Daily Archives: January 17, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent in Russia . . . and in Fact, maybe you’re still guilty even then

The picture at the left adorned the front page of the Moscow Times website on Tuesday. It’s a picture of VIP Bank Chief Alexei Frenkel (well, a picture of his suit jacket, anyway, he’s the one behind bars), who according to the MT had just been arrested “on suspicion of organizing the murder of Andrei Kozlov, formerly the Central Bank’s second-highest ranking official. Frenkel’s arrest comes three days after that of Liana Askerova,who was charged Friday with involvement in the Sept. 13 killing.”

Now don’t be confused: The picture was not taken in a Moscow jail, but in a Moscow courtroom. You see, when you are accused of a crime in Russia you stand before the court behind bars, guilty until proven innocent . . . and maybe not even then.

One can’t help but remark upon the wonderful convenience of it all. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the Kremlin didn’t care for Andrei Kozlov. Let’s say, for instance, that he was a crusading politico trying to clean corruption out of Russia’s banking sector, and the oligarchs close to “President” Vladmir Putin didn’t care for that much. So they kill him. But the fun doesn’t stop there.

After they’ve killed him, you see, then they’ve got a perfect excuse to arrest other people they don’t like and charge them with the crime. Of course, if they can’t find anybody they don’t like because they’ve already killed most of them, then they can simply pick somebody at random. In the worst case scenario, they can use the court system to cover their tracks; in the best case, they kill two jailbirds with one stone.

Isn’t it romantic?

Guilty Until Proven Innocent in Russia . . . and in Fact, maybe you’re still guilty even then

The picture at the left adorned the front page of the Moscow Times website on Tuesday. It’s a picture of VIP Bank Chief Alexei Frenkel (well, a picture of his suit jacket, anyway, he’s the one behind bars), who according to the MT had just been arrested “on suspicion of organizing the murder of Andrei Kozlov, formerly the Central Bank’s second-highest ranking official. Frenkel’s arrest comes three days after that of Liana Askerova,who was charged Friday with involvement in the Sept. 13 killing.”

Now don’t be confused: The picture was not taken in a Moscow jail, but in a Moscow courtroom. You see, when you are accused of a crime in Russia you stand before the court behind bars, guilty until proven innocent . . . and maybe not even then.

One can’t help but remark upon the wonderful convenience of it all. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the Kremlin didn’t care for Andrei Kozlov. Let’s say, for instance, that he was a crusading politico trying to clean corruption out of Russia’s banking sector, and the oligarchs close to “President” Vladmir Putin didn’t care for that much. So they kill him. But the fun doesn’t stop there.

After they’ve killed him, you see, then they’ve got a perfect excuse to arrest other people they don’t like and charge them with the crime. Of course, if they can’t find anybody they don’t like because they’ve already killed most of them, then they can simply pick somebody at random. In the worst case scenario, they can use the court system to cover their tracks; in the best case, they kill two jailbirds with one stone.

Isn’t it romantic?

Guilty Until Proven Innocent in Russia . . . and in Fact, maybe you’re still guilty even then

The picture at the left adorned the front page of the Moscow Times website on Tuesday. It’s a picture of VIP Bank Chief Alexei Frenkel (well, a picture of his suit jacket, anyway, he’s the one behind bars), who according to the MT had just been arrested “on suspicion of organizing the murder of Andrei Kozlov, formerly the Central Bank’s second-highest ranking official. Frenkel’s arrest comes three days after that of Liana Askerova,who was charged Friday with involvement in the Sept. 13 killing.”

Now don’t be confused: The picture was not taken in a Moscow jail, but in a Moscow courtroom. You see, when you are accused of a crime in Russia you stand before the court behind bars, guilty until proven innocent . . . and maybe not even then.

One can’t help but remark upon the wonderful convenience of it all. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the Kremlin didn’t care for Andrei Kozlov. Let’s say, for instance, that he was a crusading politico trying to clean corruption out of Russia’s banking sector, and the oligarchs close to “President” Vladmir Putin didn’t care for that much. So they kill him. But the fun doesn’t stop there.

After they’ve killed him, you see, then they’ve got a perfect excuse to arrest other people they don’t like and charge them with the crime. Of course, if they can’t find anybody they don’t like because they’ve already killed most of them, then they can simply pick somebody at random. In the worst case scenario, they can use the court system to cover their tracks; in the best case, they kill two jailbirds with one stone.

Isn’t it romantic?

Guilty Until Proven Innocent in Russia . . . and in Fact, maybe you’re still guilty even then

The picture at the left adorned the front page of the Moscow Times website on Tuesday. It’s a picture of VIP Bank Chief Alexei Frenkel (well, a picture of his suit jacket, anyway, he’s the one behind bars), who according to the MT had just been arrested “on suspicion of organizing the murder of Andrei Kozlov, formerly the Central Bank’s second-highest ranking official. Frenkel’s arrest comes three days after that of Liana Askerova,who was charged Friday with involvement in the Sept. 13 killing.”

Now don’t be confused: The picture was not taken in a Moscow jail, but in a Moscow courtroom. You see, when you are accused of a crime in Russia you stand before the court behind bars, guilty until proven innocent . . . and maybe not even then.

One can’t help but remark upon the wonderful convenience of it all. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the Kremlin didn’t care for Andrei Kozlov. Let’s say, for instance, that he was a crusading politico trying to clean corruption out of Russia’s banking sector, and the oligarchs close to “President” Vladmir Putin didn’t care for that much. So they kill him. But the fun doesn’t stop there.

After they’ve killed him, you see, then they’ve got a perfect excuse to arrest other people they don’t like and charge them with the crime. Of course, if they can’t find anybody they don’t like because they’ve already killed most of them, then they can simply pick somebody at random. In the worst case scenario, they can use the court system to cover their tracks; in the best case, they kill two jailbirds with one stone.

Isn’t it romantic?

Guilty Until Proven Innocent in Russia . . . and in Fact, maybe you’re still guilty even then

The picture at the left adorned the front page of the Moscow Times website on Tuesday. It’s a picture of VIP Bank Chief Alexei Frenkel (well, a picture of his suit jacket, anyway, he’s the one behind bars), who according to the MT had just been arrested “on suspicion of organizing the murder of Andrei Kozlov, formerly the Central Bank’s second-highest ranking official. Frenkel’s arrest comes three days after that of Liana Askerova,who was charged Friday with involvement in the Sept. 13 killing.”

Now don’t be confused: The picture was not taken in a Moscow jail, but in a Moscow courtroom. You see, when you are accused of a crime in Russia you stand before the court behind bars, guilty until proven innocent . . . and maybe not even then.

One can’t help but remark upon the wonderful convenience of it all. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the Kremlin didn’t care for Andrei Kozlov. Let’s say, for instance, that he was a crusading politico trying to clean corruption out of Russia’s banking sector, and the oligarchs close to “President” Vladmir Putin didn’t care for that much. So they kill him. But the fun doesn’t stop there.

After they’ve killed him, you see, then they’ve got a perfect excuse to arrest other people they don’t like and charge them with the crime. Of course, if they can’t find anybody they don’t like because they’ve already killed most of them, then they can simply pick somebody at random. In the worst case scenario, they can use the court system to cover their tracks; in the best case, they kill two jailbirds with one stone.

Isn’t it romantic?

Is the big bad Pooty-Poot Wolf Afraid of Little Red Riding Lukashenko?

The Carnegie Center’s Nikolai Petro says he is, writing in the Moscow Times:

The main focus in post-Soviet politics in recent weeks has been intense personal conflict between President Vladimir Putin and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Although the conflict has only now degenerated into an open public conflict, the underlying causes have existed for some time. There are two explanations as to why problems have erupted now. One is that the Kremlin finally lost patience with Lukashenko’s constant insolence. The second is that Russian leaders want to eliminate this obstacle now, before Putin’s successor comes to power.

A combination of these two theories lets us view this conflict through the prism of the struggle for power in Russia. President Boris Yeltsin first suggested a Belarus-Russia union in an effort to boost his chances for re-election in 1996. The idea gained new impetus ahead of the 2000 election, and the accompanying prospect of transferring power to Yeltsin’s successor and a number of different approaches to unification were considered.

Putin won both in 2000 and 2004, and we now stand on the eve of a new election and the transfer of power from a strong and popular president to someone else. There is an absence of any politicians independent of the Kremlin who can contend seriously for the presidency. Time is also running out for the promotion of new candidates, so the shortlist of hopefuls for the office will soon be effectively closed. Everything seems to be under control.

Lukashenko, who could come out in favor of reviving the unification project and present himself as a candidate to head the coalition of anti-Western powers, is the only remaining loose end. He has a positive image with many Russians, particularly with those in the regions. Lukashenko built a socialist-oriented government, preserved Soviet-era industry and agriculture, held corruption in check, spoke his mind to Western powers and hasn’t been unduly influenced by oligarchs.

A Belarus-Russia union would seem to be unfeasible, given the enormous difference in the economic potentials of the two countries and the differences in the form of their governments. Political elites in Moscow can’t imagine themselves being placed on the same footing as those in Minsk, and can’t think of Belarus becoming anything more than a Russian region. When Tatarstan declared in the mid-1990s that it would demand special status if Belarus were granted a special arrangement within Russia, it demonstrated just how problematic this would be.

Having had a taste of sovereignty, Belarus would never be willing to relinquish it under any leader. So the only possible chance for the union would be if the leader of the smaller country, Belarus, ended up as the leader of both.

Putin already has two semi-official successors who, with the help of huge PR campaigns, lead all other possible candidates in political popularity ratings.

Lukashenko can’t seriously be considered as a competitor for Putin, and this is part of the cause of the personal enmity he feels toward his Russian colleague. Under Putin’s patronage, nevertheless, Lukashenko has also been protected from the emergence of any serious contender for the presidency of Belarus. But Lukashenko is a strong and experienced populist politician who can generate popularity with far fewer resources at hand than those available to Putin. He can compete effectively for popularity — and not just in Belarus — and would have a real advantage over any newcomer emerging from under Putin’s wing.

During the Yeltsin era, Lukashenko was perceived as a strong and popular candidate among Russia’s political elite. He constantly traveled throughout Russia, establishing direct contacts with regional leaders. The contrast between Lukashenko and the less agile and less popular Yeltsin was striking, provoking Yeltsin’s jealousy. And although the Kremlin ultimately prohibited Lukashenko from traveling around Russia, the contacts he made still exist. To this day, Minsk willingly plays host to Russian leaders, including those from the regions.

Of course, little mention is made of Lukashenko’s popularity among both the general population and political elites in Russia, but evidence that it exists can be seen in the current conflict and the reactions from powerful politicians within nationalist and Communist blocs. The reactions are not anti-Putin; they are pro-Lukashenko.

Even with the most recent energy agreement, this logic would suggest that the conflict will continue and will be a fight to the death. It can end only with the humiliation and open failure of one of the two political opponents.

Russian Racism Strikes Again!

The Moscow Times reports:

A 21-year-old anti-skinhead activist was stabbed repeatedly Sunday evening in St. Petersburg in an apparent attack by extremists.

Ivan Yelin was taken to the intensive care unit of St. Petersburg Hospital No. 26, where his condition was described as critical.

Yelin, who had been stabbed 20 times, sustained wounds to his liver, kidney and other areas, suffering massive blood loss.

The St. Petersburg prosecutor’s office has opened a criminal case, labeling the attack attempted murder. No suspects have been detained.

Anti-skinhead activists are convinced that local ultranationalists were behind the attack.

“Members of skinhead gangs routinely show up at anti-fascist and human rights meetings,” said Ruslan Linkov, head of the group Democratic Russia. “Ultranationalists take photographs of the participants and also follow human rights activists to their homes.”

Prior to the attack, Yelin had been taking part in a humanitarian initiative, Food, Not Bombs, providing homeless people with food outside the Vladimirskaya metro station in the center of the city.

Oleg, who was also at Food, Not Bombs and asked that his real name not be used out of concern for his safety, said that on Sunday, “Ivan was more noticeable than the others. He was putting food into bowls and giving it to people. Naturally, he drew more attention.”

Oleg added that after the event, most volunteers went to a rock concert at a nearby club, but Yelin went home by himself, “making him an obvious target.”

Sunday’s attack has parallels with the November 2005 attack on Timur Kacharava, an anti-skinhead activist stabbed to death outside a book store in the city center. The attack followed a Food, Not Bombs event.

Violence directed against foreigners and ethnic minorities has prompted some activists to consider stopping their demonstrations for a more open and tolerant Russia.

Not only do activists fear being attacked by skinheads, they say, they also contend that they are treated with a mixture of suspicion tinged with hostility by police. Meanwhile, they add, political leaders and the public at large seem indifferent to their cause.

Activists find that extremists and police often outnumber them at their own rallies.

“We have to face it: Ordinary citizens prefer to stay away from human-rights or anti-fascist meetings,” said Iosif Skakovsky of the human rights group Memorial. “It does not help things that the authorities and law enforcement agencies, both on the local and federal level, have demonstrated an outrageous lack of leadership and seem content with being in a state of denial about hate crimes.”

Said Oleg: “More and more of us are strongly considering giving up the fight. I have personally been attacked by skinheads, who kicked me in the head with their heavy boots.”

He added: “It is not the fear of physical attack that makes me doubtful about defending the cause. Rather, it is our failure to make a difference in the minds of ordinary Russians that is most frustrating.”

On Russia’s Doomed Media Establishment

Writing in Vedomosti and republished in the Moscow Times Mikhail Fedotov, the head of Russia’s UNESCO intellectual property department and the secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, documents the dark days of neo-Soviet media in Russia:

The fact that Old Russian New Year and National Media Day both fall on Jan. 13 is no coincidence. It is deeply symbolic. On the day before passing a new mass media law in December 1999, the Russian Supreme Soviet chose the day because it was the date of the first edition of the newspaper Vedomosti in 1703.

The date for the old holiday, May 5, was problematic, as Russian journalism was born long before Pravda and it was the creators of that very paper that had destroyed freedom of the press in Russia. The new holiday was not to signify the party orientation of the media, but their freedom and independence.

Later, in the 1990s, the authorities started to get friendly with the press. It teamed up with it against the Soviet regime, then in support of reforms and, finally, simply out of habit. “Be honest and open,” President Boris Yeltsin told a news conference in June 1993. “Remember that freedom originates in the freedom of the press. It is no exaggeration that the freedom of our society depends on it.”

Whether or not Yeltsin believed what he said, the generous gestures with which the authorities treated journalists and, therefore, newspaper readers, television viewers and radio listeners were grounds for optimism: the passage of a mass media law that was “one of the most liberal in the world”; a professional holiday accompanied by bonuses, grants, honors and titles; direct subsidies for the press, including private and even opposition outlets; tax, customs and other privileges for all media outlets except those devoted to erotica and advertising; and preferential treatment for editorial staff in the privatization of printing and publishing assets.

This, alas, is all in the past. What is left is a mass media law reminiscent of a shot up flag still flying over a buckling, but not yet broken barricade. Journalists still get bonuses and grants, and those receiving them deserve them, no doubt, but you won’t find among them any uncompromising critics of the regime.

Government agencies remain involved in the media sphere and, as was the case before, they often have little idea of what they are doing. The new facts of life require a change in name, so the State Inspectorate for the Protection of the Freedom of the Press is now the Federal Service for Media Law Compliance and Cultural Heritage. You might take from this that freedom of the press is now protected as part of cultural heritage, though it would never occur to a journalist to seek the help of the service when their rights, as enshrined in the media law, are violated by governors, mayors and the police, or the founders, editors or distributors of their publications.

But there is still much in the media law that is worth fighting for and it would be a mistake not to focus on the service if its very function is to monitor compliance with media law.

The media law is our proud and tattered flag. Last year, it was it was used for the fight against extremism and terrorism.

First of all, the definition of extremist activities was broadened. In fact, it was broadened beyond reasonable limits and to the point that it drew the attention of the Federation Council. Nonetheless, nothing was done to correct the mistake.

Second, some of the provisions from existing anti-terrorism law and governing coverage were forced into the new measure. This was taken to such an extreme that any media outlet can be closed not only if one of its journalists breaks the rules set out to regulate coverage of counter-terrorist operations, but even if no regulations for the gathering of information were defined by the head of the operation in question.

Another danger from the legislative side is the toughening of a number of measures regarding coverage of the upcoming State Duma election. The prohibition of criticism of opponents on television by candidates and their agents, using a measure in the 2003 law that allows the suspension of broadcasts by repeat offenders vis-a-vis election law, is still feasible.

This could all simply end up in the Constitutional Court. In the fall of 2003, the court agreed that all investigations in such cases should be carried out after elections had been completed, laying out quite clearly and firmly the regulations in play concerning basic guarantees of voters’ rights. “Activities not intended to induce voters to vote for or against a particular candidate, meaning that they are not designed to affect the concrete results of the election, cannot be considered pre-election campaigning,” the court ruled. This precludes legal responsibility on the part of journalists and editors, but this ruling was handed down almost four years ago.

The wonderful gift to voters for this year’s holiday was a new article in the Civil Code, No. 1521, which calls for the protection of people’s images. Coming on the heels of hysterical calls for photographers to be prohibited from taking pictures even of show business stars without their agreement because they feel they are in a compromising position, poor company or simply having a bad makeup day, the Duma’s new proposal is unlikely to shock admirers of self-censorship. There were three general exceptions to the prohibition against using photos or video of someone without his or her agreement, the most important of which states that permission is not necessary if “the image used is of state, social or some public interest.” Therefore, if you publish a photograph of a famous artist in a newspaper, for example, this is legal. If you put it on a product package, however, it is outside the law.

But the exception shouldn’t lead us to get happy prematurely. Don’t forget that the Culture and Press Ministry has embarked on preparing a collection of changes to media law to be submitted for government consideration in the first quarter of 2007. A version of the proposals I saw one year ago put everything clearly enough: “It is necessary to review the state of laws regulating the responsibilities of news outlets, strengthen the procedures for the accreditation of such outlets and in the general principles and regulations concerning the activities of media representatives in the event of terrorist acts and counter-terrorist operations. New types of mass media like web sites must be regulated, and current market conditions should be addressed in the strengthening of regulations governing the concentration of mass media assets.”

In other words, we’re talking about a fundamental reform to media law. The question is: Why is this necessary if the president is praising the old law and the deputy prime minister has not only promised loudly not to touch it, but also to defend it in every possible way. We all know that the draughts in the corridors of power shift quickly. So my advice to journalists is even if roses are growing on Moscow’s streets tomorrow, it would be best to dress warmly and not forget to wear your galoshes. The election is approaching, fast.

Perhaps the only comforting note is an initiative proposed by the St. Petersburg Union of Journalists and supported by Governor Valentina Matviyenko, which would provide reporters working in the field with special vests with the word “Press” on them in two languages, so that it is perfectly clear to police breaking up the latest demonstration that they are beating up journalists. After all, if you don’t know your enemy by his face, it helps if you can identify him by his vest.

On Russia’s Doomed Media Establishment

Writing in Vedomosti and republished in the Moscow Times Mikhail Fedotov, the head of Russia’s UNESCO intellectual property department and the secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, documents the dark days of neo-Soviet media in Russia:

The fact that Old Russian New Year and National Media Day both fall on Jan. 13 is no coincidence. It is deeply symbolic. On the day before passing a new mass media law in December 1999, the Russian Supreme Soviet chose the day because it was the date of the first edition of the newspaper Vedomosti in 1703.

The date for the old holiday, May 5, was problematic, as Russian journalism was born long before Pravda and it was the creators of that very paper that had destroyed freedom of the press in Russia. The new holiday was not to signify the party orientation of the media, but their freedom and independence.

Later, in the 1990s, the authorities started to get friendly with the press. It teamed up with it against the Soviet regime, then in support of reforms and, finally, simply out of habit. “Be honest and open,” President Boris Yeltsin told a news conference in June 1993. “Remember that freedom originates in the freedom of the press. It is no exaggeration that the freedom of our society depends on it.”

Whether or not Yeltsin believed what he said, the generous gestures with which the authorities treated journalists and, therefore, newspaper readers, television viewers and radio listeners were grounds for optimism: the passage of a mass media law that was “one of the most liberal in the world”; a professional holiday accompanied by bonuses, grants, honors and titles; direct subsidies for the press, including private and even opposition outlets; tax, customs and other privileges for all media outlets except those devoted to erotica and advertising; and preferential treatment for editorial staff in the privatization of printing and publishing assets.

This, alas, is all in the past. What is left is a mass media law reminiscent of a shot up flag still flying over a buckling, but not yet broken barricade. Journalists still get bonuses and grants, and those receiving them deserve them, no doubt, but you won’t find among them any uncompromising critics of the regime.

Government agencies remain involved in the media sphere and, as was the case before, they often have little idea of what they are doing. The new facts of life require a change in name, so the State Inspectorate for the Protection of the Freedom of the Press is now the Federal Service for Media Law Compliance and Cultural Heritage. You might take from this that freedom of the press is now protected as part of cultural heritage, though it would never occur to a journalist to seek the help of the service when their rights, as enshrined in the media law, are violated by governors, mayors and the police, or the founders, editors or distributors of their publications.

But there is still much in the media law that is worth fighting for and it would be a mistake not to focus on the service if its very function is to monitor compliance with media law.

The media law is our proud and tattered flag. Last year, it was it was used for the fight against extremism and terrorism.

First of all, the definition of extremist activities was broadened. In fact, it was broadened beyond reasonable limits and to the point that it drew the attention of the Federation Council. Nonetheless, nothing was done to correct the mistake.

Second, some of the provisions from existing anti-terrorism law and governing coverage were forced into the new measure. This was taken to such an extreme that any media outlet can be closed not only if one of its journalists breaks the rules set out to regulate coverage of counter-terrorist operations, but even if no regulations for the gathering of information were defined by the head of the operation in question.

Another danger from the legislative side is the toughening of a number of measures regarding coverage of the upcoming State Duma election. The prohibition of criticism of opponents on television by candidates and their agents, using a measure in the 2003 law that allows the suspension of broadcasts by repeat offenders vis-a-vis election law, is still feasible.

This could all simply end up in the Constitutional Court. In the fall of 2003, the court agreed that all investigations in such cases should be carried out after elections had been completed, laying out quite clearly and firmly the regulations in play concerning basic guarantees of voters’ rights. “Activities not intended to induce voters to vote for or against a particular candidate, meaning that they are not designed to affect the concrete results of the election, cannot be considered pre-election campaigning,” the court ruled. This precludes legal responsibility on the part of journalists and editors, but this ruling was handed down almost four years ago.

The wonderful gift to voters for this year’s holiday was a new article in the Civil Code, No. 1521, which calls for the protection of people’s images. Coming on the heels of hysterical calls for photographers to be prohibited from taking pictures even of show business stars without their agreement because they feel they are in a compromising position, poor company or simply having a bad makeup day, the Duma’s new proposal is unlikely to shock admirers of self-censorship. There were three general exceptions to the prohibition against using photos or video of someone without his or her agreement, the most important of which states that permission is not necessary if “the image used is of state, social or some public interest.” Therefore, if you publish a photograph of a famous artist in a newspaper, for example, this is legal. If you put it on a product package, however, it is outside the law.

But the exception shouldn’t lead us to get happy prematurely. Don’t forget that the Culture and Press Ministry has embarked on preparing a collection of changes to media law to be submitted for government consideration in the first quarter of 2007. A version of the proposals I saw one year ago put everything clearly enough: “It is necessary to review the state of laws regulating the responsibilities of news outlets, strengthen the procedures for the accreditation of such outlets and in the general principles and regulations concerning the activities of media representatives in the event of terrorist acts and counter-terrorist operations. New types of mass media like web sites must be regulated, and current market conditions should be addressed in the strengthening of regulations governing the concentration of mass media assets.”

In other words, we’re talking about a fundamental reform to media law. The question is: Why is this necessary if the president is praising the old law and the deputy prime minister has not only promised loudly not to touch it, but also to defend it in every possible way. We all know that the draughts in the corridors of power shift quickly. So my advice to journalists is even if roses are growing on Moscow’s streets tomorrow, it would be best to dress warmly and not forget to wear your galoshes. The election is approaching, fast.

Perhaps the only comforting note is an initiative proposed by the St. Petersburg Union of Journalists and supported by Governor Valentina Matviyenko, which would provide reporters working in the field with special vests with the word “Press” on them in two languages, so that it is perfectly clear to police breaking up the latest demonstration that they are beating up journalists. After all, if you don’t know your enemy by his face, it helps if you can identify him by his vest.

On Russia’s Doomed Media Establishment

Writing in Vedomosti and republished in the Moscow Times Mikhail Fedotov, the head of Russia’s UNESCO intellectual property department and the secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, documents the dark days of neo-Soviet media in Russia:

The fact that Old Russian New Year and National Media Day both fall on Jan. 13 is no coincidence. It is deeply symbolic. On the day before passing a new mass media law in December 1999, the Russian Supreme Soviet chose the day because it was the date of the first edition of the newspaper Vedomosti in 1703.

The date for the old holiday, May 5, was problematic, as Russian journalism was born long before Pravda and it was the creators of that very paper that had destroyed freedom of the press in Russia. The new holiday was not to signify the party orientation of the media, but their freedom and independence.

Later, in the 1990s, the authorities started to get friendly with the press. It teamed up with it against the Soviet regime, then in support of reforms and, finally, simply out of habit. “Be honest and open,” President Boris Yeltsin told a news conference in June 1993. “Remember that freedom originates in the freedom of the press. It is no exaggeration that the freedom of our society depends on it.”

Whether or not Yeltsin believed what he said, the generous gestures with which the authorities treated journalists and, therefore, newspaper readers, television viewers and radio listeners were grounds for optimism: the passage of a mass media law that was “one of the most liberal in the world”; a professional holiday accompanied by bonuses, grants, honors and titles; direct subsidies for the press, including private and even opposition outlets; tax, customs and other privileges for all media outlets except those devoted to erotica and advertising; and preferential treatment for editorial staff in the privatization of printing and publishing assets.

This, alas, is all in the past. What is left is a mass media law reminiscent of a shot up flag still flying over a buckling, but not yet broken barricade. Journalists still get bonuses and grants, and those receiving them deserve them, no doubt, but you won’t find among them any uncompromising critics of the regime.

Government agencies remain involved in the media sphere and, as was the case before, they often have little idea of what they are doing. The new facts of life require a change in name, so the State Inspectorate for the Protection of the Freedom of the Press is now the Federal Service for Media Law Compliance and Cultural Heritage. You might take from this that freedom of the press is now protected as part of cultural heritage, though it would never occur to a journalist to seek the help of the service when their rights, as enshrined in the media law, are violated by governors, mayors and the police, or the founders, editors or distributors of their publications.

But there is still much in the media law that is worth fighting for and it would be a mistake not to focus on the service if its very function is to monitor compliance with media law.

The media law is our proud and tattered flag. Last year, it was it was used for the fight against extremism and terrorism.

First of all, the definition of extremist activities was broadened. In fact, it was broadened beyond reasonable limits and to the point that it drew the attention of the Federation Council. Nonetheless, nothing was done to correct the mistake.

Second, some of the provisions from existing anti-terrorism law and governing coverage were forced into the new measure. This was taken to such an extreme that any media outlet can be closed not only if one of its journalists breaks the rules set out to regulate coverage of counter-terrorist operations, but even if no regulations for the gathering of information were defined by the head of the operation in question.

Another danger from the legislative side is the toughening of a number of measures regarding coverage of the upcoming State Duma election. The prohibition of criticism of opponents on television by candidates and their agents, using a measure in the 2003 law that allows the suspension of broadcasts by repeat offenders vis-a-vis election law, is still feasible.

This could all simply end up in the Constitutional Court. In the fall of 2003, the court agreed that all investigations in such cases should be carried out after elections had been completed, laying out quite clearly and firmly the regulations in play concerning basic guarantees of voters’ rights. “Activities not intended to induce voters to vote for or against a particular candidate, meaning that they are not designed to affect the concrete results of the election, cannot be considered pre-election campaigning,” the court ruled. This precludes legal responsibility on the part of journalists and editors, but this ruling was handed down almost four years ago.

The wonderful gift to voters for this year’s holiday was a new article in the Civil Code, No. 1521, which calls for the protection of people’s images. Coming on the heels of hysterical calls for photographers to be prohibited from taking pictures even of show business stars without their agreement because they feel they are in a compromising position, poor company or simply having a bad makeup day, the Duma’s new proposal is unlikely to shock admirers of self-censorship. There were three general exceptions to the prohibition against using photos or video of someone without his or her agreement, the most important of which states that permission is not necessary if “the image used is of state, social or some public interest.” Therefore, if you publish a photograph of a famous artist in a newspaper, for example, this is legal. If you put it on a product package, however, it is outside the law.

But the exception shouldn’t lead us to get happy prematurely. Don’t forget that the Culture and Press Ministry has embarked on preparing a collection of changes to media law to be submitted for government consideration in the first quarter of 2007. A version of the proposals I saw one year ago put everything clearly enough: “It is necessary to review the state of laws regulating the responsibilities of news outlets, strengthen the procedures for the accreditation of such outlets and in the general principles and regulations concerning the activities of media representatives in the event of terrorist acts and counter-terrorist operations. New types of mass media like web sites must be regulated, and current market conditions should be addressed in the strengthening of regulations governing the concentration of mass media assets.”

In other words, we’re talking about a fundamental reform to media law. The question is: Why is this necessary if the president is praising the old law and the deputy prime minister has not only promised loudly not to touch it, but also to defend it in every possible way. We all know that the draughts in the corridors of power shift quickly. So my advice to journalists is even if roses are growing on Moscow’s streets tomorrow, it would be best to dress warmly and not forget to wear your galoshes. The election is approaching, fast.

Perhaps the only comforting note is an initiative proposed by the St. Petersburg Union of Journalists and supported by Governor Valentina Matviyenko, which would provide reporters working in the field with special vests with the word “Press” on them in two languages, so that it is perfectly clear to police breaking up the latest demonstration that they are beating up journalists. After all, if you don’t know your enemy by his face, it helps if you can identify him by his vest.

On Russia’s Doomed Media Establishment

Writing in Vedomosti and republished in the Moscow Times Mikhail Fedotov, the head of Russia’s UNESCO intellectual property department and the secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, documents the dark days of neo-Soviet media in Russia:

The fact that Old Russian New Year and National Media Day both fall on Jan. 13 is no coincidence. It is deeply symbolic. On the day before passing a new mass media law in December 1999, the Russian Supreme Soviet chose the day because it was the date of the first edition of the newspaper Vedomosti in 1703.

The date for the old holiday, May 5, was problematic, as Russian journalism was born long before Pravda and it was the creators of that very paper that had destroyed freedom of the press in Russia. The new holiday was not to signify the party orientation of the media, but their freedom and independence.

Later, in the 1990s, the authorities started to get friendly with the press. It teamed up with it against the Soviet regime, then in support of reforms and, finally, simply out of habit. “Be honest and open,” President Boris Yeltsin told a news conference in June 1993. “Remember that freedom originates in the freedom of the press. It is no exaggeration that the freedom of our society depends on it.”

Whether or not Yeltsin believed what he said, the generous gestures with which the authorities treated journalists and, therefore, newspaper readers, television viewers and radio listeners were grounds for optimism: the passage of a mass media law that was “one of the most liberal in the world”; a professional holiday accompanied by bonuses, grants, honors and titles; direct subsidies for the press, including private and even opposition outlets; tax, customs and other privileges for all media outlets except those devoted to erotica and advertising; and preferential treatment for editorial staff in the privatization of printing and publishing assets.

This, alas, is all in the past. What is left is a mass media law reminiscent of a shot up flag still flying over a buckling, but not yet broken barricade. Journalists still get bonuses and grants, and those receiving them deserve them, no doubt, but you won’t find among them any uncompromising critics of the regime.

Government agencies remain involved in the media sphere and, as was the case before, they often have little idea of what they are doing. The new facts of life require a change in name, so the State Inspectorate for the Protection of the Freedom of the Press is now the Federal Service for Media Law Compliance and Cultural Heritage. You might take from this that freedom of the press is now protected as part of cultural heritage, though it would never occur to a journalist to seek the help of the service when their rights, as enshrined in the media law, are violated by governors, mayors and the police, or the founders, editors or distributors of their publications.

But there is still much in the media law that is worth fighting for and it would be a mistake not to focus on the service if its very function is to monitor compliance with media law.

The media law is our proud and tattered flag. Last year, it was it was used for the fight against extremism and terrorism.

First of all, the definition of extremist activities was broadened. In fact, it was broadened beyond reasonable limits and to the point that it drew the attention of the Federation Council. Nonetheless, nothing was done to correct the mistake.

Second, some of the provisions from existing anti-terrorism law and governing coverage were forced into the new measure. This was taken to such an extreme that any media outlet can be closed not only if one of its journalists breaks the rules set out to regulate coverage of counter-terrorist operations, but even if no regulations for the gathering of information were defined by the head of the operation in question.

Another danger from the legislative side is the toughening of a number of measures regarding coverage of the upcoming State Duma election. The prohibition of criticism of opponents on television by candidates and their agents, using a measure in the 2003 law that allows the suspension of broadcasts by repeat offenders vis-a-vis election law, is still feasible.

This could all simply end up in the Constitutional Court. In the fall of 2003, the court agreed that all investigations in such cases should be carried out after elections had been completed, laying out quite clearly and firmly the regulations in play concerning basic guarantees of voters’ rights. “Activities not intended to induce voters to vote for or against a particular candidate, meaning that they are not designed to affect the concrete results of the election, cannot be considered pre-election campaigning,” the court ruled. This precludes legal responsibility on the part of journalists and editors, but this ruling was handed down almost four years ago.

The wonderful gift to voters for this year’s holiday was a new article in the Civil Code, No. 1521, which calls for the protection of people’s images. Coming on the heels of hysterical calls for photographers to be prohibited from taking pictures even of show business stars without their agreement because they feel they are in a compromising position, poor company or simply having a bad makeup day, the Duma’s new proposal is unlikely to shock admirers of self-censorship. There were three general exceptions to the prohibition against using photos or video of someone without his or her agreement, the most important of which states that permission is not necessary if “the image used is of state, social or some public interest.” Therefore, if you publish a photograph of a famous artist in a newspaper, for example, this is legal. If you put it on a product package, however, it is outside the law.

But the exception shouldn’t lead us to get happy prematurely. Don’t forget that the Culture and Press Ministry has embarked on preparing a collection of changes to media law to be submitted for government consideration in the first quarter of 2007. A version of the proposals I saw one year ago put everything clearly enough: “It is necessary to review the state of laws regulating the responsibilities of news outlets, strengthen the procedures for the accreditation of such outlets and in the general principles and regulations concerning the activities of media representatives in the event of terrorist acts and counter-terrorist operations. New types of mass media like web sites must be regulated, and current market conditions should be addressed in the strengthening of regulations governing the concentration of mass media assets.”

In other words, we’re talking about a fundamental reform to media law. The question is: Why is this necessary if the president is praising the old law and the deputy prime minister has not only promised loudly not to touch it, but also to defend it in every possible way. We all know that the draughts in the corridors of power shift quickly. So my advice to journalists is even if roses are growing on Moscow’s streets tomorrow, it would be best to dress warmly and not forget to wear your galoshes. The election is approaching, fast.

Perhaps the only comforting note is an initiative proposed by the St. Petersburg Union of Journalists and supported by Governor Valentina Matviyenko, which would provide reporters working in the field with special vests with the word “Press” on them in two languages, so that it is perfectly clear to police breaking up the latest demonstration that they are beating up journalists. After all, if you don’t know your enemy by his face, it helps if you can identify him by his vest.

On Russia’s Doomed Media Establishment

Writing in Vedomosti and republished in the Moscow Times Mikhail Fedotov, the head of Russia’s UNESCO intellectual property department and the secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, documents the dark days of neo-Soviet media in Russia:

The fact that Old Russian New Year and National Media Day both fall on Jan. 13 is no coincidence. It is deeply symbolic. On the day before passing a new mass media law in December 1999, the Russian Supreme Soviet chose the day because it was the date of the first edition of the newspaper Vedomosti in 1703.

The date for the old holiday, May 5, was problematic, as Russian journalism was born long before Pravda and it was the creators of that very paper that had destroyed freedom of the press in Russia. The new holiday was not to signify the party orientation of the media, but their freedom and independence.

Later, in the 1990s, the authorities started to get friendly with the press. It teamed up with it against the Soviet regime, then in support of reforms and, finally, simply out of habit. “Be honest and open,” President Boris Yeltsin told a news conference in June 1993. “Remember that freedom originates in the freedom of the press. It is no exaggeration that the freedom of our society depends on it.”

Whether or not Yeltsin believed what he said, the generous gestures with which the authorities treated journalists and, therefore, newspaper readers, television viewers and radio listeners were grounds for optimism: the passage of a mass media law that was “one of the most liberal in the world”; a professional holiday accompanied by bonuses, grants, honors and titles; direct subsidies for the press, including private and even opposition outlets; tax, customs and other privileges for all media outlets except those devoted to erotica and advertising; and preferential treatment for editorial staff in the privatization of printing and publishing assets.

This, alas, is all in the past. What is left is a mass media law reminiscent of a shot up flag still flying over a buckling, but not yet broken barricade. Journalists still get bonuses and grants, and those receiving them deserve them, no doubt, but you won’t find among them any uncompromising critics of the regime.

Government agencies remain involved in the media sphere and, as was the case before, they often have little idea of what they are doing. The new facts of life require a change in name, so the State Inspectorate for the Protection of the Freedom of the Press is now the Federal Service for Media Law Compliance and Cultural Heritage. You might take from this that freedom of the press is now protected as part of cultural heritage, though it would never occur to a journalist to seek the help of the service when their rights, as enshrined in the media law, are violated by governors, mayors and the police, or the founders, editors or distributors of their publications.

But there is still much in the media law that is worth fighting for and it would be a mistake not to focus on the service if its very function is to monitor compliance with media law.

The media law is our proud and tattered flag. Last year, it was it was used for the fight against extremism and terrorism.

First of all, the definition of extremist activities was broadened. In fact, it was broadened beyond reasonable limits and to the point that it drew the attention of the Federation Council. Nonetheless, nothing was done to correct the mistake.

Second, some of the provisions from existing anti-terrorism law and governing coverage were forced into the new measure. This was taken to such an extreme that any media outlet can be closed not only if one of its journalists breaks the rules set out to regulate coverage of counter-terrorist operations, but even if no regulations for the gathering of information were defined by the head of the operation in question.

Another danger from the legislative side is the toughening of a number of measures regarding coverage of the upcoming State Duma election. The prohibition of criticism of opponents on television by candidates and their agents, using a measure in the 2003 law that allows the suspension of broadcasts by repeat offenders vis-a-vis election law, is still feasible.

This could all simply end up in the Constitutional Court. In the fall of 2003, the court agreed that all investigations in such cases should be carried out after elections had been completed, laying out quite clearly and firmly the regulations in play concerning basic guarantees of voters’ rights. “Activities not intended to induce voters to vote for or against a particular candidate, meaning that they are not designed to affect the concrete results of the election, cannot be considered pre-election campaigning,” the court ruled. This precludes legal responsibility on the part of journalists and editors, but this ruling was handed down almost four years ago.

The wonderful gift to voters for this year’s holiday was a new article in the Civil Code, No. 1521, which calls for the protection of people’s images. Coming on the heels of hysterical calls for photographers to be prohibited from taking pictures even of show business stars without their agreement because they feel they are in a compromising position, poor company or simply having a bad makeup day, the Duma’s new proposal is unlikely to shock admirers of self-censorship. There were three general exceptions to the prohibition against using photos or video of someone without his or her agreement, the most important of which states that permission is not necessary if “the image used is of state, social or some public interest.” Therefore, if you publish a photograph of a famous artist in a newspaper, for example, this is legal. If you put it on a product package, however, it is outside the law.

But the exception shouldn’t lead us to get happy prematurely. Don’t forget that the Culture and Press Ministry has embarked on preparing a collection of changes to media law to be submitted for government consideration in the first quarter of 2007. A version of the proposals I saw one year ago put everything clearly enough: “It is necessary to review the state of laws regulating the responsibilities of news outlets, strengthen the procedures for the accreditation of such outlets and in the general principles and regulations concerning the activities of media representatives in the event of terrorist acts and counter-terrorist operations. New types of mass media like web sites must be regulated, and current market conditions should be addressed in the strengthening of regulations governing the concentration of mass media assets.”

In other words, we’re talking about a fundamental reform to media law. The question is: Why is this necessary if the president is praising the old law and the deputy prime minister has not only promised loudly not to touch it, but also to defend it in every possible way. We all know that the draughts in the corridors of power shift quickly. So my advice to journalists is even if roses are growing on Moscow’s streets tomorrow, it would be best to dress warmly and not forget to wear your galoshes. The election is approaching, fast.

Perhaps the only comforting note is an initiative proposed by the St. Petersburg Union of Journalists and supported by Governor Valentina Matviyenko, which would provide reporters working in the field with special vests with the word “Press” on them in two languages, so that it is perfectly clear to police breaking up the latest demonstration that they are beating up journalists. After all, if you don’t know your enemy by his face, it helps if you can identify him by his vest.