Дайджест
29 Сентября 2011 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 538

26 September 2011

RUSSIA

Arkhangelsk Region. Newspaper staffers stand up for fired editor

By Natalya Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

Yelena Ponomaryova, editor-in-chief of the district newspaper Avangard (based in the city of Nyandom) has been replaced – officially, by mutual agreement with local authorities, although some believe she was coerced into “ordering her own dismissal”.

This was reported in a letter sent to the Glasnost Defence Foundation by 20 active and retired Avangard staffers, who said the district authorities “simply fired the disagreeable editor”: dissatisfied with the newspaper’s independent policy, local bosses decided to get rid of an editor who “pursued a policy of strict neutrality toward all political parties existing in the Russian Federation”.

“The head of the Nyandom District administration has repeatedly complained to the Press Affairs Agency about Ponomaryova’s publications, particularly about articles (criticising) regional Assembly deputy A. Kholodov and district Assembly deputy A. Tishchenkov,” the journalists said in their appeal to the GDF. “Among other reasons, her dismissal was evidently caused by the forthcoming elections: the administration fears … that some nominees from the group of local rulers may lose the election race because of Ponomaryova – an attitude that we find totally absurd and unjustified.”

The letter also indicated that Yelena’s replacement may have been prompted by her resolute rejection of the district administration’s claim to “verify prior to printing” – that is, to censor – stories being prepared for publication.

Local Communist party leader Alexander Kondratyev has confirmed that Ponomaryova’s dismissal was directly connected with her conflict with the district head. “Her firing left the journalists in a state of shock,” he said.

The staffers do not want anyone but Yelena to lead their team. “We are sure our readers would not like, either, to see the district’s sole newspaper shut down – but in the present circumstances we may be compelled to stop our media outlet’s operation,” the letter said.

Republic of Karelia. What did media department head try to conceal from the press?

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

This story looking much like a joke is based on real facts, to our regret.

A Karelia administration conference with heads of local self-governments a few days ago was to discuss republican and municipal authorities’ preparations for the coming elections (in Karelia, State Duma elections will be held concurrently with those to the regional parliament and local executive governments). A. Bakhilin, chairman of Karelia’s central electoral committee, planned to announce the campaign schedule and answer whatever questions might arise in the course of the meeting. The conference was declared open to the press, but a reporter’s attempt to attend this routine event unexpectedly triggered a scandal.

Tatyana Grechukhina, head of the gubernatorial department for interaction with the media, ordered – for no comprehensible reason – that the conference be held behind closed doors. Bakhilin, for his part, wanted reporters to be present, since the more coverage campaign preparations received in the media, the more electors would go to the polls on 4 December, he figured.

But Grechukhina, who seemed to look at “interaction with the media” from a different angle, refused to issue a pass for a journalist to be let through into the government building. The bewildered journalist called Bakhilin to ask whether the conferees intended to discuss some secret political instructions. The electoral committee head, himself surprised by Grechukhina’s behaviour, walked downstairs to personally usher the reporter to the conference room. The meeting proved to be nothing out of the ordinary: self-government heads were routinely instructed what to do in the run-up to the elections. What in particular the media department chief tried to conceal from the press remains a mystery.

Jewish Autonomous Region. Federal press kiosks barred from downtown Birobidzhan

By Olga Vasilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Three deputies of the Jewish Autonomous Region’s Legislative Assembly at once have challenged the Birobidzhan mayor’s order to have newspaper stalls removed from the downtown market area.

A few days after the date of elections to the State Duma and regional Legislative Assembly was officially announced, businesswoman Galina Makarova, owner of a network of newsstands, was notified that her kiosks were to be removed from the marketplace after 1 October.

“We all know that federal and regional newspapers and magazines can be found in their full variety only on Galina Makarova’s newsstands,” the protesting parliamentarians pointed out. “The majority of local media outlets are effectively controlled by local administration officials belonging to the ruling United Russia party. Therefore, federal press publications are deemed to be (the only) meaningful challenge to the URP nominees in Birobidzhan.”

“Having removed Makarova’s kiosks from the downtown market, where the federal press sells like hot cakes,” they went on to say, “the ruling party may be hoping to fill the niche by starting to distribute its own newspaper Partiyniy Kuryer free of charge, thereby imposing itself on local electors in a totally non-competitive environment. Besides, a sizeable part of Birobidzhan’s population will be denied the opportunity to read federal newspapers in the run-up to the elections.”

Local residents already stood up to protect Makarova’s news stalls in May, when a local weekly featured an article entitled “Newsstands Have Become Redundant?” The mayor was compelled at the time to announce at a city Duma sitting that the kiosks were staying at the market; moreover, yet another newsstand would be set up at a bus stop to be equipped near the Rodina cinema.

Now the situation has changed again: Galina Makarova is being offered land in alternative locations, where setting up press kiosks would be both unprofitable economically and futile from the viewpoint of customer outreach.

Authorities have kept persuading us the forthcoming elections will be honest and fair and that administrative leverage will not be used at all. But it is being used already! By restricting electors’ access to the free press, the mayor’s office is taking pains to rule out any opportunity for public opinion to be shaped on the basis of unbiased information.

Republic of Yakutia-Sakha. Gandhi vs. journalists

By Olga Vasilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Yelena Tikhonova, editor of the web-based public and political newspaper V Yakutii.ru, had a morning phone call from the republic’s arbitration court a few days ago, saying that only hours later the court was to consider a civil claim in defence of an individual’s and a legal entity’s business reputation, lodged against LiK Ltd. and Tikhonova as the newspaper editor by Rajesh Chandrakant Gandhi, an Indian businessmen and general director of Choron Diamond Ltd. Tikhonova was told the court had to act fast because the term established under the law for reviewing the case was nearly over.

The news was really shocking: not a single newspaper staffer had known anything about the pending trial or ever seen the text of Mr Gandhi’s legal claim. Four months had passed since the “insulting” article was published. Indeed, a Choron Diamond representative had approached the journalists in June saying he was eager to respond to the publication. But he had never actually exercised his right of response. And now it turned out Gandhi’s legal claim had lain in Yakutia’s arbitration court for nearly four months!

The journalists read an info about the case on the court’s website and learned that Mr Gandhi claimed hurt by the article “Diamond Expansion: Yakutia’s Diamond Complex Conquered by Foreign Capital”, written in early May based on the findings of an audit that had revealed an unregistered stock of raw diamonds in another Indian firm – DDK belonging to Mr. Vathalabhai Ramani. The authors analysed the general situation in Yakutia’s diamond industry and concluded that Indian companies that had infiltrated the republic’s diamond-cutting business had systematically breached national legislation regulating the turnover of precious metals and stones, thereby aggravating the crime situation and endangering the region and country’s economic security. Foreign-owned companies in Yakutia’s diamond-cutting sector were oriented only toward exports of raw materials and profits; most of them had done so in violation of tax and customs regulations. While listing diamond-cutting companies across the republic (both local and foreign-owned), the authors barely mentioned Choron Diamond among the foreign firms where inspectors had found unregistered diamond stock.

Upholding the journalists’ plea, the court adjourned hearings of Mr Gandhi’s legal claim until October. Soon afterwards, it turned out Gandhi had lodged not one but two claims against Tikhonova and her web newspaper (the second in connection with two other publications) – and a third claim may be pending.

The amount of compensation claimed by the plaintiff on the two existing (and one potential) claims will total 30 million roubles or nearly 1 million US dollars (sic!).

Perm. Lady journalist fined for pointing to “stern, manly friendship” between two police officers

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Journalist Natalya Dementyeva must pay Lt.-Col. Alexei Timoshchuk 15,000 roubles in moral damages for a publication in the local newspaper Mestnoye Vremya pointing to his friendship with Col. Sergey Kamenev, head of the Fyodor Kuzmin Police Lycee under the Perm Region Internal Affairs Department.

Timoshchuk, who is deputy head of the same police lycee, claimed hurt by four phrases in Dementyeva’s article “Turkish Gambit”, published on 17 November 2010. Having considered Timoshchuk’s claim in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation on 10 May 2011, the Leninsky district court in Perm found one passage in the publication to be not true to fact – namely, the author’s hint at a potential homosexual relationship between the two police officers.

“Of course, it is good to see a police chief and his deputy tied by this kind of stern, manly friendship,” the story said. “But can this be more than friendship? Just fancy them hiring a hotel room for two and sitting down to coo, like pigeons, about how to improve the education process… In Turkey, judging by the accommodation vouchers, they shared their room with a 13-year-old cadet!”

Dementyeva and Mestnoye Vremya protested Judge Alexander Alekseyev’s compensation-awarding decision as erroneous. At the regional court sitting of 12 September, defence lawyer Marina Berezina pointed to the evidence – the Turkish hotel’s list of guest accommodation and the voucher allowing an underage cadet to move in with the plaintiff – contained in the case files. Describing the disputed story passage as an expression of the author’s personal judgement regarding documentarily confirmed circumstances, she asked the court of appeals to cancel the primary court’s ruling.

However, the regional court turned her plea down, confirming the validity of the first decision. “The mere mention in the voucher of the cadet’s right to move in with the plaintiff fails to indisputably prove that the room came to be actually used as prescribed in the voucher,” the final judgment said, with additional reference to the testimony of two witnesses who denied the fact of the adult police officer’s having shared his room with an underage boy.

The newspaper is now required to publish a disclaimer and pay the plaintiff 40,000 roubles, and the lady journalist, to pay the lieutenant-colonel 15,000 roubles, in moral damage compensation. They are yet to decide whether or not to appeal to a higher-standing judicial authority, Dementyeva told the GDF correspondent. Meanwhile, the other hero of the controversial publication, Col. Sergey Kamenev, has lodged his own legal claim, demanding from the newspaper and its author 500,000 roubles in personal moral damages plus 1 million roubles in favour of the lycee he is in charge of.

Vladivostok. Court turns down 1-million-rouble legal claim against news agency

By Anna Seleznyova, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

The Maritime Region arbitration court has turned down a 1-million-rouble claim lodged against the PrimaMedia news agency by the Vladivostok Avia air carrier which attempted to defend its business reputation by explaining the slide in the Tokyo-Vladivostok passenger traffic by reference to a PrimaMedia publication that pointed to soaring air ticket prices.

On 18 March this year – after the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima power plant explosion in Japan – PrimaMedia featured a report that passengers flying in from Japan had been compelled to buy significantly overpriced Vladivostok Avia air tickets. The air company claimed hurt and demanded 1 million roubles in moral damages. Although the price hikes had been reported by other news agencies too, PrimaMedia also published a lady passenger’s statement about her having been “lucky to purchase an ordinary economy-class ticket for 40,000 roubles; some other fellow passengers had to pay more”. It is this phrase that caused the air company to lodge its compensation claim, insisting that after the PrimaMedia publication, many Russians refused to fly to Japan and returned their tickets.

However, the defendants managed to prove that PrimaMedia, regardless of its March 18 publication, had reported a decline in Vladivostok Avia’s passenger traffic still earlier in March. The plaintiff, for its part, cited the findings of an inspection carried out by the Maritime branch of the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) in March-April, which had not found any law violations, while also stating that the price of air tickets for people fleeing from radioactive irradiation in Japan had indeed been high. As a result, the court found the news agency’s arguments more convincing and turned Vladivostok Avia’s legal claim down in full.

Moscow. Duplicate (fake) newspaper issue released

By Natalya Severskaya, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

As it usually happens, the forthcoming elections have given rise to a wave of different provocations, which in the Russian capital took the form of the free distribution of a pirate issue of Novaya Gazeta (NG) near metro stations on 23 September.

The fake is fairly easy to distinguish from a real NG issue – evidently, the forgers did not give themselves the trouble of making it look more authentic. Besides, they were clearly short on materials, which caused them to overuse United Russia and Popular Front symbols, Premier Putin’s portraits and traditional singing of the ruling party’s praises. The authors even went as far as trying to joke, but the resulting “humorous” pieces turned out very specific. On the whole, the masterminds and executives of the “project” made their presence clearly felt, signalling their umpteenth attempt to curry favour with their own bosses by fouling rival candidates.

The NG staff was not particularly disturbed by the release of the fake. But staying true to their principles – to act strictly in compliance with the law – the journalists complained to the media oversight agency, Roskomnadzor, about someone’s unlawful use of the Novaya Gazeta logo.

 

GLASNOST DEFENCE FOUNDATION

Some statistics cited

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

 

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Open letter from Perm branch of RF Journalists’ Union

TO: Chairman N.A. Devyatkin and deputies of the Perm Region Legislative Assembly

Dear Mr Devyatkin,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

This year – for the first time in the history of the regional Legislative Assembly – candidates running for Assembly seats have been unable to place their canvassing materials in the municipal press or on municipal radio and television.

The point is that the heads of those media outlets have been secretly instructed by the governor’s administration, with additional phone calls from local administrations, to distance themselves from the election campaign in order to prevent “undesirable” information at the disposal of rival candidates or parties from becoming known to the public.

Judging by everything, the media head managers are determined to carry out those recommendations, since municipal media heavily rely for financial support on the regional authorities and local self-governments. Hushing up preparations for the election campaign may result not only in violations of the people’s constitutional right to receive accurate and timely information updates but also in the blocking of Assembly candidates’ access to print and online media, as well as in those media’s loss of additional income. The few media head managers who have been bold enough to disregard those warning phone calls are reasonably on the alert for potential negative consequences – from termination of financial support to disagreeable editors’ replacement.

On the other hand, sociological surveys show it is the city and district newspapers and TV companies, serving as the most accessible channels of information for the region’s population, which enjoy the highest degree of electors’ trust.

We hereby inform you of the inadmissibility of methods used in the Perm Region for attaining desirable political results, and urge you to take the system of municipal media financing under special control. Moreover, we think it important that the deputies pay due attention to each instance of a media outlet’s targeting for the demonstration of an independent civil stand.

In the final count, this attention will earn the Kama River area the reputation of a region where the press is not an instrument in the hands of executive officials but an institute of civil society in which a person’s freedom of expression is respected.

Sincerely,

Olga Loskutova

Chair, Perm Region branch of RF Journalists’ Union

(This appeal was discussed and approved by a regional conference of municipal media editors on 21 September 2011)

Human rights activists urge PACE to acknowledge non-existence of democratic elections in Russia

Russia’s Human Rights Council has urged the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to acknowledge that the institute of democratic elections in this country has been liquidated.

“We are compelled to admit that the general status of elections in today’s Russia is not consistent either with this country’s international obligations or even with national legislation,” said an appeal signed, among others, by Moscow Helsinki Group leader Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Memorial human rights centre head Oleg Orlov and other human rights activists.

The authors pointed out that Russia has denied registration and, consequently, the right of participation in elections and access to the main media to a whole number of opposition parties – “and this despite the fact that their programmes and charters are based on a democratic society’s priorities”. The group of pariahs includes Other Russia, the People’s Freedom party, ROT-Front and others. “In defiance of the European Court judgment that the decision to liquidate the opposition Republican Party of Russia was unlawful, this decision has never been cancelled by the authorities,” the appeal said.

Human rights defenders urged PACE “to take information about the actual liquidation of the system of democratic elections in Russia into account, discuss Russia’s non-compliance with its international obligations regarding free elections, and appeal to the Venice Commission to review electoral legislation and the Law on Political Parties in Russia”.

The authors also asked to delegate to Russia a group of observers to whom Russia’s Human Rights Council “is ready to offer assistance and advice”.

An August survey by Moscow’s Levada Centre showed that 54% of the Russians are convinced that next December will only see a simulation of elections in Russia. More than one half of those polled believe the State Duma seats will be distributed in accordance with authorities’ instructions. Every other respondent expects extensive use of “dirty” PR during the Duma elections. Law violations that are not ruled out in the run-up to and during the forthcoming elections include local government pressure on electors (26% of the respondents); the use of “dirty” PR technology (22%); voter bribing (21%); biased media coverage of the election campaign (19%); and vote rigging at polling stations (19%).

[Hro.org report, 23 September]

Presentation of new database on journalist rights defence

Dear colleagues,

We are happy to announce that the RF Journalists’ Union, Glasnost Defence Foundation and International Federation of Journalists will present a new database and web portal dedicated to the defence of media workers’ rights. We hope this new information resource will become an effective instrument of journalist protection that our colleagues, the law enforcement agencies and all Russian citizens will find useful.

The presentation will begin at the Marble Hall of the Central House of Journalists (8a, Nikitsky Boulevard) at 3 p.m. on 4 October. Taking part in it will be Journalists’ Union chairman Vsevolod Bogdanov; GDF president Alexei Simonov; European Federation of Journalists head Arne Koenig; representatives of the IFJ; analysts; and journalists. We will be glad to discuss with you the prospects of cooperation in using the new database.

Be sure to come to the House of Journalists to attend the presentation!

 

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