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Who is Aksana Panova?

Who is Aksana Panova?

05.07.2013 — Analysis

Some advice for Moscow-based and foreign media

Ekaterinburg is something unique in the world of Russian journalism. In no other city in the country (or anywhere in the world) will you find such a large number of news agencies. There are more than a dozen located in the capital of the Urals, not counting branches of the national "big three."

But not many people are aware of this achievement. The story about the "proud young Miss Panova from the Urals," who is the co-owner and already former editor-in-chief of one of those news agencies -, is much better known. This story she wrote herself while awaiting trial. On July 3, a long-awaited lawsuit begins in Ekaterinburg, in which the citizen Oksana Rashidovna Panova will be tried on three criminal charges, including the very serious offense of "extortion."

Ms. Panova has regaled the liberal crowd from Moscow, as well as foreign (equally liberal) journalists, with the story of her battle against the governor of Sverdlovsk region, Evgeny Kuyvashev, who intends to punish her for writing the truth (and nothing but the truth). But for some reason, she left out some important details that are well known to her colleagues in Ekaterinburg. And this, by the way, is precisely the reason the journalism community in the Urals capital is not rising in defense of Ms. Panova, with posters similar to "Free Angela Davis!"

No one here is unaware that the deputy authorized presidential envoy was actively involved in establishing Ms. Panova's business. This was the situation at the beginning of the 21st century: the governors of the regions within the newly formed Urals Federal District were an illustration of the "parade of sovereignties" granted by Boris Yeltsin. But the representatives of the federal government held no actual leverage over them. This was when the uncomplicated idea of the "truncheon of information" was born.

The plan was very simple. Ms. Panova was the recipient of "leaked" information about high-ranking officials and she washed their dirty laundry on the Internet. The publicized mysteries of the Spanish court and these open secrets had the requisite impact on the regional authorities. It's one thing to reprimand a governor at a meeting with the presidential envoy – after all, who is interested in whether or not federal laws are respected in such-and-such a regional government? It's another thing to report that – tut-tut! - the wife of that same regional leader bought herself a new mink coat. You have to really wound an official to get his attention – this is what Oksana was advised. Hence, the unwritten motto of – "we've got the district by the balls."

Ms. Panova was not only taught how to bring officials "to heel." She was given assistance in obtaining profitable (with many zeros) contracts for information services. Would you rather she didn't write about your personal life? It's expensive to restrict freedom of speech!

Officials in control of the public coffers shelled out cash at the taxpayers' expense. And in return they got a "bar on negative information." This was precisely the term used in a number of's contracts for information services. And when Ms. Panova says that it was the clients who requested that this be inserted into the contracts, she is not telling the whole truth. Clients suggested this condition – "We will pay very well, but you will not publish anything negative that was earlier purported to be 'the whole truth and nothing but the truth'".

On the heels of the presidential envoy, the authorities of the Sverdlovsk region decided to give rein to her "truncheon of information.” That made it easier to impose the needed order within the region, where big business is itself pretty crafty. But once again, not without something in return. And after all that will Oksana Panova insist she is not dependent on the authorities? Those authorities fed her chocolate out of their own hands.

It's reasonable to ask why the governors and businessmen did not stand up to this information-based terrorism. Precedents exist. Searching the Internet, it's not hard to find materials about legal proceedings to protect honor and dignity that had been violated by

But for the most part, public figures preferred to pay for her "information services." Imagine a situation in which Governor Petrov or manufacturer Ivanov appeals to powerful security officials, claiming that they are being blackmailed by journalists. That's the way things work in a civilized society – there the law protects personal privacy. But in Russia the power of law was long ago replaced by the power of money. If you want to resolve a problem – pay up and don't make yourself appear ridiculous by claiming you are poor and can't work "like a grown-up."

Moscow-based and foreign journalists are either unaware of Oksana Panova's innovative methods or else they are deliberately trying to steer clear of them in their publications. Ms. Panova's conflict with Governor Kuyvashev, about whom Oksana wrote much of a very personal nature in her memoirs on, is mostly likely a financial one. The sale of a controlling stake in to individuals from the governor's inner circle for the astronomical sum of five million dollars was apparently not enough for her. Money is like saltwater – the more you drink, the more you want. And not everyone understands the word "enough."

Oksana Panova's problems are not with the authorities, but with the law, which must be applied to all citizens of the Russian Federation. If, like at, it's common practice at Novaya Gazeta to pay staff salaries in cash-stuffed envelopes without deducting taxes – let them declare it publicly. If Chulpan Khamatova raises money for her foundation in exchange for not disclosing damaging information about her donors – let that be openly acknowledged.

But I doubt that they would have any illegal acts of which to repent. Therefore it's surprising that they are refusing to censure the double standard of the "proud girl from the Urals."

Freedom of speech like we have in Ekaterinburg can be found nowhere else in Russia. This is the legacy of the former governor, Eduard Rossel, and the journalism community is still sincerely grateful to him for this. The media in Ekaterinburg kick around the entire vertical power structure of the Russian government, but they remain within the framework of the law and ethical standards.

Oksana Panova transgressed these lines and on July 3rd took her seat in court, not for freedom of speech and not for criticizing the government, but for extortion and fraud. As Vladimir Vysotsky's hero said, "a thief should be in prison, not walking around free."

Andrew White

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