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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

So far two journalists who took part in the news conference held by Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on June 24 have become victims of their curiosity. One reporter was fired; another may be tried for libel.

At the news conference held by Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin a fortnight ago, the head of state answered 36 questions posed by regional reporters. Two of them are now feeling the repercussions.

A reporter with the Nenets daily Naryan Vynder (Krasnyi Tundrovik) Alexei Vasilevetskiy was fired after he asked Putin whether he knew that several prosecutors, who had investigated abuses by local administration officials, had been forced to resign, and that the region’s governor Vladimir Butov simply ignores summons from prosecutors and refuses to turn up for questioning. Soon afterwards, however, it became clear that Vasilevetskiy was not even a staff writer with Naryan Vynder, but a PR-man from Moscow. The reporter was unmasked by Izvestia.

Izvestia paid particular attention to the fact that the daily circulation of Krasnyi Tundrovik amounts to 6-8,000, which is, indeed, enormous for the small Nenets Area. But is that enough to satisfy the career ambitions of a journalist from Moscow who used to work in the ‘information-PR’ agency IMA-Press? an Izvestia journalist asked rhetorically in an opinion piece published last Friday.

It transpired that a group of ‘PR-men’ from Moscow has been working on a rotation basis in Naryan-Mar, after settling in the tundra after the latest elections for governor. Gazeta.Ru sources who took part in the organization of Vladimir Putin’s news conference in the Kremlin were very glad to learn about this: Read Izvestia, everything is written very correctly there, they said.

At this our Kremlin interlocutors failed to explain why the PR-men were allowed to participate in the president’s news conference in the first place.

The next reporter to pay for her curiosity was Dina Oyun from Tuva. The question that she posed to Putin became the subject of an examination by the Tuva Republic’s prosecutors.

Gazeta.Ru has found out the details of the case and unlike Vasilevetskiy’s question (allegedly, paid for by Butov’s enemies), Ms. Oyun, the chief-editor of the news web site Tuva-online, had no ulterior motives.

She had earlier worked in the administration of the Tuva Republic’s parliament (Khural), and a year ago the head of the republic Sherig-ool Oorzhak sent her to Moscow to study at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Many things changed in the past year. In March Oorzhak ran for his third term of office and at the same time the election bloc headed by the regional leader launched its parliamentary election campaign. At some point Oorzhak clashed with the chairman of the Khural Sholban-Kara-ool, the chief of the local branch of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

Both the presidential and the parliamentary campaign were marred by scandals and crime. Between her studies in the Academy Oyun reported on the pre-election situation in the republic, and in her reports sided with her former colleagues in the parliament.

Oyun arrived at Putin’s news conference straight from an exam, which she passed with top marks. As she later told her colleagues in Tuva, she did not even hope that she would be given the floor. And most likely that would never have happened, but at the end of the news conference Putin pushed his spokesman aside and decide to choose journalists himself.

At some point he noticed the pretty journalist from Tuva. The girl seemed somewhat taken aback by his invitation. She had prepared a neutral question about education, but somebody else had already posed a similar question.

So, she mustered up her courage and started talking of the numerous violations of electoral law in her home republic and inquired whether the president was aware of them. There is the impression, she said, that there is a secret agreement between the federal and the regional authorities. What we violate, you connive in – and we, in return, display loyalty in some other matters…maybe decisions by the federal authorities.

On June 27, the Tuvinskaya Pravda newspaper published an opinion piece, in which an anonymous author explained to the readers that Ms. Oyun (currently living in Moscow) with her provocative question has inflicted colossal damage on the republic, has forced a wedge between the federal and the regional authorities and has broken all records of hypocrisy.

On the same day the chief of the republican electoral commission Sholban Mongush asked the prosecutor’s office to have the journalist explain her position, and if she fails to provide evidence of the ‘unprecedented violations’, to charge her with libel. In an interview to Kommersant, Mongush said that before going to the Kremlin with her question, the journalist should have reported the violations to the republic’s electoral commission, or to local law enforcers.

On Friday, Russia’s Press Ministry was focusing on the fate of regional journalists who have been persecuted by local authorities for questions posed to the president. What a disgrace! Following the president’s news conference we already have two cases: a journalist from Naryan-Mar dismissed from his post, and the chairman of the election commission of the Republic of Tuva has asked the prosecutor’s office to deal with a journalist for a wrongly worded question, said the first Deputy Press Minister Mikhail Seslavinsky, speaking at a session of the Central Election Commission of Russia on Friday.

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