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Accreditation


Accreditation is an important tool in ensuring free access to information. The relationship between local authorities and the press is based on statutory acts, including acts on the accreditation of the press by federal and municipal authorities. In the first place, this research will consider federal laws. Among these are the Russian Federation Law on Mass Media (hereafter referred to as the Law on Mass Media) of December 27, 1991 (in the edition of August 5, 2000); the Federal Law on State Support of the Mass Media and Publishing Industry of December 1, 1995 (in the edition of October 22, 1998); the Federal Law on Economic Support of Regional (Municipal) Newspapers of October 14, 1995 (edition of January 2, 2000) and the Federal Law on Information, Its Dissemination and Protection of February 20, 1995. And, of course, special attention was given to the Constitution of the Russian Federation and international acts ratified by Russia. In many regions of the Russian Federation, executive and legislative authorities have approved regulations for the accreditation of journalists.

Aimed at developing and supplementing federal laws, these regulations should regulate legal relations in the field of accreditation on the basis of the general principles stipulated in Article 48 (Accreditation (Article 48. Accreditation. Editorial offices have the right to apply to a governmental body, organization, agency or a body of public association for accreditation of their journalists.

Government bodies, organizations, agencies and public associations shall accredit the journalists indicated in the application, provided the editorial offices follow the regulations established by the above bodies, organizations and agencies.

The bodies, organizations and agencies that accredit the journalists are to notify them in advance of their meetings, sessions and other events, provide them with transcripts, protocols and other documents and create a favorable environment for making notes and records.

The accredited journalist has the right to attend meetings, sessions and other events held by the accrediting bodies, organization and agencies, unless a decision is taken to hold a closed session.

Journalists may lose their accreditation if they or their editorial office violate the regulations for accreditation, or disseminate inaccurate information that discredits the accrediting organization, provided this has been confirmed by a valid court ruling.

Editorial offices' own correspondents are accredited in accordance with the present article.)) of the Law on Mass Media. In accordance with these principles, accreditation has been designed to facilitate journalists' access to information on the activities of regulatory bodies, make this information available for citizens, ensure its transparency for society and promote fruitful interaction with Mass Media.

Research conducted by the Public Examination Project revealed precisely the opposite trends in regional laws.

The research analyzed 73 documents on accreditation developed by the regulatory agencies in 51 regions. Its goal was to determine whether they obeyed the letter and spirit of federal law. The analysis produced somewhat contradictory results: after stage 1 of the Public Examination Project had been implemented, a number of regions enacted new accreditation regulations in line with federal law and adopted new regulations for accreditation. However, these regions were in the minority. One of them was the Omsk Region whose laws underwent partial changes; interestingly, the Regulations for the Accreditation of Journalists by the Omsk authorities is the only legal act enabling journalists to attend events held by the authorities without accreditation (if they are invited by a leader). Some amendments were introduced to the regulations for accreditation by the Penza Region Legislative Assembly, Pskov Region Assembly of Deputies and Tver Region Legislative Assembly. Among the measures that were abolished were the ruling by the mayor of Penza On Accreditation of Mass Media Representatives by Penza Authorities and the ruling by the Head of the Kostroma Region On the Regulations for Accreditation of Journalists. Although a definite trend is in progress to improve regional laws, none of the acts analyzed is in full accordance with federal law. Most regional legal acts which were found inconsistent with federal laws during stage one remained unamended even after stage two had been implemented. The analysis exposed the most typical and common discrepancies between regional accreditation legislation and the Law on Mass Media of the Russian Federation as well as other statutory acts. I. Federal regulations for accreditation are violated when the local regulations:

  1. require the provision of superfluous information, i.e. personal information about the accredited journalists.
  2. discriminate between different media outlets in their right to accreditation (depending on their founders, location and the nature of relations between journalists and the editorial office).
  3. set arbitrary restrictions on the accreditation of mass media.
  4. establish unlawful grounds for denying accreditation.
  5. accredit journalists together with officials who do not work for the press.
  6. set illegal terms and conditions for accreditation.
  7. do not inform editorial offices of the information they need to give on their application forms for accreditation, or about the procedure and terms of its consideration.
  8. limit the time period for applying for accreditation.
  9. require excessive information from an editorial office applying for accreditation.
  10. enforce a complicated red-tape procedure for considering applications.
Quite often, statutory acts on accreditation do not differentiate between journalists and individuals that do not work for the press, such as press-services employees. This is unacceptable, as only journalists, in their professional capacity, are endowed by the law with the corresponding rights and responsibilities. Accreditation is one of these. Nothing of the kind is stipulated for those who work for press-services. Their activities are governed by their internal documents. As press-services are connected with the Mass Media, they need a certain legal basis to rely on, but this is a quite separate regulatory matter. Thus, it is illegal to replace the regulations for accreditation with instructions regulating press-services.

It is hardly worth arguing whether it is justified to deny accreditation to highly specialized publications, such as those that contain only advertisements or erotic art. Even if they require information from time to time, they could be served on the basis of standard inquiry without any long-term cooperation in the form of accreditation.

However, information on target audiences, which is sometimes required by the accrediting body, should not be a decisive factor in providing accreditation. It is quite sufficient to submit the data that are required when registering media bodies in accordance with the Law on Mass Media, Article 10, i.e. their content and/or special focus. An accrediting organization may explain that it needs to know the target audience of publications, as the materials of the accrediting organization published by a certain publication may cause the accrediting organization to lose its reputation and induce moral and political damage. These arguments contradict the whole idea of press equality and freedom as well as the constitutional principle of ideological diversity.

Sometimes, the authors of the local regulations are too demanding of the journalists applying for accreditation, requiring an excessive amount of information. Apart from first and family names, an editorial office is sometimes asked to indicate the journalist's position, age, education, pseudonym, record of service and details of professional experience and even provide references.

All this is absolutely illegal and unnecessary. Some of these data are protected by law as personal secrets. According to the Federal Law on Information, Its Dissemination and Protection, such information, so-called personal data, is referred to as "limited access information" and is confidential. Unauthorized collection and dissemination of such data for purposes contrary to the law is prohibited.

The Constitution of the Russian Federation acknowledges the right to personal privacy and guarantees non-interference of the state authorities in citizens' private lives (Articles 23, 24).

According to many regulations, applications may be considered and accreditation granted only on condition of the availability of such data. Thus, personal information in itself can provide a formal and actual basis for eliminating undesirable applicants. An accrediting body can deny accreditation to a journalist because his or her specialization does not correspond with its primary activity or because of his or her advanced age. These are cases of unacceptable limitation of journalists' rights. (Violations of Articles 1, 48, 58 of Law on Mass Media etc.)

It is also illegal to require a journalist to indicate his or her pseudonym on the application form. This requirement violates the right stipulated by Article 47, paragraph 12 of Law on Mass Media, in accordance with which the journalist is entitled to distribute his or her statement and materials signed in his or her own name, pseudonym or unsigned. Article 15 of the RF Law On Copyright and Related Rights also establishes an author's right to use his or her writings under his or her own name, pseudonym or without any name indicated, i.e. anonymously. The requirement to disclose pseudonyms also contradicts Article 150 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

The regulations analyzed contain a number of provisions that discriminate against certain mass media on various illegal grounds. One case of such discrimination is when the accrediting body gives the local press preference in accreditation if, for example, its governing body is situated in that particular city. This alienates other publications distributed nationwide. Although they work on a more global level, they are discriminated against because they do not belong to a particular region. This contradicts the principle of equality that is stipulated in Article 7 of the Law on Mass Media. It is also unacceptable when the accrediting body gives priority to those publications whose founders include federal and local authorities. This makes accreditation less accessible for the independent press. Discrimination against media outlets in their right to accreditation depending on their founders violates Article 48 of the Law on Mass Media.

Discrimination against media in their right to accreditation depending on their content and special focus is equally illegal. This could be used as an excuse to eliminate opposition publications which criticize the accrediting bodies, and other publications which they prefer not to supply with information about themselves.

Any preferences and restrictions in the right of the press to accreditation must be based upon the specific provisions of the regulations for accreditation. This will help to eliminate privileges and restrictions that are given arbitrarily and violate the rights of journalists and the press. For this reason, the absence of such provisions in the regulations analyzed is considered unlawful.

Equally unlawful is discrimination against those journalists who are not permanent members of staff but work freelance, by authorization or assignment of the editorial offices, or cooperating with them on a constant basis. Provisions that accreditation may be given only to staff journalists, which have been found in a number of regulations, impair both the rights of the journalists who have professional status stipulated by the law (see Articles 2-16; Article 52, part 2 of Law on Mass Media) and those of the editorial offices, who should have the ability to decide, at their own discretion, who they want to assign as an accredited journalist (Article 19 and 48 of Law on Mass Media). II. Journalists' rights are violated when the regulations:

  1. Limit their access to unclassified documents and materials.
  2. Set arbitrary time periods for accreditation.
  3. Limit the right to use non-classified information or sources of information.
  4. Limit the time period within which journalists are allowed to visit an accrediting body.
  5. Charge the journalists or editorial office with additional responsibilities that are not stipulated by law.
  6. Require any special registration to visit the accrediting body.
  7. Require the disclosure of pseudonyms.
  8. Set non-standard requirements that allow arbitrary interpretation and charge the journalist with the responsibility of informing the accrediting body of materials prepared.
  9. Oblige journalists to publish the materials or statements of accrediting bodies.
  10. Require journalists to adhere to non-standard legislation and moral standards.
  11. Include regulatory provisions on the press that do not relate to accreditation, but restrict the rights of unaccredited journalists.
  12. Require additional accreditation for national or international events.
  13. Stipulate standards of appearance for those journalists who are invited.
  14. Charge the journalist with the responsibility of providing the accrediting body with the materials published.
One of the most varied parameters in the regulations analyzed was the period of accreditation. It was rarely granted for an individual event, but more often for three or six months, and usually for a one-year period. It rarely occurs that accreditation is given for a longer period.

Accreditation is a tool that helps to establish long-term and sustainable cooperation between authorities and the press. It is meant to facilitate the access of journalists to the activities of such bodies, ensuring their transparency for citizens. The period of accreditation stipulated by the regulations deprives accreditation of this very feature, while granting administrations and press-services a very powerful tool to illegally influence editorial offices and journalists. These procedures threaten the independence of the press and journalists, as well as the general freedom of the press. Short periods of accreditation that are set arbitrarily were considered by the experts to be violation of Articles 1, 47, 48 of the Law on Mass Media.

Equally unacceptable are regulations requiring journalists to use only information provided by the press-service of the accrediting body or, while communicating with officials, to use only the data that falls within those officials' competency and to consider any statements outside these parameters to be private opinion.

Regulations that require accredited journalists to get a special invitation from the press-service in order to visit the accrediting body are illegal. Equally unlawful are regulations requiring mandatory appearance from journalists invited or summoned to events held by the accrediting body. Here the situation is reversed. The right of the journalist to visit the accrediting body (Article 48, Law on Mass Media) is transformed into his or her obligation while the responsibility of the accrediting body to ensure this right by notifying him or her of forthcoming events is transformed into the right to control the journalist as if he or she were a subordinate or an obedient employee.

Some regulations for accreditation put journalists and the press in a dependent position, requiring them to publish the materials and statements of the accrediting body, submit copies of materials published and inform them of forthcoming publications.

In accordance with Article 35 of the Law on Mass Media, an editorial office is only obliged to publish (on a free of charge basis and within a set time period) a valid judgment concerning such publications and a statement issued by the accrediting body concerning this editorial office, as well as other materials which Russian law stipulates must be published. Among the latter are, for example, statements issued by election committees or pre-election materials distributed in the federal and municipal mass media in accordance with the federal law On the Election of Deputies to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. The above-mentioned provisions, however, have nothing to do with accreditation. The same goes for the requirement to publish the materials of the accrediting body, even if the latter is among the founders of this particular media outlet. Although such obligations may be stipulated in the by-laws or any substituting agreement between the editorial office and a founder, such relations are binding between the two parties only and have nothing to do with accreditation, other media and their rights in this field. For this reason, it is unacceptable to include a general requirement for the press to publish the materials and statements of the accrediting body in the regulations for accreditation.

It is equally unacceptable to oblige journalists to provide the accrediting body with the materials published. It may seem desirable to include the accrediting body in the editorial office's mailing list, but this is a matter of cooperation and hardly needs to be enforced, especially when attempts are made to make the journalist personally responsible for such matters. This makes the journalist feel subordinate, accountable, inferior to and dependant on the press service's officials, impairing the journalist's professional independence and legal rights (Article 47, 58 of Law on Mass Media).

Thus, we consider such an obligation legally unacceptable.

The last rule in this list of illegal requirements obliges the journalist to inform the accrediting bodies of forthcoming materials. Here censorship is not only alluded to but manifest.

III. Violations on the part of the accrediting body:

  1. Failure to fulfill its obligation to inform journalists of events.
  2. Failure to fulfill its obligation to provide journalists with protocols, transcripts and other documents.
  3. Failure to fulfill its obligation to create a favorable working environment for journalists.
These provisions obliging accrediting bodies should be included in the regulations for accreditation of journalists in accordance with Article 48 of the Law on Mass Media of the Russian Federation.

IV. Unlawful withdrawal of accreditation:

  1. No appeals procedure is stipulated.
  2. Unlawful grounds and procedures for withdrawal of accreditation.
  3. Unlawful suspension of accreditation.
  4. Unlawful revocation of an editorial board's right to accredit journalists.
  5. Unlawful grounds for limitation of accreditation.
Many different grounds for withdrawal of accreditation are stipulated by the regulations. The threat of depriving journalists of a source of publicly important information represents a powerful tool with which to control them. This explains why there have been so many grounds and procedures invented to withdraw accreditation.

As we know, the law stipulates only two grounds for withdrawing accreditation: if the journalists or their editorial office violate the regulations for accreditation, or disseminate inaccurate information that discredits the accrediting organization, provided this has been confirmed by a valid court ruling (Article 48 of Law on Mass Media). Other grounds for withdrawing accreditation limit the rights and freedoms granted to press and journalists.

The first of the grounds stipulated by law (violation of the regulations for accreditation) provides no basis for unlimited bans and ordinances. In this regard, we would like to stress that a formal violation of any paragraph of these regulations is not sufficient to withdraw accreditation. For this, the paragraph violated should be legitimate, i.e. it should fully correspond to federal law without containing any contradictions to it. Otherwise, withdrawal of accreditation is illegal and may be revoked judicially or by other procedures. In this regard, we would like to note that measures and decisions taken by federal and public institutions are legitimate only if this is expressly indicated in the law.

We have already mentioned that journalists are sometimes charged with responsibilities that are not stipulated by the law. One of the possible negative consequences of this could be that the journalist might lose accreditation if he or she refuses to exercise those functions. Among these are non-attendance of events organized by the accrediting body "without reasonable excuse," or "regular absenteeism," or repeated "nonconformist behavior in public places" or any other breaches of Russian law. Even more specific indications of violations of the Law on Mass Media, especially Articles 4 and 51, do not provide justification, as withdrawal of accreditation is not stipulated as a sanction against infringements on freedom of information and the rights of journalists in accordance with Article 59 of the Law on Mass Media. For such cases, the law stipulates other sanctions and other ways to enforce them.

As for the second grounds stipulated by the law, it is extended without limit in the regulations on accreditation. In proposing as grounds for withdrawing accreditation "partial coverage of the institution's activity, misrepresentation of an event, dissemination of inaccurate information that discredits an accrediting organization and causes moral and political damage to it or its employees etc." the authors assume the right, which properly belongs only to the court, to evaluate journalist's writings and take unilateral legally significant decisions. They do this at their own discretion and use extremely vague criteria (what is, for example, "moral and political damage?")

The non-standard definitions that were considered above are here also used as grounds for withdrawing accreditation. Among possible examples are provisions "on breaches of journalistic ethics", "on actions that contradict moral rules" etc.

Unlike legal regulations, moral rules, including professional ones, are relative and depend on the specific social situation and a person's moral position. Thus one and the same matter may receive different evaluations from different ethical points of view. For this reason, such evaluations are subjective and controversial. Thus, it is impossible to use them as the basis of legally important decisions and actions.

In reproducing the provision on dissemination of inaccurate information that discredit the accrediting organization with multiple additions and variations, those drafting the regulations cunningly omit the most important legal requirement: to confirm this accusation with a valid court ruling. Instead of this, they establish illegal decision-making procedures: by a majority of the deputies of the representative body, by one third of the deputies, by order of the accrediting body, or by instruction of the press-service. All this leaves the journalist unprotected against arbitrary administrative rule.

Many regulations prescribe a procedure not stipulated by any law, i.e. suspension of accreditation, as well as depriving the editorial office of accreditation for the violations of its representatives. By law, it is the offender who should lose accreditation, not the editorial office, which has right to substitute him or her with another journalist.

Taking the above into account, it seems necessary to include a procedure in the regulations for appealing against decisions and actions taken against journalists by the accrediting body or its officials. This is very important, as the right of appeal against any action or any decision taken by any authority or official, including courts or international bodies, is among the inalienable rights granted by the Constitution of the Russian Federation and international legislation.

It is a violation of federal law when such provisions are not included in the regulations for accreditation, as this may hamper the timely rectification of violations, the repeal of unjustified rulings and the prevention of illegal actions against accredited journalists.

Analysis of the documents and indices allowed us to identify the regions where the rights of journalists have been impaired. In these regions such legislation affected the Mass Media policy of both legislative and executive bodies.

Among them are the Republic of Udmurtia (Ordinance on Accreditation of Mass Media Representatives by the State Council of the Republic of Udmurtia, Ordinance on the Accreditation of Mass Media Representatives by the Izhevsk Administration, Accreditation of Mass Media Representatives by the Izhevsk City Duma, Ordinance on Accreditation of Mass Media Representatives by the Glazov Administration, and Regulations on the Accreditation of Journalists by the Glazov United Council of Deputies together contain 33 violations of federal laws), Vologda Region (Ordinance on Accreditation of Journalists by the Vologograd Regional Duma, Ordinance on Accreditation of Journalists by the Vologograd Administration, Regulations on the Accreditation of Journalists by the Vologograd Regional Administration altogether contain 24 violations of federal law), Kaliningrad Region (Ordinance on Accreditation of Mass Media Representatives by the Kaliningrad Regional Administration and Ordinance on the Accreditation of Mass Media Representatives by the Kaliningrad Council of Deputies contain 17 violations of federal law).

Separate mention should be made of The Regulations for Accreditation of Journalists by the Parliament of the Republic of Kalmykia and the Resolution by the Parliament of the Republic of Kalmykia On the Accreditation of Journalists in the year 2000. The former document does not allow accreditation of journalists from the non-governmental press and limits to a great extent the rights of those journalists who are entitled to accreditation. Almost the entire document contradicts federal law and the constitution and lacks a number of necessary provisions stipulated by Article 48 (Accreditation) of the Law on Mass Media of the Russian Federation. The latter does not constitute the regulations for accreditation as they are, but contains two provisions that regulate accreditation and contradicts federal law. The very letter and spirit of the Kalmyk documents contradict federal law to such an extent that they cannot be evaluated by the same system as other documents. Their purpose is in direct opposition to the principles of the federal laws on mass media.

All the violations of federal laws revealed by the analysis of the regional statutory acts on accreditation have been combined in the following table. The table has three columns: Violations, Frequency of Violations and Regions where the violations were recorded. Similar violations were grouped into 36 sets. The frequency of violations was determined by analyzing all the articles of the regulations for accreditation that exist in the region. Thus, the number of violations may exceed the number of regions.

 
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