Дайджест
26 Июля 2012 года

Glasnost defence foundation digest No. 575

23 July 2012

RUSSIA

St. Petersburg police error acknowledged

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

The Russian Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for the City of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region has acknowledged that its officers were wrong in detaining journalists covering an unauthorised public gathering on 8 July. A statement to this effect was sent to a justice of the peace in package with documents testifying to an administrative offence allegedly committed by the media workers concerned.

Those detained during an unauthorised rally outside St. Petersburg’s Grand Concert Hall “Oktyabrsky” included journalists Sergei Kovalchenko of the RBK Daily newspaper (St. Petersburg), Ivan Skirtach of the St. Petersburg branch of the ITAR-TASS news agency, and Oleg Solomatin of the BaltInfo news agency. Although all of them showed their press cards and said they were fulfilling editorial assignments, they were taken to the police station and kept there for nearly 7 hours. Solomatin was then released without a protocol made; and Skirtach and Kovalchenko were charged with administrative offences – organisation of an unauthorised street march and non-compliance with police officers’ lawful demands.

The incident caused broad public repercussions, since a confidential agreement between the management of the city branch of the Journalists’ Union and the law enforcement command had kept reporters generally protected from detention during public actions, although other incidents, such as rough treatment and the use of force against journalists and photographers, had occurred time and again.

This time – quite surprisingly – the police acknowledged their error. The officers who had made those wrongful protocols would bear administrative responsibility, Main Directorate spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko said. The way journalists look at it, the police command’s prompt response may be a result of pressure from the city administration, which stood up for the media organisations whose employees had suffered at the hands of the police.

Municipal newspaper liquidated in Perm Region

See Digests 557, 563

By Mikhail Lobanov, GDF correspondent in Volga Federal District

Natalya Irzhanova, a former newspaper editor and a mother of three, remains unemployed in view of the Dobryanka district court and Perm regional court’s ruling in support of the Dobryanka district administration’s 20 January decision to liquidate the municipal newspaper Kamskiye Zori.

Hearing an appeal against the district court ruling, Regional Court Judge Natalya Kiselyova asked the parties whether the administration had officially published its (newspaper-liquidating) decision anywhere in the media. Irzhanova and her lawyer Yevgeny Agafonov said they did not know; Dobryanka administration representative Tatyana Beltyukova said the decision had been published, but she did not specify where or when.

Since this point is not mentioned either in the case files or in the regional court decision, the latter may be challenged before the court’s presidium, Agafonov said, since in line with Article 15.3 of the RF Constitution, any normative legal act affecting people’s rights, duties or liberties shall only be applicable if officially published for everyone to know.

Back on 2 February, Kamskiye Zori’s senior correspondent Lydia Rakitina handed to GDF President Alexei Simonov, who was staying in Perm on a working visit, a collective letter from her colleagues asking him for help. Simonov immediately contacted Perm Region Prosecutor Alexander Belykh to call his attention to the situation in Dobryanka. However, the oversight authority did not side with the journalists. As she was reading out her conclusions in the regional court, Prosecutor Yelena Bogomolova spoke out in support of the district administration – simply because the latter “did nothing more than liquidating a municipal legal entity”. The fact that the said entity released the Kamskiye Zori newspaper could not prohibit its founder from liquidating it, she argued. As regards the resulting breach of the labour rights of Natalya Irzhanova, the sacked chief editor, “such rights should be defended by means other than challenging a legal act passed by the local self-government,” the prosecutor said.

Irzhanova has been on the dole with her three children since 26 March, she told the Glasnost Defence Foundation. There is no vacancy in Dobryanka for a journalist whom the authorities consider disloyal, she said. The sacked Kamskiye Zori team, apart from Irzhanova and Rakitina, includes eight other former staffers of the liquidated newspaper.

 

Journalists from Omsk governor’s media pool go freelance

By Georgy Borodyansky, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The media-liberating process in Omsk has been accompanied by layoffs among journalists from the regional administration’s media pool.

Against a backdrop of what analysts describe as “an offensive against freedom of expression in Moscow”, liquidation of some media outlets and mass reporter layoffs in Omsk, by contrast, seem to be heralding an era of greater freedom of expression, which came with the inauguration of a new governor who at once demanded that all mass media must be “equidistant” from him.

That really alarmed many regional media that had got accustomed to regular budgetary injections during the previous governor’s 20-odd-year stay in power. In the past few years, even with the crisis at its peak, spending on the governor’s media pool kept growing. Last year, for example, it reached nearly 400 million roubles. The bulk of that money went to finance coverage of ex-Governor Leonid Polezhayev’s activities. His successor Viktor Nazarov said he doesn’t need anything of the kind: even those TV channels and newspapers which are financed from the regional budget “must not get politically engaged” but must “show life as it is”. “People need to know the truth, however bitter it may be,” he said. This kind of approach, although pretty novel for Omsk residents, seems logical: if the media operate at taxpayers’ expense, it is their (taxpayers’) life that they are supposed to reflect in the first place.

The media funding is to be cut down already this year; 50 million roubles from the moneys set aside for media maintenance will be re-assigned to finance social projects that strike the new authorities as “more important”, Andrei Tkachuk, the new head of the Main Directorate for the Press and TV/Radio Broadcasting, said. So many Omsk-based journalists are on the verge of crisis already today. But this crisis will only afflict one sector – the regional agitprop. Two media outlets belonging to the regional administration’s mouthpiece, the media holding Omskaya Pravda – the magazine Omsky Vestnik-Delovaya Sreda and the newspaper Kriminal-Ekspress – were scrapped as of 1 July; and the youth magazine Klass is to continue operating online only. Of a total of 113 staff positions at Omskaya Pravda, only 51 will remain. Each laid-off worker will get severance pay amounting to 3 monthly salaries.

This news triggered heated debates and a mixed reaction even among journalists outside the administration’s media pool. Biznes-Kurs magazine editor Sergei Suslikov, for one, said journalists “should not be treated like this”. Tatyana Bessonova, chair of the regional Journalists’ Union, appealed to the new governor during his first news conference, asking him not to make any rash moves, which she said might be “destructive”. Viktor Nazarov disagreed with her, saying that only professionals should stay to work in the media sector. “If we create a good, readable format, while cutting down the redundant positions,” he said, “the remaining staffers will be able to receive decent wages, because newspapers will actively start earning money themselves, without awaiting budgetary donations.”

By the way, all gubernatorial news conferences today, as well as regional government sittings, can be attended by any reporter, and no accreditation is required anymore. Governor Nazarov, as he had promised, began by “bridging the gap between power and people” – by ordering to remove the roadway gates at the entrances of regional and district administration headquarters. Also, he ordered cutting down his own salary to only a quarter of what his predecessor used to receive (126,000 roubles).

District media should, too, expect to be reformed and re-formatted. Journalists in Omsk are losing salaries but gaining liberties in exchange. Each is free to exercise these liberties according to one’s personal abilities and ambitions. For example, journalist Sergei Malgavko from Tara, of whom the GDF has repeatedly reported, managed to establish one of the region’s best district newspapers, then dropped it because of serious tensions with the authorities, and finally started a wholly new one, Tarsky Kuryer, which feels free to criticise even the Russian president himself. And no one can do anything about it, since Malgavko’s newspaper is financially self-sufficient: two months after its first issue was released, the newspaper raised its circulation to 5,000, and after yet another month, it won the main prize in the journalistic competition “Siberia – A Territory of Hope”. If this was possible in Tara, why wouldn’t it be possible in the other 30-odd districts of the Omsk Region or even in the regional capital with its 1-million population?

 

Deputy speaker of Karelia’s parliament sues website editor

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

Devletkhan Alikhanov, First Deputy Chairman of Karelia’s Legislative Assembly, has lodged a legal claim against A. Tsygankov, editor of the Politika Karelii website, for publishing a report about a round-table conference of public organisations in Petrozavodsk that discussed opportunities for residents to influence local power’s decision-making process. City leaders feel free to mismanage municipal assets in ways that damage city-dwellers’ interests, conferees said.

Naturally, those conclusions were based on real facts, among them an old scandal around the lease of the Karelia-Market trade centre building in downtown Petrozavodsk to a prominent local businessman for 49 years at just a nominal rate. That episode was recalled particularly because the same businessman today is looking for ways of privatising the trade centre on beneficial terms, and Petrozavodsk Mayor N. Levin is helping him do that, as indicated by a bill he has sent to parliament for approval, which concerns three of the capital’s trade and entertainment facilities, including Karelia-Market. That is why public activists, suspecting an unlawful scheme being plotted behind the scenes, offered strong resistance to the mayoral initiative.

The report posted on the Politika Karelii website in the wake of the round table cited excerpts from conferees’ speeches and listed the issues under discussion, among them the proposed privatisation of the trade centre by businessmen D. Alikhanov turned deputy speaker of Karelia’s parliament. Finding the publication libellous and damaging to his honour and dignity, Alikhanov demanded that a disclaimer of two passages of the report be posted on the same website, and that its editor pay him 200,000 roubles in moral damages. A court of law accepted his legal claim for scrutiny.

 

Communist leader in Chita awarded 80,000 roubles in moral damages from Vechorka newspaper and its editor

By Marina Meteleva, GDF correspondent in Siberian Federal District

The civil law chamber of the Trans-Baikal regional court has partially amended and extended a decision of the Chernovsky district court in Chita that partially satisfied two legal claims lodged by the regional Communist party (CPRF) branch and its leader Sergei Suturin against Vladimir Pranitsky, editor and publisher of the evening newspaper Vechorka. According to court spokeswoman Victoria Mikhailyuk, “The court found untrue and damaging to the plaintiff’s honour, dignity and business reputation the Trans-Baikal communist leader’s description as ‘a 21st–century collaborationist’, ‘CPRF scapegoat 2nd grade’, and ‘a limb of the Devil’, as well as the statement, ‘The rallies and marches organised by the CPRF in Chita look more like gay parades somewhere in Luxembourg’. The defendant is to pay 30,000 roubles to Suturin, and 50,000 to the regional CPRF committee, in moral damages, and to publish a disclaimer in his newspaper.”

The Vechorka editor challenged that ruling, saying those characteristics are neither libellous nor damaging to the plaintiff’s reputation – they are the author’s subjective judgments as well as criticism, which international law allows in respect of any political parties and government executives. The civil law chamber contended that those judgments were insulting in their form, as were a few other statements, which the regional judges added to the list of those found derogatory by the first-instance court. The amount of moral damage compensation payable by Pranitsky to Suturin and the CPRF branch was left unchanged.

Also, the chamber required the defendant to publish a disclaimer reading as follows: “The Chernovsky district court in Chita has satisfied a legal claim in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation, lodged by Sergei V. Suturin and the Trans-Baikal regional CPRF committee.” Evidently, the laconism of the message can be explained by the court’s desire to prevent the newspaper from repeating the above-mentioned “insulting” phrases once again.

 

Print media crisis-stricken in Khabarovsk Region

By Olga Vassilyeva, GDF correspondent in Far Eastern Federal District

Six Khabarovsk-based media have carried an open letter to Governor Vyacheslav Shport, in which Grand Express Publishers’ General Director Stanislav Glukhov, who is also a Board member at the Far Eastern Association of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, draws government and media attention to the deplorable situation in which the print media have been finding themselves in Khabarovsk.

As pointed out in the letter, a scheme devised by a group of persons has resulted in the actual seizure of the press-distributing company OAO Soyuzpechat. To attain their goal, a group of shareholders – acting secretly, without notifying the others – replaced Soyuzpechat’s management in March, and in May, appealed to a court of law to pronounce the company insolvent, i.e., bankrupt. In the process, Soyuzpechat lost its assets – a building of 2,500 sq. m in area, and two non-residential premises. To crush the unwanted competitor completely, the plotters urgently established a new company, OOO Soyuzpechat Torg, as a successor to the allegedly bankrupt previous company, for the publishers to settle their scores with from now on.

“The situation in the print media market in Khabarovsk has worsened to a point of a crisis,” the letter says. “OAO Soyuzpechat, on the pretext of a dispute among its stockholders, has ceased paying us for newspapers and magazines, which means it has sought to stifle us financially while also restricting the people’s right to be informed, guaranteed under Article 29 of the RF Constitution. Moreover, attempts are being made to present a thriving monopoly-holder with an 80-year history as a complete bankrupt.”

Among other negative consequences of the scheme, the letter mentions steps taken by the Soyuzpechat Torg management with a view to disrupting the normal operation of the press distribution system and stopping any payments to publishers altogether for the products they supply. Local publishers are very much concerned over OAO Soyuzpechat’s steering toward insolvency and thereby dooming the media to serious financial losses. Their concerns are shared by the largest federal publishers, as well as city residents who have stopped receiving print media products in sufficient volumes.

Moscow’s Print Media Distributors’ Association (ARPP) has come out in support of the publishing community in Khabarovsk by making public a statement expressing the hope that the regional authorities will pay due attention to the alarming situation and take steps to improve it. “Since what we see as unlawful treatment of OAO Soyuzpechat deals a serious blow not only to Khabarovsk publishers but also to their colleagues at federal level as well as readers throughout Russia,” the statement says, “we hereby urge the RF Prosecutor General’s Office, the RF Interior Ministry, the RF Ministry of Mass Communications and the Federal Agency for the Press and Public Communications to protect OAO Soyuzpechat in Khabarovsk and all media market players in Russia from this kind of unlawful actions.”

 

City of Slobodskoy loses its local TV network

By Anzhelika Korobeinikova, Kirov Region

The city of Slobodskoy’s sole TV company, SKAT, has been denied the opportunity to air its broadcasts since late April. Part of the city population has been left without television at all (federal TV channels have been shut off, too).

The reasons are as follows. In the late 2000s Andrei Boltachev, a businessman and chief editor of the local TV channel SKAT, leased out the abandoned, dilapidated building of a local cinema. Its management suggested he renovated the building at his own expense, and the costs he incurred in the process would be written off as rent payments. That oral arrangement did not work out, though: good relationships with the management were lost with time, and all renovation costs were left to be borne by the businessman alone. A series of trials followed, none of which found in favour of Boltachev, who, as chief editor of SKAT and the SKAT-INFO newspaper, happened to be desperately at odds with, and much disfavoured by, the local authorities.

In April this year, the cable networks of one of the city operators via which SKAT was broadcasting began to be damaged heavily, with whole lengths of cable cut out and carried away. At about the same time, the transmitter was stolen from the central TV station, leaving SKAT unable to beam its programmes to viewers.

Company staffers appealed for support to colleagues from regional media, but few offered to help. Most of them said in private conversations they had been ordered “not to dare publish any reports whatever about this”.

What we have today, actually, are a few damaged cable networks that have been purchased by another operator (unrelated to MP/businessman/chief editor Boltachev) and the absence of television in many apartments across the city. Investigative Committee officers have carried out an investigation under Article 144 of the RF Criminal Code (“Interference with a journalist’s lawful professional activities”) after unidentified persons broke a SKAT television camera as a crew of reporters went to shoot a report about yet another length of TV cable cut out. The investigators declined to start criminal proceedings, but the case is still under review by the prosecutor’s office, which leaves at least some chance the perpetrators will be punished. However, all prosecutor inspections so far have proceeded very slowly and often superficially.

The local authorities may well have their own reasons to treat Boltachev as negatively as they do. But all that must not afflict the interests of thousands of ordinary city dwellers. Any attempts to ruin and destroy SKAT by methods like these are against the law. Whatever the reasons for this persecution campaign, it inflicts suffering, in the first place, on ordinary TV viewers and journalists who are compelled to wage everyday struggle for the opportunity to go on the air.

 

OUR CONTRIBUTORS

Speaker of Karelian parliament determined to re-write federal Media Law?

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

Deputies of Karelia’s Legislative Assembly are dissatisfied with the way the budget-financed media cover parliamentary activities. As it is, the bulk of budget allocations for media coverage of state power’s performance are spent on government PR. Having studied the situation at close quarters, parliament has demanded dividing the air time on TV and the newspaper page space with the government fifty-fifty.

The two entities financed from the republican treasury are the Republic of Karelia’s News Agency (IARK) and the Sampo Television Company. The latter’s performance strikes MPs as generally satisfactory, while the print media’s editorial policy seems unacceptable to them. IARK issues two newspapers – Karelia and Karelia-Moy Petrozavodsk (KMP) – and is a co-founder of 18 district newspapers. Deputies complained those district newspapers do not feature any reports at all about parliamentary activities. Besides, they said, KMP writes mostly about the government.

Parliamentary Speaker Vladimir Semyonov, addressing a meeting of newspaper editors, spoke unfavourably about KMP (a city newspaper distributed to readers free of charge) and insisted that, as long as it receives budgetary donations, it should not carry any negative reports about Legislative Assembly deputies. Some district newspaper editors cautiously reminded him that the federal Media Law gives the editors a free hand to determine their information policy, and that any outside interference constitutes censorship, pure and simple. Parliamentarians somehow failed to take notice of that remark, focusing instead on the issue of air time and newspaper space division between parliament and government.

Under the existing agreement between IARK and the district media, each local newspaper shall devote half a page in each of its issues to materials contributed by the government press service, receiving on average up to 37,000 roubles per quarter in budgetary donations for the purpose; all the district newspapers have invariably complied with this arrangement.

“It doesn’t matter to us how you divide the newspaper space between parliament and government,” Novaya Ladoga chief editor Larisa Kokko said addressing the MPs. “You should understand that newspapers earn a living independently.” To illustrate this point, she cited statistics showing that her newspaper’s annual costs amount to 2 million roubles, whereas the government order brings in only 140,000 roubles. Her colleague from the Oloniya newspaper, Yelena Yeroshkina, added that if a budgetary donation were broken down per publication, each government-ordered article would appear to bring the newspaper about 10,000 roubles; if the same space were devoted to commercial ads, the newspaper would earn more – up to 17,000 roubles – which amount it might collect from the advertisers at once, without the need to wait for three months until the quarterly payment is disbursed. Yeroshkina agreed with Kokko that it would be naïve to regard budget allocations as “media maintenance money”, because many media outlets have long learned to earn money independently. She could not help reproaching municipal executive power for being in no hurry to fulfil its financial obligations as a co-founder. For example, she said, of the 200,000 roubles that should have been transferred to Oloniya’s bank account last year, only 17,000 roubles were transferred in real terms, and nothing at all over the first half of this year.

What’s this debate all about, one may wonder on hearing those revelations. The district newspapers earn money independently and frantically struggle for survival, while carrying out their contractual obligations in full. Hadn’t MPs and the government better forget for a while about dividing newspaper spaces and perhaps offer the newspapers some extra pay when renewing existing agreements with them?

Since IARK consumes the lion’s share of Karelia’s budget allocations in support of the media (42 million out of a total of 70 million roubles), discussion participants suggested checking up how efficiently that money is used. The parliamentary conference ended in orders for the Legislative Assembly’s press service to draft a schedule of publications that the state-supported media pledged to accurately observe. MP V. Krasulin’s suggestion on scrapping donations to specific newspapers altogether and adopting a system of bidding for the right to publish official information, which would involve the conclusion of commercial contracts with the best bidders, was not tabled for discussion.

 

NEWS FROM PARTNERS

ARTICLE 19, Media Rights Defence Centre launch media support programme in North Caucasus

By Roman Zholud, GDF correspondent in Central Federal District

The international organisation ARTICLE 19, in co-operation with the Media Rights Defence Centre and other organisations, hereby announce a programme of legal support for media and journalists in the North Caucasus.

The group of co-sponsors includes the Glasnost Defence Foundation, the RF Journalists’ Union and the Regional Media Rights Defence Centre in Dagestan. Implementation of the programme will enable North Caucasian media representatives to receive comprehensive legal support in their professional activities.

A series of training seminars will be held, including some based on the experience of journalist rights protection in Mexico. Programme events will focus on different aspects of legal, physical and psychological defence of media workers, and ways of raising the level of their legal awareness. Also, workshops will be organised that will aim to improve the quality of professional journalistic work; those will target web-based media in the first place.

Media lawyers in the North Caucasus will be offered internship courses at the Media Rights Defence Centre. Regional media and journalists will be able to participate in webinars and receive online consulting on legal matters. They will be shown documentary films dedicated to freedom of expression and journalists who gave their lives for it. Post-show discussions will involve journalists from the leading Russian media. Also, the organisers will co-sponsor a Moscow conference on media freedom issues in the North Caucasus.

The organisers will use the database “Media Conflicts in Russia” to monitor instances of pressure on regional journalists and media and provide consulting and legal support at their request. Based on the monitoring results, reports will be prepared on journalist rights violations in the North Caucasus, to be submitted for discussion at OSCE, UN and EU conferences.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights watchdog organisation defending freedom of expression worldwide. It is named after Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees freedom of expression to all.

 

RF Journalists’ Union, Central House of Journalists to host international journalistic festival in October

The RF Journalists’ Union and the Guild of Russian Filmmakers will hold the 4th International Festival “Profession: Journalist” at Moscow’s House of Journalists (8a, Nikitsky Boulevard) on October 15-20.

The goal is to popularise and enhance the prestige of the journalist’s profession, discuss its role in modern society and encourage authors to write more about journalists.

The festival will include a contest/info programme of feature films, documentaries and TV stories and reports about journalism and journalists made in 2010-2012, to which everyone is invited to contribute.

The works submitted for the contest will be evaluated by a professional jury panel. The winners will receive valuable prizes and special diplomas.

We hereby invite you to present films/TV stories/reports on journalism and journalists for showing during the festival.

For further details about the festival, click on www.journfest.ru

Sincerely, I.Y.Stepanov, Director, Central House of Journalists

Coordinator: Natalia Titova, tel.: (+7 495) 691-0987, tel./fax: (+7 495) 695-5396

 

This digest was prepared by the Glasnost Defence Foundation in Moscow. The digest has been issued once a week, on Mondays, since August 11, 2000.

Currently it is distributed by e-mail to 1,600 subscribers in and outside Russia.

Editorial board

  • Editor-in-chief, Alexei Simonov
  • Boris Timoshenko, Head of Monitoring Service;
  • Svetlana Zemskova, GDF Lawyer;
  • Vsevolod Shelkhovskoy, translator.

We welcome the promotion of our news items and articles but if you make use of any information from this digest or other GDF materials please acknowledge the source.

Contacts:

Glasnost Defence Foundation, Room 432, 4 Zubovsky Boulevard,
119992 Moscow, Russia.

Telephone/fax: +7 (495) 637-4947 and +7 (495) 637-4420
e-mail: boris@gdf.ru , or 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