The Real Russia. Today. A constitutional ruling on foreign involvement in Russia's media, a most curious mobster's funeral, and Sputnik's ‘inauthentic’ Facebook ploy
Thursday, January 17, 2019
This day in history (74 years ago): On January 17, 1945, during the Siege of Budapest by the Red Army, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg was detained by the Soviet authorities on suspicion of espionage. He was never heard from again, and reportedly died in July 1947 in KGB custody.
- Russia's Constitutional Court decides to ease limits on foreign involvement in the media — a bit
- Blogger outside Khabarovsk is arrested after sharing video that allegedly shows cops attending a mobster’s funeral
- Sociologist Ella Paneyakh says Russia's scandal with ‘shrinkflation’ is about disrespect
- Columnist Ivan Davydov has had enough of the Kremlin's Luddite BS
- News briefs: Russia's FU to PACE, Facebook deletes Sputnik's baloney meddling operation, two dramas make it to the Tromsø International Film Festival, Deripaska's ‘sex trainer’ is collared at Sheremetyevo, and the FSO wants to keep its purchases on the DL
Russia’s Constitutional Court issued a decision today regarding Article 19.1, a law that governs mass media. The law prohibits foreigners from founding or controlling media outlets in Russia, but the Court ruled that it requires correction. The new ruling indicates that the prohibition itself is just “because that sort of influence might threaten the security of state information,” but the Court also decided to clarify what rights foreigners do have if they own shares in Russian media companies.
The Chance Radio case
The Court’s decision was triggered by an appeal on the part of the billionaire Evgeny Finkelshtein, who has dual Russian and Dutch citizenship. In 2016, he turned to an arbitration court to challenge a decision by the St. Petersburg radio station Chance, in which Finkelshtein owns 49 percent of shares, to hand over its assigned frequency to another station, Russian Radio. Proceedings in the case lasted for almost a year, but the court ultimately decided that because Finkelshtein has dual citizenship and owns more than 20 percent of a media company, he has no right to challenge that company’s decisions even though almost half of it belongs to him.
That interpretation of the law is unconstitutional
The Constitutional Court decided that the ability of a foreigner or a Russian with dual citizenship to challenge a company’s decisions if that person practically owns the company is unrelated to “the politics of the organization’s broadcasts.” The Court also pointed out another problem. Legally, if a foreigner owns more than 20 percent of a media company’s shares, then the company will sooner or later find itself unable to operate due to regulation by Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s censorship agency. For example, the Echo of Moscow radio station began encountering resistance from Roskomnadzor soon after the 2014 amendments to Article 19.1 came into effect. However, no one can force a non-Russian citizen to sell her shares of a Russian media company and comply with the law. That is a decision the shareholder can only make herself.
In sum, any given non-Russian citizen is not obligated to sell her shares in a company, but if she does not, she is inevitably deprived of certain rights, and her shares practically lose their ability to lend influence over a company’s work. The Constitutional Court decided that such a situation entails “unjust risks both to the property rights of the shareholder and to the legal capacities of the business entity.” The Court added that “the interpretation at hand does not correspond with the need to maintain trust in the legal system and stability in citizens’ legal relations.”
The State Duma now holds the responsibility to produce new amendments to the law that will define the rights of foreign shareholders in Russian media and determine whether they will be obligated to sell any shares they own above 20 percent. Finkelshtein’s case will be considered again only after that new legal framework is finalized.
On January 8, reputed mobster Yuri Zarubin was laid to rest in the town of Amursk, about 150 miles outside Khabarovsk. That same day, Twitter user Mikhail Svetlov shared footage of the funeral procession, recorded by a local woman. Svetlov claims the ceremony blocked road traffic (though the woman who filmed the procession says this isn’t true). A few minutes after this content went up on Twitter, a user named VictorKvert2008 wrote that Zarubin’s pallbearers allegedly included the city’s district attorney and the chief of police. According to the news agency Rosbalt, another Amursk resident wrote online about the funeral and planned to share his own footage of police officers participating in the procession, but he decided not to publish the video, after threats from the authorities.
Local law enforcement deny that any officers took part in the mobster’s burial, and the district attorney’s office says the city’s prosecutor was in Khabarovsk on the day of the funeral. The police have threatened defamation charges, pending the results of their preliminary investigation into the video shared online. The authorities also deny that road traffic was shut down during Zarubin’s funeral procession, pointing out that officers actually ticketed participants who obstructed cars. Officials even revealed that the man who published the video has a criminal record, but they have not released his name to the public.
Police subsequently started harassing a local blogger for reposting the video shared on Twitter by Mikhail Svetlov. Viktor Toroptsev says he republished the funeral footage on YouTube and Instagram, but he deleted the posts just 15 minutes later. After another 15 minutes, he says he received a telephone call from the local police, summoning him to the station for questioning. Subsequently, both the police and the district attorney summon Toroptsev several times. “My channel wasn’t the first to repost this, but I’m the one who got screwed over,” the blogger says. On January 12, traffic police pulled him over for driving with expired documents, brought him into the station, and seized his license. Officials say it was suspended in May 2018, which Toroptsev flatly denies. Two days later, he was sentenced to 10 days in jail. Toroptsev promptly declared a hunger strike, demanding his release and the return of his driver’s license. He’s also suggested that he might emigrate to Canada, if the police pressure doesn’t let up.
The Investigative Committee has opened a defamation case. “The messages contain falsities defaming law enforcement officers,” the agency said in a statement about the funeral footage shared online. News of the criminal case first appeared on the regional Investigative Committee’s website on January 17, and later disappeared without explanation, but not before the state news agencies TASS and RIA Novosti both reported the story.
Police investigating the case also searched the home of one of Toroptsev’s friends. On the morning of January 17, officers raided the home of Mikhail Potapenkov in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, local human rights activists told the website Mediazona. Police reportedly seized all of Potapenkov’s computer equipment, showing him what was supposedly a warrant for the search, but refusing to let him read the document. The ruling apparently mentioned Viktor Toroptsev.
The peanut gallery
In an op-ed for Vedomosti, sociologist Ella Paneyakh says Russians have reacted with such outrage to recent shrinkflation because it addresses core issues of “respect, justice, and trust” — not because the phenomenon is new or indicative of some imminent economic collapse. Paneyakh says Russia is currently experiencing a “crisis of trust,” and the sense that manufacturers are deceiving consumers strikes a popular nerve. It’s not just frustrating but insulting, Paneyakh argues, comparing the backlash to many Russians’ anger with the “aggressive lying” on network television. Efforts to outsmart the public, however, now have to contend with the Internet, where the soft deception of shrinkflation is harder to sell. State authorities, Paneyakh suggests, should take note, as well.
In an op-ed for Republic, columnist Ivan Davydov argues that Kremlin officials’ reluctance to embrace social media and cell phones is indicative of their conservative ignorance and disconnect with modern life. Davydov’s text responds to remarks by Putin’s long-time spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, in a recent interview with Argumenty i Fakty, where he described the president’s dislike of newfangled trends in mass communications.
Who cares what Peskov said about Putin’s commitment to pen and paper? Davydov argues that these little tidbits of information are worth public scrutiny thanks to the marriage of Russia’s “centripetal” state structure and the authorities’ “fetish” for secrecy. Davydov says the Kremlin rejects Russia’s new “digital nature” because it wants to keep its distance from the people, in the tradition of the tsars of old.
- State Duma sends another 🖕 to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, raising the risks that Russia could ditch the Council of Europe altogether
- Facebook deletes a 💩 of phony groups run by Sputnik staff, angering the “news agency based in Moscow”
- Two award-winning Russian-language dramas will be featured in competition at Norway's Tromsø International 📽️ Festival
- The “sex trainers” who claimed to have #RussiaGate dirt on Oleg Deripaska have reportedly ended up in 👮 custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport
- The agency responsible for guarding Putin and Russia's other big kahunas wants to be able to hide its procurement deals from your prying 👀