Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, November 10

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New bill places higher value on journalists’ lives / Presidential elections: Getting it right / Economists propose Russian tax rethink

Kommersant

New bill places higher value on journalists’ lives   

Attacks on journalists should be punished as harshly as attempts on the lives of government officials, argues United Russia member of parliament Boris Reznik, who proposed an amendment to the country’s Criminal Code. Although the initiative has majority backing, lower house members doubt it will be effective in practice.

Violence against journalists has become commonplace in Russia. Over 300 have been killed since the onset of perestroika, Boris Reznik said citing data from the Russian Union of Journalists. Unsolved murders of journalists have become more frequent recently, certainly giving those responsible a sense of impunity, he told Kommersant.

Reznik, who heads the State Duma committee on media policy, has proposed a bill aimed at greater protection of journalists, following the attempted murder of Kommersant reporter Oleg Kashin, who was severely beaten outside his Moscow apartment building on Saturday.

Reznik’s proposal is to ensure that crimes against journalists are prosecuted as aggressively as those against government officials. The current Criminal Code gives the perpetrators of serious attacks against officials from 20 years behind bars to life. Those committing less serious attacks receive between 12-20 years in jail. Reznik’s “simple” initiative is to extend the title of the article to include attacks against journalists “aimed at halting their professional activities or in retribution for such activities.”

He says he wants to change the way these crimes are seen. Reznik was outraged by a recent Interior Ministry report describing the number of journalists killed as a “negligible” proportion of all murders committed in 2004-2010. The ministry said that 10 out of 12 such crimes had been solved, and in two cases – the murders of Paul Khlebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya – the suspects were acquitted by a jury.

 “So 10 out of 12 have been solved, and the bastards on the jury acquitted the suspects in the two most high-profile cases. Way to go!” Reznik said. He is convinced this report is simply an attempt to pacify public opinion.

Although lawmakers support Reznik’s initiative, few believe it will be effective. Even if it is adopted, his bill only covers violence, which is just one of many ways that pressure can be put on journalists.

The problem is that Russia is governed “by signals” rather than “by law,” said Andrei Makarov, another Duma member. “An order to solve this crime in five days or get fired would have been a signal and proof that the government is serious. Reznik’s amendments aren’t.”

Communist lawmaker Andrei Andreyev sounds even more pessimistic: “Pressure on the regional and federal media is bound to grow. This amendment will get bogged down in the media policy committee until tragedy strikes another journalist.”

Vedomosti

Presidential elections: Getting it right

Russia is set to elect its next president in 2012. But who exactly will run for office remains unclear. Some feel Dmitry Medvedev is the right man for the job, while of the other parties, only the Communists have so far decided on whom to nominate.

The Right Cause party has made its position clear. Co-chairmen, Georgy Bovt and Leonid Gozman said they want to nominate Dmitry Medvedev for another term. Gozman told the paper that if it came to a choice between Medvedev and Putin, they would back Medvedev. Boris Titov, the party’s third chairman, noted that it was still too early to discuss this because everything depends on the success of the government’s modernization and economic diversification policies and the investment climate, adding that the business community would focus on actual results.

Until recently only high-profile individuals raised this issue publically. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he would like to see Putin as president. While Igor Yurgens, head of the Institute of Contemporary Development, a Moscow-based nonprofit think tank, said it was vital that Medvedev, not Putin, is nominated.

The party A Just Russia (who backed Medvedev in 2007) has not yet discussed the upcoming presidential elections or the 2011 elections to Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, because, as its deputy leader Gennady Gudkov explained, it is focused on regional elections slated for March 2011. The pro-Kremlin United Russia party is also focused on the regional and State Duma elections.

The head of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party in the State Duma, Igor Lebedev, joked that party members would support its leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, in any choice between Medvedev and Putin. The Communist party position also remains unchanged: they refuse to contemplate any leader other than their own, Gennady Zyuganov, and believe he stands to gain should Putin and Medvedev go head to head.

Maxim Reznik, who leads the St. Petersburg chapter of the party Yabloko, noted that Right Cause’s comments reflect the party’s perception of modernization, namely, the Skolkovo hi-tech hub, iPhones and nanotechnology.

He set out Yabloko’s own concept of modernization, including equality before the law, the separation of powers and guarantees over private property, adding that it was still too early to discuss the party’s stance in 2012.

Political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko said that Right Cause lacked identity, and that the recent statements by its leadership was an attempt to create an image of it, in the liberal public’s eyes, as Medvedev’s party.

Vremya Novostei

Economists propose Russian tax rethink

Given current prices, Russia’s consolidated budget for 2011 should be 20 trillion rubles, rather than the estimated 8.8 trillion, say experts from the Modernizatsia think tank. But the tax system would have to be drastically overhauled if that amount is to be collected. The Federal Tax Service, however, believes Russia’s fiscal rules are “fine” and warn that “the economy is too weak to raise more money.”

The tax burden on businesses and individuals is unevenly and unjustly spread, economists told a RIA Novosti news conference. Their response was to develop a package of proposals to upgrade the fiscal system. The initiative’s authors propose cutting insurance contributions, VAT and profit tax down to a combined 10% for non-mineral industries. “If we want to produce something other than oil and gas, we need to reduce taxes,” said Mikhail Abramov, a member of the Delovaya Rossiya expert council.
Economists are confident losses will not exceed 1% of current consolidated revenues. However, the 2.8 million people employed in these industries will experience a marked improvement. The tax burden on processing and innovative companies would be halved. “The Russian budget will not feel a thing,” the authors believe as it would be downsized by a mere 0.5%. VAT, they suggest, should be cut from 18% to 12% (a loss not amounting to more than 1.2% of GDP). This tax should be applied to the wage bill, profits, depreciation and taxes, rather than sales. It is expected to be compensated by not refunding VAT to oil, gas and metal exporters.

The Federal Tax Service, however, urges these economists not to overstate the stimulating role that tax could play. “If we halve taxes, we get nothing, the budget only loses out,” says Sergei Shulgin, Federal Tax Service deputy head. But the economists consider the parallel existence of VAT and profit tax unjust. It essentially means that “profits are taxed twice,” said Vladimir Kashin, an adviser from EurAsEC. In Europe, he said, this is a dying practice.

The report’s authors also warn against raising insurance contributions in 2011 from 26% to 43%. They are convinced that far greater amounts could be obtained by taxing people earning over 415,000 rubles a year. These people do not currently pay insurance contributions. The expert group is particularly critical of the flat rate of income tax. They claim it is to blame for the glaring social inequality in the country. 

Those who advocate this new approach propose dramatic changes to how the rich are taxed. Russia appears to be the only country in the world where, according to Alexei Shevyakov, director of the Institute of Socio-Economic Studies, there is a regressive income tax scale. Property and expenses should be taxed, not salaries, which constitute only 35% of the total income of the rich, believes Kashin. The Federal Tax Service disagrees. Russia, it says, “has a normal tax system, which is in line with that of Europe and which is softer on business.”

RIA Novosti is not responsible for the content of outside sources.

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