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Russie22 January 2008

Local TV station staff could get a year’s forced labour for play on words on Putin’s name

Reporters Without Borders condemns a decision by prosecutors in Vladimir (200 km east of Moscow) to charge several employees of local television station TV 6 Vladimir with “insulting a public official” under article 319 of the criminal code for referring on the air to supporters of President Vladimir Putin as “Putinists” and to a meeting they held as a “Puting.”

The charge carries a maximum penalty of one year’s forced labour and a fine of 40,000 rubles (1,100 euros).

(JPEG) Local prosecutor’s began questioning the station’s staff on 14 January as a result of a complaint by Mikhail Babich, a local parliamentary representative of the ruling United Russia party, about a report referring to a local pro-Putin meeting that was screened on 30 November as part of the station’s “Without Comment” programme.

In response to a request by the prosecutor’s office for an expert opinion, Mikhail Grachyov, a Russian language professor at Nizhny Novgorod Linguistic University, said the play on words used by the TV station could, in a “certain context,” be offensive to President Putin.

One of TV 6 Vladimir’s journalists, Sergei Golovinov, said he and his colleagues thought the complaint was an attempt by United Russia to force a station that was neutral and objective to toe the party line. But the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, Yury Yevtukhov, insists that the case is not politically motivated. The investigators were careful to question everyone involved and obtain expert opinion, he said.

This is not the first time that this charge has been brought against a news media. The Saratovskyi Reportyor, a newspaper based in Saratov (850 km southeast of Moscow), faces closure for publishing a cartoon consisting of Putin’s face imposed on the photo of a fictional Soviet spy in an old TV series. And in October 2006, journalist Vladimir Rakhmankov was fined 20,000 rubles for referring to Putin as the “nation’s phallic symbol” in a column in the online newspaper Kursiv.

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