Nadezhda Azhgikhina, the Vice-President of the European Federation of Journalists (Moscow)
"First of all, there is the economic pressure. The journalists do not write about it much. Much more is written on the subject of censorship, on the refusals to print the materials, on not letting a media broadcast, on the blockings, assaults, threats. Women receive threats three times more often than men. Journalists do not get paid enough, they become too dependent. They are subject to the psychological pressure, first of all, from their employers. The undesirable journalists get fired. You can get fired for posting on social media. The pressure has become more sophisticated. Perhaps there does not exist a type of pressure that has not been used against journalists in Russia and the neighboring countries.
We have the database built by the Committee to Protect Glasnost. It is called "The Conflicts in the Media". There are several sections: "Murder", "Physical assault", "Property damage", "Illegal employment termination", "Legal prosecution" and "Threat". In addition, we have persecution on the internet, threatening the lives of nearest and dearest, all kinds of verbal abuse. And, I would say, there is a special kind of pressure - suppressing the journalistic solidarity. Its is also quite widespread".
"Kazakhstan is a more closed country than Kyrgyzstan which is way different in that regard from the rest of the Central Asian states. Regardless of what the political situation is, the country has pluralism. Different media-models are developed. In contrast, the Kazakh media-space is practically purged. The independent media were all shut down after the Zhanaozen events in 2012-2013, we are all aware of the project Respublika story. Perhaps one or two independent media still remain. But there is a trend of persecuting even the pro-government media which we have seen through the example of Forbes-Kazakhstan, Ratel.kz
website. The last of the independent media are being zealously persecuted, they are conducting the ultimate purging. This is why, in our freedom of speech rating, Kazakhstan occupies 158th
place. They have begun to persecute bloggers and the internet users in general based on criminal cases related to inciting all kinds of hatred, extremism etc. This is a regional trend, so all the persecution methods are put into action – the legal ones, the psychological ones, trolling, blockings, economic pressure.
One must note that, in Kyrgyzstan, whose freedom of speech rating in much higher than that of Kazakhstan, the end of the rule of former President Almazbek Atambayev was marked by several legal claims against the independent media. These were the claims against Azattyk
, website Zanoza
; they were trialed for allegedly defaming the President and sentenced to paying enormous fines. So, Kyrgyzstan had lost several points in the rating. But when the new President ascended to power, the situation started changing rapidly, the claims were withdrawn and the fines were vacated. The criminal persecution of journalists remains a problem though. But they are working on that, there is progress", says Johann Bihr, expert on Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Reporters Without Borders (Paris).
In Kazakhstan, legal claims against the undesirable media top everything in terms of the frequency of use. Then follow website blockings, repressions against editors, journalists, social media bloggers", says Galym Ageleuov, human rights advocate, President of the Liberty Public Foundation (Almaty). Protective measures
"The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations had several projects devoted to defending journalists. There was a project called "Active Non-Violence" when we taught the journalists how to carry out the acts of protest. We had been convincing the journalists that it was necessary to fight for their rights. We had published a textbook also called "Active Non-Violence: How to Protest Correctly". There was a legal aid program, we had the funds to hire lawyers in the special cases of criminal persecution against journalists. I cannot say we had always won but if we did loose, it was when the claim was filed by a state official.
In Kyrgyzstan, they had had about 200 civil claims against newspaper Respublika. In Russia, and now in the entire post-Soviet space, the authorities prefer using not the criminal but the civil legislature against journalists since it is not a good thing to put a journalist in prison while making them pay enormous fines – this can be done. And if a newspaper is being fined in the amount that is greater than the newspaper's value, obviously, it is going to be closed.
We have always said that every editorial board must have a legal professional on staff, apart from that, editors and journalists must know the law very well. We have analyzed the experience of most Western newspapers. For example, Washington Post has staff attorneys whose task is to read all the articles that may cause a big public response. And, it they find anything that may result in a civil claim, they ask the journalist to change the text. This helps to prevent legal actions. A great number of legal claims in the post-Soviet countries are the result of the legal incompetence.
The second thing that journalists must do is to create unions. This is an effective means to fight the battle; in the West, the inions are respected organizations. One thing is to persecute an editorial board, another – to persecute a union. In the West, they react to it, and very fast.
And, thirdly, since assaults and physical threats against journalists do exits, the latter must ensure their own safety. Never to appear at events carrying political slogans, always attend events in a special vest or some other identification marks on the clothing", says Oleg Panfilov.
"I cannot but cite the example of Mikhail Afanasyev. He is a blogger and online-journalist from Abakan who was first to report that people confined in Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro-Power Plant during the accident were still alive. He was brutally beaten, and a criminal case was open against him following a manufactured accusation of the Deputy Minister of the Interior of the Khakasiya Republic. He had always been criticizing the police and the law-enforcement agencies of the republic. Thanks to the journalistic solidarity, the case had leaked beyond the Russian borders. The international organizations including the Committee for Protection of Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists and others defended him. Mikhail Afanasyev had found qualified criminal attorneys who took his case. And the glasnost was very important. In the end, he became the record-holder in terms of the number of the non-guilty verdicts.
The qualified legal assistance is a very important factor. The Center for Protection of the Media Rights located in Voronezh is operating all over Russia, in the 20 years of its existence, it has defended 10 000 journalists and media, the state-owned and the private ones. Several of their cases have reached the European Court.
And the last case that is also well-known in Russia is the story of Elena Nadtoka, the Editor-in-Chief of a small provincial newspaper in the Rostov Region, who was found guilty of defaming the then city governor. The claim against her was based on an expression she used – "a thievish boss". She was fined. She then called for help, her case was handled by the Center for Protection of the Media Rights. The trial continued for six years and, eventually the European Court found her not guilty.
It was not the fist instance when the European Court exonerated a journalist. But this was the only case when the Russian Supreme Court actually forced the local court that, under the pressure of the local authorities, had reached an absolutely unjust verdict, to reverse it. The local court complied, and Elena Nadtoka was cleared of all charges. The qualified legal aid and the journalistic solidarity are the main instruments of the defense.
There had been instances when the editors did not support their journalist. Journalistic solidarity is Russia's weak spot. A vivid example is the sexual harassment on the part of Deputy Leonid Slutsky. Three different girls from different channels had reported him. The deputies showed a shameful comradery in the attempt to defend the honor of the regiment. But most of the media, not only the state-owned ones but the private ones as well, did not respond. Even though this had to do not only with the sexual harassment but with the defamation of the profession as such.
Vadim Rogozhin was beaten in Saratov, he survived by a miracle. The head of the local journalist union Lidiya Zlatogorskaya sounded the alarm all over the city. She managed to convince the media-personas that had been fighting against one another to unite. Glasnost is very important as well as the general atmosphere is the society, when the audience considers such cases as unacceptable", says Nadezhda Azhgikhina
"Each case is unique and, of course, glasnost is a good thing. However, there can be instances when it can do more harm than good. We are operating in different fields of supporting journalists, quite often we participate in a journalist's evacuation, assist them in receiving asylum, provide financial support. We can also help them to contact the other advocacy groups. For several years, we have been publishing the pamphlets with the recommendations on how to cover different situations – conflicts, elections, crises. We used to provide the journalists working in the flashpoint areas with bulletproof vests. In these circumstances, it is very important that we and the local journalists, human rights advocates, activists cooperate with one another. To achieve an effect, we need the solidarity and the pro-active stanсe of the entire population", says Johann Bihr
"One of the main defensive measures is informing the civil society, reaching out to it and to the journalistic community. Although we have no kind of solidarity, neither the civil nor the professional one. Nonetheless, one must adhere to the principles of the journalist ethics", says Galym Ageleuov, President of the Liberty Foundation (Kazakhstan). The role of the international organizations
"I am not a fan of international organizations because I myself used to work at CPJ. The only thing I respect them for is the monitoring which was my responsibility for a number of years. However, their statements have practically no effect. Therefore, the only possibility is to reach out to such international organizations as the Europeans Council, OSCE and others. I had worked at the OSCE for 13 years. I think the only way to reach out to them is to discuss the problems in say Belarus or Kazakhstan in the presence of 56 ambassadors. I remember we once had a discussion and the Ambassador of Kazakhstan was forced to make excuses for the authorities' actions. It did have some effect, the Ambassador had to report the incident to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and say that there has been a discussion of the persecution of editorial boards", says Oleg Panfilov.
"Their role is very important. Even if the authorities pay no attention. I had participated in the journalistic discussions, I used to be the Russian coordinator of the Russian-Ukrainian dialogue among the professional organizations. This was immediately after the Maidan. Eight journalists were freed from captivity. Most of them were freelancers. We had worked under the OSCE authority, we reached out to the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders. The international organizations successfully managed to free Eynulla Fatullayeva
, Khadidzh Ismailov
(who was freed after winning the UNESCO award)", says Nadezhda Azhgikhina
"Today, the role of the international organizations is important like never before, but it is getting more and more difficult for them to influence such counties as Kazakhstan due to the on-going trend of violating the accepted democratic norms. More and more authoritarian governments believe that they can violate these norms and persecute their opponents without any consequences. And this lawlessness creates huge difficulties when carrying out our mission", says Johann Bihr, Reporters Without Borders, expert in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Paris).
"Thе international human rights advocacy groups can influence things in the form of a statement. But in terms of having a real effect on the Kazakh authorities, their influence is practically non-existent", says Galym Ageleuov. Survival mechanisms
"We all must have a good legal education. Perhaps this is the most important condition. Second, there must be economic and financial independence. This is the only way for the independent media to stay afloat. There had been enough publications in Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan that existed thanks to the grants. But grants end, and a media dies. A media must be 100% commercial, this is the only way to become independent. But here lies one big "but". All the Georgian newspapers, apart from the two commercial ones, are tabloids.
How do the Georgian media solve their financial problems? Since there are no governmental or state-owned publications, the Government issues a tender and determines which media will publish the information on the governmental orders and get paid for it. This is the only outside infusion into the media budget. Generally, everyone survives exclusively on self-sufficiency. Of course, there is also advertising and sales. Commerce is the only way, there can be no other", says Oleg Panfilov.
"Let me give you some examples. The TV-2
channel is considered the best Russian regional TV-channel. It was closed by the local authorities; the broadcasting license had been revoked. However, it continues to exist on the internet. Dozhd'
is operating on the internet on a subscription basis. Altay Press
is a commercially successful project. It is a private company, they have a big publishing complex. They print different publications, they have several commercial journals. All this helps them to publish liberal newspaper Svibidnyi kurs. They have their own website Altay Press. Yuri Purgin is the founder and the CEO of the project. We all know Nivaya gazeta. There is also independent social project Takiye dela
that has won the national award. It exists thanks to subscribers and users. There are very interesting projects such as Stol, Mediazona
. There are many projects that are fresh and absolutely independent and can survive on very little money", says Nadezhda Azhgikhina.
The situation is different depending on the region. In Belarus, for example, several independent media exist in spite of everything. Some are operating from abroad: Belsat, Khartia97. Some are working inside the country – Nasha niva, Narodnaya volya. Some are even operating in the provinces. In Azerbaijan, the situation is much more difficult; I can only name one independent agency – Turan. We must have perseverance, solidarity, we must harness each other's experience. Speaking of financial sources, crowdfunding helps to obtain limited resources. There are international donors. But journalists must develop the skills how to write grant proposals, how to make reports – all this is very important today when the means of survival are scarce", says Johann Bihr.
"We must retreat to social media, launch our own websites (not necessarily under the kz. domain). Another way to survive and grow is to organize a subscription for a small fee which will be affordable for most people", says Galym Ageleuov.