“PenzaNews” surprised, disappointed by prosecution’s formal reply, Baal’s lies
Penza, 16 December 2015. PenzaNews. Pavel Polosin, PenzaNews agency editor-in-chief, called the reply of Alexandra Konovalova, counsellor in justice, deputy prosecutor of the Oktyabrsky area of Penza city, over the “TNS Energo Penza” incident a “bureaucratic boilerplate letter.” The incident in question took place on 3 November 2015, when the PenzaNews agency photo reporter Maxim Kostyushin encountered opposition from the company’s staff when he tried to take photos of the building and the adjacent area.
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“All members of ‘PenzaNews’ agency editorial are surprised and disappointed to see the prosecutor’s office showing a typically formal approach to their work. The reply we received can be outright called a boilerplate letter – and that is the most positive description that comes to mind. The quotations of various laws, including the Terrorism Prevention Law, in the letter by assistant prosecutor Mrs. Konovalova span over the first two pages. And the third, the final page of this reply contains an outright lie from Margarita Baal, head of the customer service department for ‘TNS Energo Penza’: she allegedly asked Maxim Kostyushin to provide documents that prove his identity, to no avail. I would like to remind Mrs. Margarita Vladimirovna [Baal] that ‘PenzaNews’ agency has audio recordings of both her encounter with Maxim on November 3, and her discussion with me several days after the incident. If Mrs. Baal has any doubt over her very own words said, we would be glad to dispel them. We are even ready to organize a public hearing of recordings. We would be delighted if that helps everyone resolve any ‘fuzzy memories’ over who said what and when,” Pavel Polosin pointed out.
According to him, a reading of several excerpts of the letter from the prosecutor’s office is a necessary requirement to see the sheer absurdity of the version presented by “TNS Energo Penza.”
“Based on information provided by ‘TNS Energo Penza’ following the request of the prosecutor’s office, on 3 November 2015, a person drove onto the territory of ‘TNS Energo Penza’ building in his car, bearing neither a name tag nor any other mark that would identify him as a journalist. He did not present the security officer, that approached him as per his duty to guard the order on the territory adjacent to the building, his ID card, even though he was able to do so. The man then entered the building of his own will. Based on the explanation provided by the head of the customer service department [Margarita Baal], the man met her inside the building of ‘TNS Energo Penza,’ and, again, did not provide any documents to confirm his identity, even though she asked him to do so, and only introduced himself as a ‘PenzaNews’ agency photo reporter. The representatives of ‘TNS Energo Penza’ did not see any documents that confirmed his status as a journalist, relations with ‘PenzaNews’ agency, or his range of authority. At the same time, the staff of ‘TNS Energo Penza’ neither had nor currently have any intentions to obstruct the activities of journalists. However, the staff of ‘TNS Energo Penza’ acted within the limits of the current legislation and in accordance to their job obligations. However, if the affected party considers his rights to be offended by the staff of ‘TNS Energo Penza,’ he can refer the case to the court as per the legislation,” says the official reply.
In addition, according to it, “the aforementioned facts provide no grounds for prosecution measures.”
In his comment over the aforementioned excerpt, Pavel Polosin said he was indignant over how easy the staff of “TNS Energo Penza” keeps imagining various hurdles for journalists to obey and broadcasts them further through the prosecutor’s office, a state public authority.
“As far as I know, journalists are legally obligated to wear media identification only when working on mass public events. Moreover, the law provides no officials requirements or restrictions for such identification signs. The wording about the name tag is just completely out of the blue. Again, I would like to stress: on the day of the incident, Maxim had all required documents handy: the Russian passport, the media ID card, and the editorial instruction sheet. Nobody – neither Mrs. Baal nor the guard – asked to show them,” the PenzaNews agency editor-in-chief added.
He also expressed his astonishment over the fact that assistant prosecutor Alexandra Konovalova did not follow the example of the Penza region Investigative Committee that contacted Maxim Kostyushin himself before replying, and used solely the information provided by “TNS Energo Penza” staff members.
“The prosecutor’s office did not see the most important note in this story,” Pavel Polosin regretfully pointed out.
“Of course it’s good that our photo reporter was not injured, that nobody inflicted any physical harm on him by ‘TNS Energo Penza’ staff, did not have his camera broken or seized like it happens in other regions. Perhaps even a ‘thank you’ to the security staff on the service of Roman Chernov is in order – ‘polite people’ indeed. Apparently, there was no violation of the law and they had no intentions to obstruct the activities of a journalist. But for some reason, Maxim Kostyushin was unable to complete his objective on 3 November 2015. Perhaps it was exactly because the staff of ‘TNS Energo Penza’ interfered with his job – that is, with his professional activities? I’m not saying anything about the truth here, but is there even a trace of logic on the side of the prosecutor’s office? Then why do we even need those boilerplate letters that arrive 45 days after the incident was reported in a letter, quote-unquote, ‘on disagreement with activities of ‘TNS Energo Penza’ staff’? Even the very phrasing chosen by the prosecutor’s office give the reader an impression right from the beginning – at least I got one – that these three sheets of paper sent by post on taxpayers’ money have no actual meaning. To sum it all up, the prosecutor’s office, instead of admonition, gave a green light and a walkthrough to those who want to legally interfere with activities of journalists… We are disappointed,” concluded the PenzaNews agency editor-in-chief.
As PenzaNews agency reported earlier, on 3 November 2015, Maxim Kostyushin, PenzaNews agency photo reporter, approached the building of “TNS Energo Penza” with intent to take photos of the building and the adjacent area under the orders of the editorial office to accompany a previously published report of the 650,000-rubles fine.
The photo reporter already managed to take several shots when he was approached by a security guard of “TNS Energo Penza,” who demanded him to immediately stop the photo shoot and proceed with him to the 4th floor of the building for further investigation, to which Maxim Kostyushin agreed to avoid provoking a conflict.
During a discussion with the PenzaNews agency photo reporter that got off to a bad start, Margarita Baal, client relations department manager of “TNS Energo Penza,” claimed that it is ostensibly prohibited to take photos of the building from the street side without an advance warning and agreement with the company’s head management; however, she did not explain the legal basis behind the claim.
While questioning, she did not ask Maxim Kostyushin for the citizen passport to establish his identity. Likewise, she did not ask him to provide his official ID and the editorial instructions list, even though the photo reporter had the aforementioned documents at hand, and did not contact the editorial office on the issue.
Through the discussion, the PenzaNews agency photo reporter tried to explain to Margarita Baal there were no notices on the company’s premises saying taking photos is not allowed, while he made no interior photos; however, his arguments had no effect.
After the discussion, Maxim Kostyushin was escorted out of the building by the security guard and left the premises without completing the editorial instruction.
Immediately after the incident, PenzaNews agency editor-in-chief Pavel Polosin contacted by phone Roman Chernov, deputy general director of “TNS Energo,” managing director of “TNS Energo Penza” [Penza mayor between December 2005 and 19 June 2014], asked him to explain the reasons why the latter’s company’s staff interfered with the photoshoot, and reminded that intervention with legal professional activities of journalists is illegal.
The short talk ended without a diplomatic resolution of the conflict. Because of that, PenzaNews editorial office was obligated to inform the Glasnost Defense Foundation, the Center for Legal Support of Journalists under the All-Russian People’s Front (APF), and the Russian Union of Journalists of the incident.
In addition, the agency requested the regional department of the Investigation Committee and the Penza region prosecutor’s office to provide legal evaluation of the “TNS Energo Penza” staff activities.
On November 11, the PenzaNews agency photo reporter testified about the incident to the regional Investigative Committee.
On November 13, the Oktyabrsky area prosecutor’s office in Penza announced to investigate the incident.
On November 24, experts from the APF Center for Legal Support of Journalists announced they had studied the situation, and found that the staff of “TNS Energo Penza” did not have the rights to restrict the rights of a media representative to take photos of the building. Because of that, APF experts promised to send a cheat-sheet letter to the top management of “TNS Energo Penza” with a detailed explanation of the violations committed by its staff members, as a measure hoping to prevent such incidents from taking place in the future.
On December 10, PenzaNews agency received a letter from the investigative department of the Penza region Investigative Committee with a legal evaluation on the activities of the energy company.
On the same day, the incident with the PenzaNews agency photo reporter was mentioned in the results of the monthly monitoring of the Glasnost Defense Foundation.
“TNS Energo Penza” (part of “TNS Energo” group) is the guaranteeing power supplier in the Penza region that services over 634,000 individuals and more than 15,000 legal entities.