Ingenuity Helps ABA ROLI Trainee Fight Corruption Through Media Compliance

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January 2014

In April 2013, Boris Panteleev, a Russian human rights activist and former judge participated in an ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) roundtable on modern trends in counter-acting corruption, which was attended by more than 50 practitioners, including federal and regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry officials. The training—which addressed the advancement and oversight of Russian businesses’ compliance with legal and ethical obligations—inspired Boris, who already had more than seven years of experience hearing cases on ethical violations of journalists, to try a new approach to promoting media freedom and compliance.

The discussions were organized to support ongoing anti-corruption initiatives and to make local businesspeople aware of those initiatives.

Through his media-compliance work, Boris strives to promote fair competition among different media outlets, encouraging respect of all pertinent laws and standards.

He thought that treating the media as any other industry—expecting and encouraging the media to adhere to rules to which every other business adheres—might be the key. This meant that Boris and like-minded stakeholders would have to advocate for increased emphasis among the media on statutory requirements, ethical principles, contractual obligations and other national and international business norms. His determination to see the idea through has now made him a media-compliance expert. In December 2006, Boris and the Chelovek i Zakon Legal Magazine co-founded a Moscow-based legal information agency, Chelovek i zakon (Person and Law). The agency, which currently has seven members works for increased legal awareness among procuracy, the judiciary and mass media. Boris, whose experience with ABA ROLI-organized training dates to 1998, says, “I have learned a lot about anti-corruption compliance from ABA ROLI trainings and that helped me launch my media-compliance work in Russia.”

Boris says that though corruption continues to be a huge issue in the Russian media, things have changed for the better in recent years. Boris, who has practiced law in Kazan in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan since 1982, says that the media has always been a state propaganda machine. However, he says that it was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall that it became possible to acknowledge this. Perception of the media’s role has changed, he adds. Today the media is less of “a governmental speaking-trumpet” and more of “a business that is unfortunately infected with corruption.”

While progress has been made, ranges of challenges remain prevalent in the media industry. “The majority of journalists work without official employment or labor contracts,” says Boris, making it easier for media groups and journalists to ignore existing ethical standards. Boris explains that in this business, “taxes are avoided and media advertisement is excessively corrupt,” because journalists are given hidden “envelope” wages. Highlighting the lack of transparency in the media, in November 2013, Chelovek i Zakon was contacted by a media holding expert whose employees were not paid for more than six months.

According to SPARK-Interfax, an online media-monitoring database housing official information from more than 20 governmental and non-governmental sources, 80% of Russian TV content is drawn from international media. These international outlets are required to comply with anti-corruption compliance regulations, such as the World Trade Organization agreements, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development conventions, U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and U.K. Anti-Bribery Act.

Boris thought that promotion and independent-monitoring of media compliance with these regulations could serve as a key weapon in fighting corruption in local media. To garner support and buy-in for his plans, he reached out to various stakeholders by speaking at public events and by developing educational materials for judges, lawyers and reporters. Boris also carried out trainings for 150 press secretaries from the Ministry for Civil Defense, Emergency Management and Natural Disasters Response using ABA ROLI’s anti-corruption manual. He currently cooperates with media groups, such as the Russian Union of Journalists and the Public Council on Press Appeals, to raise public awareness. Since May 2013, his agency—sometimes working with other organizations—has held 10 events in Russia, Kazakhstan and Lithuania, whith were attended by about 700 people, including advocates, jurists, journalists, press secretaries, information technology experts, and media-group and other non-governmental organization representatives.

Boris says that his work as a judge, hearing more than 40 cases related to journalistic ethics, afforded him a “better understanding [of] how the media worked in the Soviet Union.” This built upon his experience as a press secretary at the Prosecutor’s Office while simultaneously working on his Ph.D. dissertation, which assessed media-law enforcement cooperation.

Continuing media challenges have given Boris and his allies more reason to fight for freer and more law-compliant media, whereas the previously unavailable trainings organized by ABA ROLI and other partners have provided the tools and helped them strengthen their abilities.

Boris says that through his media-compliance work, he strives to promote fair competition among different media outlets, encouraging respect of all pertinent laws and standards. He also pushes for the adoption and strict enforcement of consistent ethics codes.

In 2013, to recognize press agencies’ outstanding services and contributions in the fight against corruption, Boris established an annual media-compliance award for print media organizations. He is also writing a manual for journalists and press agencies, consulting journalists and educating students. Additionally, he plans to take up strategic cases for litigation to draw more attention to the efforts being made to promote media compliance.

“Our goal is a country free of corruption and bribes,” says Boris, “responsible and compliant with laws, and in the pursuit of an independent and conscientious media.”

To learn more about our work in Russia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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