I decided to share with you a story, which has been continuing for over four years now. It’s a story about Roscomnadzor Agency blocking the registration of News Agency Golos, despite the court ruling in our favour, and about the News Agency’s trademark name ending up in the hands of this government body. I kept putting it off for lack of time, but my colleagues insisted that I give a brief account of this story for investigation on simulation of citizen participation in elections.
Year 2013 was very difficult for the Golos Movement: constant inspections, propaganda, surveillance, inclusion in the list of foreign agents, and the loss of financing. The most pressing issue was the survival of our organization, and we were looking for opportunities to continue our work under existing conditions. In the summer of 2013, we decided to register News Agency Golos that would create a large network of correspondents and would regularly cover the Russian elections. We held a lot of meetings, discussing the plans, and had high hopes for the agency.
Together with the lawyers, who specialize in media legislation, we prepared all the documents and submitted them to Roscomnadzor for the registration of News Agency Golos. Here, I should note that due to my lack of experience I insisted on this name, although now I understand that for convenience’s sake we should’ve used a single word - “Golos.” Nonetheless, the chosen name has helped us to retrace the whole chain of events.
On August 28, 2013, Roscomnadzor denied our registration declaring that the “media outlet’s name can mislead the consumers (audience) regarding the media’s programming,” and didn’t offer any additional explanation. It should be noted that at that point there were no registered media in Russia with that name.
As we were preparing the new package of documents for registration, we discovered that on September 25, 2013, Roscomnadzor simultaneously registered three media outlets in the name of some unknown company Prospect-TV LLC. The outlets bore the names: newspaper Golos, online media Golos, and news agency Golos. It became clear that refusal to register us was necessary to allow the “appropriate” organization to submit the documents for registration of the eponymous media, thus blocking the Golos Movement from using this name.
In 2015, following two years of legal proceedings, the court ruled that refusal to register News Agency Golos was unlawful and obliged Roscomnadzor to register it. To execute the court order, we once again submitted the request for news agency’s registration, but once again received an unlawful denial from Roscomnadzor: this time the agency claimed that over the last two years the size of the stamp duty has been increased, and additional fee should be paid. Despite the unlawful character of such demands, we decided to pay the remainder of the duty to see how Roscomnadzor would behave after that.
In July of 2015, Roscomnadzor for the third time refused to register our media and execute the court order, citing the same reason as the first time (which was ruled to be unlawful): “Media outlet’s name can mislead the consumers (audience) regarding the media’s programming.”
Following Roscomnadzor’s refusal to execute the court order, we collected the writ of execution and turned it over to the bailiff, who was supposed to ensure the execution of the court order on registration of the news agency. Roscomnadzor is regularly fined for the failure to execute the court order, but it persistently refuses to execute it.
For two years there was not a trace of the three media outlets registered in the name of Prospect-TV LLC. In 2016, these media outlets disappeared from the roster of registered media, and on March 30, 2016, the roster was augmented with the News Agency Golos registered to somebody by the name of M.A. Smirnov, residing in Balashikha, outside of Moscow.
In 2017, the news agency registered in the name of M.A. Smirnov disappears from the Roscomnadzor roster, and on April 14, 2017 it is replaced by the eponymous News Agency Golos, registered by Alena Bulgakova, the head of the Executive Committee of the Movement for Honest Elections.
This story demonstrates the existing discrepancy in the approaches taken by Roscomnadzor towards different applicants, and can be identified as example of discriminatory practices against civil society organizations, which contradict the requirements of the Russian Constitution and of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The fact that the chain of registrations leads to the head of the quasi-state organization, and that the registered name is identical to the name that we came up with in 2013 and that remains the subject of the court order unfulfilled by Roscomnadzor, tells us that the management of the Movement for Honest Elections was openly used in this story to block the initiatives of independent observers.