Russian Criminal Code to safeguard press freedom
The recent attack on journalist Oleg Kashin, which left the 30-year-old reporter in a coma with multiple injuries, has provoked a broad response, including several legislative initiatives aimed at toughening punishment for crimes against journalists.
Boris Reznik, secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists and head of the State Duma committee on media policy, proposed amending the Criminal Code to provide the same protection to journalists as it offers to government officials.
Another bill, drafted by the presidential council on civil society and human rights, proposes to amend 11 articles relating to crimes that target “individuals fulfilling their professional duties” to include journalists. In particular, there is a proposal to toughen punishment for crimes against journalists.
However, sociologists believe the bills are unlikely to win popular support because many Russians view the media as a source of both true and false information in equal measure.
Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Analytical Center, told Kommersant these bills risk causing “annoyance and confusion in society.” In Russia the public attitude to journalists is often controversial because of the large amount of dishonest political PR and advertising in the media. A journalist is not only seen as someone providing true unbiased facts, but also as “a source of false information.”
Last year’s polls showed that there was little respect for journalists: doctors topped the list with 40%, teachers got 34%, qualified factory workers 33%, the military 24%, lawyers 19% and computer programmers 14%. Journalists, with 8%, came just ahead of politicians (7%) and salespeople (4%).
This shows that Russians do not set much store by freedom of speech or freedom of the press, Grazhdankin said. An October survey suggested that only 34% value freedom of speech because it gives them “a right to speak out.” However, only 22% said they rate highly their right to access information.
Moreover, a July survey revealed that 59% of Russians do not object to political censorship – double the proportion that opposes this policy (28%).
We need a set of policies aimed at boosting public awareness of the role journalists play in society, said Mikhail Fedotov, head of the presidential council on civil society. Amending the Criminal Code is the first step along this road.
In any case, backing these initiatives won’t harm President Dmitry Medvedev’s popularity, which has weathered his insistence on the death penalty ban, another policy lacking majority support, Grazhdankin said.
Gambling with rules
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree banning casinos from the Rostov Region. Experts describe the move as a government overture towards the gambling industry and as a potential threat to Russia’s other three Las Vegas wannabes.
The decree is very concise. It excludes the Rostov Region from the list of gambling zones permitted under federal law No. 244 On State Regulation of Gambling dated 2006. Legitimizing this exclusion, the decree also dropped the clause making the government wait ten years (from the date of its establishment) to abolish a gambling zone.
This new bill is remarkable not only because it is so concise but also because it was passed so swiftly. Submitted to the State Duma on October 4, after two weeks the bill had its first reading and three days later it had passed its second and third readings. Instead of the usual 30-day period, only one day was set aside for potential amendments. The Federation Council passed it on October 27 and the president signed the decree on November 3.
Those masterminding the bill confirmed that their main goal was relocating the southern Russian gambling zone away from the Azov Sea to the Black Sea coast. The Krasnodar Territory is a traditional Russian recreation and tourism destination, and locating the gambling zone north of Anapa will make the most of Kuban’s tourism potential, they said.
The bill provoked an outcry from Rostov. The regional government was determined to defend its right to part of the Azov City zone. But all it achieved was getting a bill into the State Duma that, if passed, would let Rostov set up a gambling zone of its own. However, unlike the other bill, this one will receive a more regular hearing and stands little chance of being passed.
The Rostov Region government will not appeal this decision, said Alexander Popov, a Duma deputy from Rostov. However, the region hopes that the resulting losses incurred by the regional budget and local investors, estimated at a total of 1 billion rubles, will either be compensated for directly from the federal budget or via certain preferences.
Yevgeny Fyodorov, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Economic Policy and Entrepreneurship, believes this move should be seen as a signal to all the regions that have been slow to develop their gambling zones. Over the four years since the federal law’s adoption, only the Azov City zone has seen any progress.
Experts are split over the Anapa zone. Agvan Mikaelyan, CEO of the consulting company FinExpertiza, believes that its Anapa location will give the zone a significant cutting edge over the other three – in Yakutia, Altai and Kaliningrad. “It is clear that the Anapa zone will develop fastest,” he said. Yevgeny Fyodorov disagrees: “Gamblers are more likely find alternatives to this southern Russian zone in Belarus or the Mediterranean rather than in the Kaliningrad Region or Altai.”
Retail sector hit as crime wave sweeps Russia
Losses Russian retail chains incur due to theft have risen by $2 billion in two years. Nevertheless, store managements balk at taking draconian measures and honest customers are left to pick up the tab.
According to the Interior Ministry 240,000 shoplifters ended up in police custody in 2009. However, experts at the Levada think tank say this is only a quarter of all those caught, making the real total closer to a million. Most thefts take place in city supermarkets. Elderly people sneakily top-up bags that have already been weighed. Young people prefer switching bar codes.
The spike in off-the-shelf shoplifting is not exclusive to Russia: it is a global phenomenon. Experts say it is down to the crisis.
The British Center for Retail Research says losses from shoplifting in Russia in 2009 totaled over 90 billion rubles. Previous estimates stood at 30 billion rubles. So far this year, the value of goods stolen has already reached 84 billion rubles, 8% more than in the same period last year.
Pilferers’ tastes have also changed. While earlier they opted for expensive sausages, red caviar or up-market hard liquor, now they happily steal everything and anything they can. No longer the hardened few, their numbers have increased and now include students, elderly ladies, business ladies and even men of military bearing…
This worries retail chain owners, who have started investing in additional surveillance equipment, although so far to no avail. Customers have mastered the art of clipping electronic tags off clothes in fitting rooms where CCTV cannot be installed.
The resulting losses and additional expenses incurred in upping security are covered by honest customers.
This year alone, Russian retailers increased spending on security by 30-40%, according to the National Research Institute of Consumer Goods and Marketing. In food stores, losses are traditionally made up at the customers’ expense while in electronics shops it is the company selling the goods that is left to foot the bill. This is one reason food prices are growing faster than those of cell phones.
In the United States and European countries, shoplifting remains primitive, with goods simply stuffed under people’s clothes and carried out of the store. Russians are more inventive. Thieves wrap tins of food up in foil and hide them under their clothes to sneak them past the metal detectors. When stealing televisions, computers, printers or other large items, they fake sales checks.
The British Center for Retail Research describes Russia as a country with a moderate level of theft from stores with losses accounting for 1.6% of total retail turnover. The situation is more extreme in India where losses comprise 2.7% of retail turnover, with Brazil and Morocco following close behind. People are much more honest in Hong Kong and Taiwan where this figure is under 0.7%.
In absolute figures, the United States is top of the league, with 13 times more theft going on than in Russia.
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MOSCOW, November 11 (RIA Novosti)