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Local television station faces possible criminal charges over tongue-in-cheek reference to president

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a 10 January 2008 CPJ press release:

Station faces criminal charges for Putin slang

New York, January 10, 2008 - Prosecutors in the northeastern Russian city of Vladimir have opened a criminal case against local television station TV-6 Vladimir for allegedly insulting President Vladimir Putin in a broadcast. The station's staff has not yet been charged but, if indicted and convicted, they would face up to one year of corrective labor.

On November 30, TV-6 Vladimir broadcast footage from a local pro-Putin rally as part of their news program "Seychas" (Now). In his accompanying commentary to the footage, reporter Sergei Golovinov referred to the rally as a "Puting" - a play on the Russian word for rally, miting - and described the demonstrators as "loyal Putinists."

Following the broadcast, Mikhail Babich, a parliamentary deputy from Russia's ruling party, United Russia, filed a complaint with the Vladimir regional prosecutor's office. Babich asked authorities to investigate whether the broadcast contained insults to the president, according to local news reports.

"It is absurd to consider such tongue-in-cheek terms about public officials a criminal offense in a democracy," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "We call on the Russian prosecutors to immediately drop the case against TV-6 Vladimir."

On Babich's request, the Vladimir regional prosecutor's office opened a criminal investigation on December 4 to examine the footage. According to the local press, experts from the state Nizhny Novgorod Linguistic University found the terms "Puting" and "Putinists" derogatory and insulting to the president. Golovinov told CPJ he and his colleagues are currently considered witnesses in a criminal case. They could be convicted under Article 319, which concerns insults to public officials. An investigative committee that handles serious crimes under the Vladimir regional prosecutor's office is in charge of the probe.

Golovinov told CPJ the staff committed no wrongdoing. "We showed the rally and I commented on it, but it seems they don't like to see their own reflection in the mirror," he said.

Golovinov said the terms "Puting" and "Putinists" are commonly used, including by other media outlets. CPJ ran a search for the term "Puting" on the popular Russian search Web site Yandex.ru; it turned up 25,755 results.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information in Russia, visit http://www.cpj.org

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