The right to know and the journalists’ creative union Drucken

The right to know and the journalists’ creative union

by Mikhail Fedotov
Executive Secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists

Nowadays, as Russian democracy is about to sink lower like an elevator cabin to the garage level, the Russian Union of Journalists is trying to prevent it by putting a feeble leg between the closing doors of the cabin. Our activity aims at the preservation of the professional journalists’ rights as well as at the creation of new opportunities for civil initiatives. The following are the main projects of RUJ in this field:

  • The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations;
  • The Grand Jury of RUJ;
  • The Foundation for Public Broadcasting’s Promotion to the Russian Federation;
  • The Center for Legal Protection.

The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations was founded in 2000 as a human rights organization under the auspices of the RUJ. The Center's main activities include: Monitoring violations of journalists' and media rights in the Russian Federation and other CIS countries. The Center distributes daily electronic reviews for all interested organizations and persons; Investigating extreme forms of violations of journalists' rights: murder, attempted murder, beatings, threats etc., and creating journalistic investigation groups; Researching the conditions and legal status of journalistic work in the "hot spots" of the Russian Federation and other CIS countries; Preparing and publishing handbooks and specialized literature; Offering legal assistance; Studying legislation related to mass media in the CIS republics and offering recommendations; Conducting training seminars for journalists working under extreme conditions.

The Grand Jury of the RUJ was founded in 1998 as an arbitration and self-regulation body under the auspices of the RUJ. As a self-regulating body, the Grand Jury evaluates ethical conflicts in journalistic activities including violations of professional rules and ethics. The Grand Jury has the right to give official interpretations of the principals and rules of the RUJ Code of Ethics. The Grand Jury codifies precedents as well as evaluates special cases.

Legal and natural persons, who are interested in moral, ethical and professional evaluations of journalists, editors, distributors and owners of mass media outlets, and representatives of government organizations or other officials, who have competence over the mass media, have the right to bring their case to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury protects everyone who recognizes its professional and ethical jurisdiction. That is why many famous Russian politicians were have appealed to the Grand Jury, among them, Chairman of the State Duma Gennadiy Seleznev, Moscow’s Mayer Yuri Lujkov, party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, President of Bashkiria Murtaza Rahimov, and many others. Several councils of regional judges have also appealed to the Grand Jury with complains against various journalists and newspapers. For example, the Council of Judges of Krasnodar region has registered a complaint against newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” (“New Newspaper”) regarding the article “Down! The Court is coming!” The Grand Jury was able to reconcile the sides. The decision was crucial for the newspaper, since earlier the court had ruled in favor of the one million dollar compensation to the defendant for the moral damage. Decisions of the Grand Jury are mandatory for execution by bodies, divisions, and members of the RUJ for implementation.

The Foundation for Public Broadcasting Promotion in the Russian Federation works on the realization of the dream of creating public television and radio in Russia. One of the first stages of this project was drafting the Federal Public Broadcasting Law. In 2002, the liberal parties SPS and Yabloko submitted the draft to the State Duma. Since both parties are no longer represented in the State Duma, the RUJ can now depend only on individual members of the parliament. The draft distributes the key positions of the Russian Public Broadcasting Company between the civil society structures, houses of the parliament, president and the government. The draft is based on the assumption that public broadcasting companies could be created on federal, regional and local levels. Today we do not have public TV stations in regions or in local communities. That is why we do not have an opportunity for building national public television system bottom-up. However, the Russian Union of Journalists plans to establish first public broadcasting stations in Novgorod, Hanty-Mansiysk and Moscow area (Glasnost Defense Foundation has a similar project in Novosibirsk). At the same time, RUJ tries building a national public TV system top-down, by drafting the federal law.

The Center for Legal Protection has a wide spectrum of tasks, among the most important is the preservation of the democratic basis of the Russian Media Law of 1991. In 2002, President Vladimir Putin announced that the Media Law of 1991 lags behind the new Civil, Criminal, Labor and other Codes. Immediately after that, liberal parties submitted to Duma a new version of the law developed by the author of this article, under the auspices of the Center for Legal Protection of RUJ. This draft addressed all the issues raised by the President. But the Russian authorities don’t need answers to real legal questions. That is why new version was rejected. Meanwhile, the green light was given to the draft submitted by the Industrial Committee, a non-commercial partnership of major national media owners (including the state media). President Putin had promised to submit its draft to the parliament, and therefore he blessed the version that was more useful to him perfecting the system of "managed democracy" in Russia.

Here is the outline of the differences between the two drafts. The Industrial Committee draft creates additional legal reasons for the closure and temporary closure of media outlets, terminates editorial independence, preserves the state-owned media, and does nothing to correct mistakes and shortcomings of the current Media Law. In contrast, the independent draft proposes the implementation of international standards of media regulations, strengthens the guarantees of the editorial independence, transparency and pluralism, and creates ways to transform the state-owned media into public media, including public broadcasting. At the same time, both drafts share positions, concerning for example the extension of the license term for television and radio broadcasting to 10 years.

Detailed information in Russian and partially in English about these and other projects of the Russian Union of Journalists is available on the web-site