Online News Agency May Be Closed Over Forum Comments

The information portal is in danger of being closed after it was issued two warnings for “extremism” from Russia’s media monitoring agency, Roskomsvyaznadzor., which tried to have the warnings dismissed by a Moscow court, received them over user comments left in its online forum.  As the Kommersant newspaper reports, Russian media law now allows Roskomsvyaznadzor to push for the website’s closure in court.

Aksana Panova, owner and editor of the online news agency, said the first extremist text was left as a comment on the forum in 2008.  Responding to a news article titled “On April 20th, skinheads will mark Hitler’s birthday with mass attacks on foreigners,” an unknown user called for the death of government leaders and wrote a series of racist slurs.  Despite the fact that moderators quickly removed the comment, the local office of Roskomsvyaznadzor had already noticed it and issued a warning.

After that, similar comments began popping up daily on the forum.  “We are certain that this was a planned campaign,” Panova said.  “At first, we removed these comments, which had the same identical text, but in the end it was noticed, and we received a second warning.”

The editorial office then turned for help to law enforcement authorities in every region where it has correspondents.  This, however, merely led to an inspection from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and local police, who scoured the website’s materials for extremism.  The authors of the offending comments have yet to be found, although provided with investigators with the user’s IP addresses, which should lead directly to the perpetrators.

“Formally, we now have the right to turn to court with a claim to close the media outlet,” said Yevgeny Strelyakin, press-secretary of Roskomsvyaznadzor.  “But this doesn’t happen automatically.  We will see how they react, we’ll understand if this is a one-time problem or the publication’s policy.  After all, these types of comments need to be moderated and kept track of on a timely basis.”

According to the Russian Union of Journalists, authorities have accused two other web-publications on charges of extremism in the same manner.  The Altai-based Bankfax agency and the Khakkasia-based Novy Fokus web-magazine were each ultimately fined 20 thousand rubles ($600 or €450).