March 28, 2012 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Independent regional TV station hounded, might have to close

Reporters Without Borders condemns a six-week-old campaign of harassment of Puls TV, an independent television station based in the southwestern city of Azov, which could force it to close for good.

“We are very worried for Puls TV’s future and we fear it could set a precedent that endangers the freedom of independent media in this region,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This case is typical of the methods used in many regions to silence media that stray from the official line. We call for an end to all activity designed to prevent this station from operating normally.”

The head of the station, Alexei Sklyarov, told Reporters Without Borders that the harassment began in mid-February, immediately after he agreed to lead the newly-created local branch of the Voters’ League, a volunteer organization for monitoring elections created in the wake of last December’s demonstrations.

The day after the league’s creation, Puls TV was suddenly targeted by a wave of inspections. The first was a complaint filed in Azov by someone identified only by the surname of Galchuk, which claimed that the station’s equipment was having a “negative effect” on the health of those living in its vicinity.

The Rostov regional branch of the federal communications agency Roskomnadzor immediately ordered an inspection of the building and told Puls TV to provide a number of documents. Two other inspections were carried out the same day by firemen who had an order for the building’s demolition.

Although Puls TV has occupied the same premises for 22 years, the building’s owner is now suddenly refusing to renew its lease, which is expires today. Sklyarov said all this persecution must have been prompted by his involvement in the Voters’ League.

The harassment comes amid continuing tension resulting from the post-electoral protests. After a number of apparent attempts to defuse the situation, the authorities are again reacting aggressively to criticism.

In a separate development, Andrei Kolomoisky, a journalist based in the northwestern city of Vyborg, was charged on 26 March with "inciting extremism and hatred" for posting a doctored video of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on his blog on the website of the newspaper he works for, Vyborgskiye Vedomosti.

The video, a doctored version of a speech Putin gave on the eve of the 4 December parliamentary elections, shows him urging the electorate to vote for the ruling United Russia party because of its “empty promises” and because “poverty (...) is experiencing stable growth.” Kolomoisky is facing a possible five year jail sentence.