In June 2010 the Russian Supreme Court adopted for the first time in its history a Resolution which provided ‘interpretive guidelines’ on which Russian judges could base their work in relation to mass media, editors and journalists. But how have these guidelines developed since 2010, particularly in view of the political context in Russia and the dizzying technological advances made in the media sphere? And what role does the Supreme Court play? The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, has just published a new free report: Judicial practice on media freedom in Russia: the role of the Supreme Court.
Authored by Andrei Richter of the Bratislava Media Academy this report covers new developments in Russian media legislation concerning media freedom, regulation of online media, journalists’ rights, and access to information.
Richter opens this report by placing the so-called “Resolution of the Plenary of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation” in its national context.
Chapter two focuses on media freedom and the Resolution’s important nuances concerning what may henceforth be considered as unjustified restriction to freedom of expression. Basically any demand made by an official or official body to impose their prior approval on the publication of information is considered “censorship” unless the material to be published is their own material or interviews. The Roskomnadzor, Russia’s State monitoring agency, closely follows questions on media freedom and its abuse. Indeed the Roskomnadzor has issued warnings in line with the Resolution on media freedom issues such as “extremist” speech or indeed swearing (there is a total swearing ban in the Russian mass media).
Chapter three looks at the regulation of online media. In this context, Richter highlights certain amendments made to the initial Resolution in its 2010 form, in tandem with developments in the way in which information is disseminated on line. Initially, the Supreme Court concluded that websites were not subject to mandatory registration. This logic was overturned in 2011 with a set of amendments which, while not making registration compulsory, nevertheless made it impossible for an editorial office of a mass media outlet to engage in professional activity without such registration.
Chapter four examines the protection of journalists’ privileges in Russia. The Resolution seems to have clarified and, to a certain extent, served to protect certain journalists’ rights and privileges which are now listed in the ‘Statute on the Mass Media’. Crucially, the media have no liability for information contained in interviews with state or local government representatives. This frees the press from the burden of ‘fact checking’ provided that they reproduce the words of officially ‘literally’.
Chapter five analyses the Resolution’s provisions concerning a journalist’s right to information. It states that an information enquiry by the editorial office of a mass medium is legitimate and must be protected by law. The new aspect was that both commercial and non-commercial bodies would be legally bound to provide information. The Resolution also provides a framework for the rules concerning the accreditation of journalists, making it harder for authorities to refuse to provide this. The Resolution also protects journalists’ rights to report on court cases, and indeed the text was up-dated in 2012 to allow ‘online reporting or texting’ (eg. Twitter, live online reporting) without the permission of the presiding judge.
Richter concludes that the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation and its Resolution represent a crucial factor in promoting human rights in this area. He adds that “despite a generally problematic state of freedom of information […], in the past six to seven years, the judges tend to be more attentive to the need to follow the national standards on media freedom as a human right.”
A must-read new report to understand media regulation in today’s Russian Federation!