost her much time and effort and triggered quite a few media-related scandals. Specifically, one of St. Petersburg’s most popular web publications, Fontanka.ru, fired in cold blood a lady reporter who attempted to accuse the management of encouraging self-censorship practices among the journalists after her story about administrative pressure on electors was banned for publishing.

Alexandra Garmazhapova’s story “Municipal Elections, St. Petersburg Style” described frenzied efforts by district and municipal authorities to ensure a high turnout with reliance, in full accordance with the sad Russian tradition, on the notorious “administrative resource”, expected to maximise chances of Matviyenko’s victory. Yet Fontanka.ru was in no hurry to publish the material prepared by its staff author. Alexandra was advised to “edit out a phrase or two” and post the story as a blog on Fontanka’s website. Since the journalist was interested in the first place in seeing her article reach the reader, she agreed to the management’s proposal and the story was finally published on August 10.

Three days later, it was erased from the website – allegedly because it was “in breach of electoral legislation”. “I am not a newcomer to journalism, but I honestly don’t see what specific law provisions I might violate,” Garmazhapova said. Several linguistic experts, with whom the Glasnost Defence Foundation has consulted on the subject, found her story legally flawless.

Although a young and hot-headed person, Alexandra is known as a good professional with an impressive record of covering the northern capital’s political life. She was often praised at Fontanka.ru for her mastery as a reporter. In this light, what happened to her story struck her as an instance of internal censorship (she admits she has no evidence proving that Fontanka has been subject to external censorship, too). Therefore, she instantly posted the original, unedited version of her article on her web page in one of the social networks, and quit working for Fontanka.ru.

One thing is clear: even the most popular media, which are economically independent in real terms, take care not to step beyond the line of what is officially allowed. This also relates to web publications. Sadly enough, budding journalists watch incidents of this kind, draw appropriate conclusions, and learn to behave “correctly”, thereby strengthening the system of journalistic self-censorship. Alexandra Garmazhapova, though, is not one of those: she has found a job with another media outlet and is trying to leave her negative experiences behind – the sooner the better.

 

RUSSIA

Khabarovsk. Quota on glasnost

Continued from Digest 531

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

The Central District court in Khabarovsk has considered two of several legal claims lodged by five persons against the newspaper Khabarovsky Express in the wake of one and the same article, “Presidential Envoy’s Power Tree”, published in April 2011.

The first claim was filed by Alexander Shishkin, a State Duma deputy and member of the United Russia faction; the second by retired Lt.-Gen. Viktor Chechevatov, former (in the 1990s) commander of the Far Eastern Military District. Both plaintiffs’ interests were defended in court by Dr. Yuri Kuleshov, a member of the Russian Academy of Law and former assistant to State Duma deputy Boris Reznik.

The defendants requested opening the hearings to the press and asked to let through all the reporters who were left in the corridor (10 persons, according to the bailiff). Earlier, they had officially urged Court Chairman Vladimir Likhachev to “provide spacious courtrooms to ensure that hearings of the six legal claims against journalists be open and transparent, in view of the high public significance of those cases”.

Why their appeal was disregarded became clear after defence lawyer Kuleshov’s mini lecture.

“As regards a person’s constitutional right to have his case heard in court openly, I can say that anywhere in the world, even where there are spacious courtrooms in place, those aren’t large enough to hold the entire nation,” he said. “So people are admitted on the basis of quotas, so that attending public activists could inform those left outside about the course of proceedings. That’s why your appeal should be addressed not to this court but to the President of Russia, in hopes he would see to it that courtrooms are built of an appropriately large size…”

“We don’t have large courtrooms in the Central District court,” Judge Alyona Gubanova added. “So we’ll have to do with what we actually have. Unfortunately, the judiciary has no money to pay for the rent of spacious courtrooms.”

 

Samara. Regional administration holds accredited journalists at arm’s length

By Viktor Sadovsky,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

Alexander Lashmankin, founder and editor of the Samara-based human rights news agency Svoboda, spent much time and effort trying to get permanently accredited with the regional administration – because of the latter’s decision to issue one-time accreditations only.

His numerous appeals to the administration’s Information Policy and PR Department led by Ivan Skrylnik were repeatedly turned down on various pretexts, causing Lashmankin and his colleagues to suspect the regional authorities of an attempt to conceal information about administration performance from the public.

Having gone through all the official channels in vain, Lashmankin finally lodged a legal claim with the Leninsky District court in Samara to declare the Information Department’s actions unlawful. The editor was almost certain to win the case, but the judge invited the parties to try to settle the dispute amicably. Lashmankin informed PR Department head Sergey Filippov and his lawyer Sergey Popov that he would be ready for such a settlement if his accreditation request were satisfied. A week later, he was officially notified of his having been permanently accredited with the regional government.

Two days after, on July 25, Lashmankin withdrew his legal claim as had been agreed.

But toward the evening of the very same day, Samara Governor Vladimir Artyakov cancelled the permanent accreditation rules altogether, and on July 27 he introduced a new procedure that does not envisage any permanent passes for accredited journalists. Moreover, the new regulations do not explain how reporters are supposed to get through into the administration headquarters, since that is said to be “classified” information. In practice, journalists are admitted either through the checkpoint or by calling the roll provided by the Information Department.

As it happens, the Svoboda editor has been granted accreditation but will not have free access to government-sourced information, just as he did not have it in the past.

 

Krasnodar/Moscow. Journalist’s accreditation unlawfully terminated

By Natalia Severskaya,
GDF staff correspondent in Central Federal District

The newspaper Sport-Express (SE) has received a curious letter from FC Krasnodar, informing it that the football club has decided to cancel the accreditation certificate of SE reporter Yuri Plokhotnichenko. The way the authors see it, the journalist published “libellous information smearing the club’s reputation”. The reference is to Plokhotnichenko’s doubts – by the way, shared by many other media – about FC Krasnodar’s having played fairly in a recent match against Krylya Sovetov of Samara.

It may as well be noted that no one has ever lodged any official legal claim against “the spreader of libellous information”, who was thus stripped of his accreditation without any court ruling, which practice is prohibited by law.

Moreover, FC Krasnodar warned SE it reserves the right to cancel the accreditation of the newspaper as a whole, should any of its other reporters take the liberty of “behaving that way in the future”. What is unclear is who gave the football club the right to take on a court’s functions.

The system of accreditation, originally conceived as an instrument of facilitating journalists’ work, actually remains an instrument of pressure on the media.

 

Perm. Almanac cleared of charges of infringing pensioner’s privacy

By Mikhail Lobanov,
GDF staff correspondent in Volga Federal District

Courts of two different levels have decided that publishing information about a person’s health, provided such information has been received directly from such person, does not constitute a violation of that person’s privacy.

In the summer of 2010, pensioner Natalia Moiseyeva of the town of Dobryanka sent to the editor of the almanac Pensioner Rossii a letter describing in detail her health problems and the category of disability she had been assigned to. Based on that information, journalists filed an inquiry with the Perm Region Main Bureau for Medico-Social Research, asking to explain the expert conclusions passed in respect of the disabled woman. They used the medics’ explanations in a story featured in last November’s edition of the almanac. Having read the publication, the elderly woman accused the almanac of disclosing a medical secret about her condition. Since the article addressed the issue of retirees’ rights, the journalists should have contacted the RF Pension Fund instead of citing word for word the data they had received from the Bureau, she argued, adding that the medics, in their turn, should not have shared the information about her illness with the almanac’s editor.

Moiseyeva lodged a legal claim against the journalists and medics, demanding RUR 1 m in moral damage compensation. She stressed that no one in Dobryanka had known about her illness prior to the publication. To prevent the news from being broken to her parents, who live in Yemanzhelinsk, Chelyabinsk Region, she was compelled to buy up the entire print run from the press distributors.

The Sverdlovsky District court in Perm turned her legal claim down on April 11, which decision was confirmed by the higher-standing regional court on August 8. The judges pointed to the fact that the plaintiff had sent her letter to the editor of her own free will and had not requested non-disclosure of that information. In their reply to the journalists, medical experts had not specified her diagnosis, providing general information only. That it why the almanac’s publication of the plaintiff’s personal data without her explicit consent did not constitute an encroachment upon her privacy, the judges decided.

 

Krasnodar Region. Police seeks info on authors of web publications criticising authorities

By Victoria Tashmatova,
GDF staff correspondent in Southern Federal District

Polina Yesayan of the village of Kanevskaya, Krasnodar Region, editor-in-chief of the website Kanevskaya.ru, has received a message from V. Bragin, deputy head of the regional police department, asking her to supply “without delay” the IP address of a user who posted a chat forum comment negatively characterising the Kanevsky District administration head’s brother. The sender also wanted to know the date and time of the comment’s posting in the internet – as he explained, in connection with the district leader’s complaint to the police.

The PC user whose identity the law enforcers want to establish published his comment on the website of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta Kubani (NGK), with a link to it on the Kanevskaya.ru site. A technical specialist sent by the police had already received the commentator’s IP address from the NGK office before turning to Yesayan, so it is unclear why ask one and the same address twice. Significantly enough, the police officer did not ask the journalists a single question concerning the negative portrayal of the district leader. It seemed the police were not interested in that and did not intend to check the facts – and this despite the anti-corruption law requirement that any criticism of authorities voiced in the media or via public communication systems must be checked on a mandatory basis.

 

Sakhalin Region. Journalist denied information about judge’s income

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

Alexander Chernega, publisher and reporter for the newspaper Paramushir Vesti, has long tried to unveil a “formidable state secret” – how much Judge Denis Kondratyev of the Severo-Kurilsk District court earns. His two inquiries lodged with the judge in person were left unanswered, as was his complaint to the regional Qualifying College of Judges.

Instead, he has received a reply from the Sakhalin Region Judicial Department, where Judge Kondratyev turned out to have forwarded his inquiries. The reply said questions of this kind can only be asked by republican media, since “a local journalist may use this information for purposes of compromising a judge”.

What we see here is yet another attempt to divide media reporters into “insiders” and “outsiders”…

 

Yekaterinburg. Ruling party fails to pay debts to journalists

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF staff correspondent in Urals Federal District

Leaders of the Sverdlovsk Region branch of the United Russia party (URP) are in default on payments for media services, putting at risk the outcome of pending regional and federal parliamentary elections.

In April, the regional URP Support Fund contracted leading municipal and regional newspapers for publishing URP campaigning materials, and set aside for the purpose, by different estimates, RUR 5 m to RUR 15 m per month.

Pre-ordered news reports and articles were written also by visiting specialists from Moscow’s Politika think tank. The system worked without a hitch for three months until July, when it turned out the party had run out of money and could not pay to the media for their services. Some media outlets have ceased publishing URP stuff; others continue singing Governor Alexander Misharin (regional party leader)’s praises in hopes that the ruling party will start repaying its debts soon.

A number of media head managers intend to go to court to have the URP Support Fund pay for the services they provided. Many of the deceived journalists consider quitting cooperation with United Russia and going over to its rivals’ side.

 

Yekaterinburg. Judge claims information about photographer who caught traffic police officer breaking rules of the road

By Vladimir Golubev,
GDF staff correspondent in Urals Federal District

At about 3:30 p.m. on April 12, someone made a few snapshots of a car of foreign make in Lenin Avenue in downtown Yekaterinburg, with its driver in a police officer’s uniform shown sitting at the wheel unbuckled – i.e., breaching the traffic rules which he as an official representative demands that others observe meticulously.

On April 15, the editor of the web portal Е1.ru asked regional traffic police spokesman V. Gorelykh to comment on the photographs. According to Lt.-Col. Gorelykh, a report on the traffic rules violation was sent to the regional traffic police department, which confirmed its receipt and pledged to take action without delay.

Now, four months later, the Verkh-Isetsky District court in Yekaterinburg is just beginning to look into the administrative case started against police officer O. Curiously enough, on August 15 Judge E. Zyryanov of the said court appealed to the E1.ru management asking to provide information about the photographer together with the photo picture originals (sic!). Indeed, the judge had better leaf through the Press Law instead of putting his legal ignorance in the window…

Regional police and traffic police department representatives have been inaccessible for commenting, as have the Verkh-Isentsky court judges, the Novy Region news agency reported. Does this signal they may be feeling ashamed?

 

OUR PUBLICATIONS

Chelyabinsk Region pressured to vote for United Russia party in exchange for budget support

By Irina Gundareva,
GDF staff correspondent in Urals Federal District

Ivan Skalaukh, editor of the independent web publication Verkhneuralsky Vestnik, has attended a conference of gubernatorial officials overseeing the regional media, and was shocked to hear the cynical statements they made. Their instructions to media head managers boiled down to the following: electors throughout the country must vote for United Russia nominees, for their respective territories to continue receiving financial support from the federal budget. Otherwise, no money will be available. “This doesn’t mean, though, that we are putting pressure on anyone,” the officials claimed.

The report posted by Skalaukh on his website read as follows:

 

At the regional government headquarters in Chelyabinsk, the governor’s chief of staff Vadim Yevdokimov and spokeswoman Svetlana Doronina, and Realtime Operations Intelligence Centre head Alexander Polozov conferred with representatives of local web-based media yesterday.

The tradition of closed, in-house pre-election “brainwashing sessions” is a matter of the past. Incumbent members of the governor’s team must have decided that concealing self-evident realities from the public is silly, which is probably why they invited, alongside the head managers of local TV networks and radio stations, representatives of the independent media Verkhneuralsky Vestnik and Svododny Site Kizilskogo Rayona to attend the conference. The officials stressed the point they were not going to hush up the goals set before them or other aspects of the electioneering, voting and post-election analysis process from people knowing a thing or two about how elections work. Moreover, they suggested we media workers pass on that information to the electorate.

Below are some quotes from statements made by the gubernatorial officials, giving an insight into their logic and their modes of thinking. The original, unedited wording of the statements has been retained for the readers to draw their own conclusions.

“Don’t give the floor to those groundlessly criticising everybody and everything!”

[Chelyabinsk Region Vice-Governor Vadim Yevdokimov]

 

“We are adult people, and we understand things well enough… You’ve seen what’s been going on in the country, and how the Fair Russia party and Communist party have been treated… All this is nothing more than showing off to the West.”

[Chelyabinsk Region Vice-Governor Vadim Yevdokimov]

 

“Money disbursement to the Chelyabinsk Region will depend on how we vote during the elections.”

[Chelyabinsk Region Vice-Governor Vadim Yevdokimov]

 

“Vote for United Russia, [for the region] to get the money!”

[Chelyabinsk Region Vice-Governor Vadim Yevdokimov citing Governor Mikhail Yurevich]

 

“That will work again beyond doubt.”

[Chelyabinsk Region Administration’s Realtime Operations Intelligence Centre head Alexander Polozov replying to a reporter’s direct question about whether or not media mention of a link between budget allocations and the number of votes collected by the ruling party might work again]

 

“If a region fails to vote the right way, that region will be left without money.”

[Chelyabinsk Region Administration’s Realtime Operations Intelligence Centre head Alexander Polozov]

 

As regards potential criticism of this time-tested scenario by “West-hired” protest groups, here is one more quote in conclusion:

 

“I don’t feel I am acting against my conscience or putting pressure on anyone.”

[Chelyabinsk Region Vice-Governor Vadim Yevdokimov]

 

How nice and honest, really, are the people at the helm in our region!

 

Digest mail

 

Dear colleagues:

Our weekly Fakt I Kompromat has found itself the target of a persecution campaign, with a series of legal claims lodged against us, some of which our newspaper has lost.

Also, our editor-in-chief Gleb Ivanov is facing charges under Article 130 (“Insult”) in a case under consideration by a justice of the peace. The accused has already protested against what he thinks to be a biased position of the court. A philological and linguistic study ordered by the court will be performed by Astrakhan State University, whose rector has been repeatedly criticised in the newspaper led by G. Ivanov.

We believe the campaign of pressure on Fakt I Kompromat may have been organised by regional executive and law enforcement authorities, whose poor performance has regularly come under criticism in our publications over the past eight years.

We hereby request that the GDF makes this information known to the Russian public.

Best regards,
Staffers of Fakt I Kompromat,
public and political weekly,
Astrakhan

 

***

 

The St. Petersburg department of RosKomNadzor (federal service overseeing the sphere of public communications) has replied to a GDF inquiry filed in the wake of the withdrawal in early June of the entire print run of a Kommersant Vlast magazine issue criticising Governor Valentina Matviyenko. The document reads as follows:

 

“Dear Mr. Simonov:

“Regarding your inquiry about a suspected violation of law in connection with the newspaper Kommersant’s July 14 publication ‘Vlast Seized in St. Petersburg’, we have the following to report. An inspection carried out by the St. Petersburg department of RosKomNadzor on July 14-22, 2011, to check the facts reported in the publication, failed to find any evidence of ‘interference with the lawful distribution of media products’ or imposition of unlawful restrictions on retail sales of the relevant issue of Kommersant Vlast magazine. We have forwarded the inspection findings to the P. A. Novikov of the prosecutor’s office of St. Petersburg, who is in charge of enforcement of state and municipal control legislation.

“Sincerely, “G. Azersky,
Department deputy head”

 

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.

 

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