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Russia shuts down newspaper for ‘supporting’ opposition

During the recent local government elections in South Africa, the ANC accused the media of biased reporting; saying media coverage predominantly favoured the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.

In Port Elizabeth, the ANC’s regional chairperson Nceba Faku reportedly went so far as to call for supporters to “burn” the local Herald newspaper.

After the elections, the South African Communist Party issued a statement saying the media had “devoted acres of space and airtime to demonising the ANC and fully campaigning for the DA”.

While in South Africa the ANC have argued for the establishment of the media appeals tribunal to oversee the regulation of the media, other countries including China and Zimbabwe have dealt more unilaterally with the press.

Now, in Russia, a newspaper funded by the Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF) was recently shut down for allowing its printing press to print campaign flyers for an opposition party.

According to the MDLF’s website, on May 24, the court of Myasnikovsky in Russia, refused to reopen the printing house of the independent weekly newspaper Krestyanin after previously ordering its closure for 90 days. The newspaper’s website was inexplicably blocked for two days during the dispute.

On May 17, the Myasnikovsky court had ordered the printing house’s closure on the grounds of alleged breaches of fire safety regulations, following an inspection by an officer from the department of fire police. At the second hearing, the court refused to reopen the printing house even though the fire police had issued a certificate confirming rectification of the alleged breaches, and scheduled a further hearing for May 31.

It appeared that the attack signalled the beginning of a campaign of intimidation designed to influence the newspaper’s editorial and its independent printing policy ahead of national parliamentary elections in December, and the presidential election due to be held in March 2012.

Krestyanin was due to begin printing campaign flyers for the Communist Party candidate for mayor of Shakhty, a nearby city, on May 12, but faced various problems such as electricity cuts to the area and intimidation from a local government official. However, under Russian law, a printing house is obliged to print campaign materials for any registered candidate and refused to stop printing.

The printing house had its own generator so was able to continue printing. The police arrived, saying that they had received reports that the flyer contained anti-Semitic content and demanded to see the company’s founding documents. Krestyanin provided the police with the documents they requested and pointed out that the content of the flyer was an issue for the electoral commission.

On May 13, an officer from the department of fire police offered to carry out an inspection of the premises so that he could notify Krestyanin of any potential breaches to fire regulations. Even though he had no court order, Krestyanin allowed him to carry out his visual inspection. Instead of reporting any anomalies to Krestyanin, the fire official informed the court of several alleged infringements.

On May 18, court bailiffs sealed the printing house and printing presses despite the order not mandating sealing the presses, refusing to allow even maintenance engineers to access the premises. The website was also blocked until May 20.

After discussions with local officials, the premises were reinspected and Krestyanin obtained a certificate from the fire police certifying that all breaches of regulations had been rectified but the court requested additional evidence and refused to reopen the printing house, postponing the hearing until 31 May.

Until at least the end of the month, Krestyanin will be unable to print its own newspapers or service other printing contracts, which will lead to serious financial losses.

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Amanda Strydom
Amanda Strydom is the Mail & Guardian online's night editor. With a background in science and journalism, she has a black belt third dan in ballet and, according to a statistical analysis of the past three years, reads 2.73 books every week. She never finishes her tea, although she won't say no to a cupcake. But only just this once.

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