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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More on the Educated Media Foundation Raid

Last week we reported on the Kremlin's raid of a journalism NGO in Moscow which had been seeking to teach Russian journalists how to do real reporting and support them in that endeavor. Here's an update, from Internews, by way of an LR reader (still more here from the Committee to Protect Journalists):

On 18 April 2007, officers of the Department of Economic Security of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia carried out a seizure of financial documents and electronic devices (the computer servers) over a period of 11 hours in the offices of the Educated Media Foundation (formerly ANO Internews), on the authority of officer of the Investigative Department of Transport Office of International Affairs (LUVD) of Sheremetevo Airport. The seizure was carried out in connection with the criminal charges brought against Manana Aslamazyan (pictured above), who in January 2007 while going through customs after a private trip to Paris did not fill out a declaration form for 9,550 Euros and 5,130 Rubles (legally it is possible to bring $10,000 into the country without a declaration form). This is quite a common mistake made by forgetful citizens and usually, as far as we are aware, is qualified by the customs authorities as an administrative violation and is dealt with by a fine of not more than 2,000 Rubles.

Four major Russian journalistic organisations - the Russian TV Academy, the National Association of TV and Radio Broadcasters, the Russian Union of Journalists, the Glasnost Defence Foundation - sent letters to the Russian General Prosecutor's office, asking to consider the reputation of Manana Aslamazyan, her contribution to the development of the TV industry and making the request that such a relatively minor infraction not be considered grounds for the opening of a criminal prosecution.

A letter from the prosecutor's office replied that the case would be investigated thoroughly. There is no doubt about this, as the events of 18 April go to show. All work in the office came to a stop: the site was shut down, the data base no longer functions, the servers are not working, including the mail server, the accounts server, the server carrying teaching plans and seminar programmes used for carrying out training. There is no way to make announcements about seminars, no means to receive applications to participate, send invoices, check on the execution of existing contracts - they have all been seized. In addition, the video servers were also seized, which held all the material for editing students' work and video productions for the Foundation's television projects (Provintsia and Personal Account).

We have already sent a request to the investigator asking how soon we may have returned to us those documents and servers which are vital to our continuing activities. We have also requested an explanation from the General Prosecutor as to the legality of these actions of the investigation and officers of the Economic Security Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the basis of a prosecution of a private individual, unconnected with the actions of the legal entity which she manages.

The Educated Media Foundation will temporarily discontinue its activities. Unfortunately, we are forced to do this. We have worked for many years for the growth and development of regional television in Russia, which is vital to people and the country. We believe that we have made a serious contribution to the success of many regional television companies, the position of hundreds of managers, journalists and specialists, who have, through our training seminars, television programme exchange projects, at our conferences and competitions, gained experience, strengthened their professional qualifications and even gained new media specialisations. However the situation after the 18 April 2007 has forced us to take this decision. The decision is not an emotional one or one taken without a great deal of thought. It has been approved by our founders.

Our organisation does not accept any blame and is guilty of nothing. We are certain that we have carried out useful and important activities. We do not wish to politicise what has happened, because we have always been first and foremost in support of professional and balanced analysis. However for the last year we have noticed with what extreme caution - and even on some occasions suspicion - law enforcement agencies have regarded our activities. After what has happened, we are concerned that it will be difficult for our partners to send their employees to our events.

This situation does not signify the closure of the Educated Media Foundation. A small number of employees will remain to carry out the day to day running of the office.

We are grateful to all the journalists who have calmly and accurately described this situation to the public. However part of the information which has appeared in some media outlets requires a response from us: we do not have "grey" [illegal financial] schemes and salaries, we have always paid and continue to pay all proper taxes, our projects are registered with the government commission for international technical and humanitarian assistance. We regularly provide reports to the tax and registration authorities. The organisation carries out an audit every year using independent auditing firms. We cannot agree with the opinion of some in the media, who have described our organisation as being a "threat to national security."

Information for all journalists, who have written or who may write on this subject:

The Autonomous Non-Commercial Organisation "Internews" - is a Russian organisation and completely independent. It was registered in 1997. Around 15,000 people have participated in training and other projects organised by Internews.

"Internews Europe" is also an independent organisation, registered in Paris and Manana Aslamazyan is a member of its board. A representative office of Internews Europe is registered in Moscow and it began its activities in 2007. Internews International is a voluntary association of national Internews offices from different countries around the world, it does not carry out its own projects.

In autumn 2006 ANO Internews merged with the Educated Media Foundation, also a non-commercial organisation, with founders who are respected citizens of Russia - representatives of science, business, culture, education and television. As a result of the merger, the Educated Media Foundation became the full legal successor to ANO Internews in January 2007, responsible for all its projects, grants, property and obligations.

All the grants received by the Foundation are officially registered. Sources of financing in 2007: a grant from USAID for the support of regional television in Rusia, a grant from Internews Europe under the framework of the TACIS programme for regional media support, two grants from the Ford Foundation to provide equipment for the Radio Centre of the Journalism Faculty of Moscow State University and the production of a documentary film on the life of the indiginous Taimyr group. Finances from the payment for training and television consultation make up on average 1 million Rubes a month. Last year the Foundation received grants from over a dozen Russian and international donor organisations.

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