Permission Issued to Make Fun of Russians

Permission Issued to Make Fun of Russians


The laughter of the TV host of the ‘Vesti’ newscast in Kamchatka over the increase of social payments cannot have any legal consequences -- the law does not provide for any. In most probability, there are no such provisions in the regulatory acts of the broadcasting company either. However, the more interesting question arises: do the authorities themselves understand that laughter is the only possible reaction to an indexation of this kind?

Last week, the social networks and the entire local community was stirred up by a studio recording that featured Alexandra Novikova, the host of ‘Vesti’ in Kamchatka. Seemingly, it had been made by a colleague of the news show presenter who made headlines across Russia. In the video, Novikova burst into laughter, while reading the text about the February increase by 3% in social benefits for the beneficiaries of social security. The video showed her reading out the list of what the disabled individuals, veterans of combat operations, people who had sustained exposures to radiation, and other social categories would be able to spend those 1,500 rubles ($ 22,95) on.

A total of 900 rubles ($13,77) of this amount could be spent on medicines, 137 rubles ($2,1) on a trip to a health resort and the remainder of the sum, on transportation to the place of destination. While reading these figures, the TV host burst into laughter. "It's good that I'm not on the air... Have you read this? A total of 137 rubles is for a health resort voucher, and the remaining money is for cross-border transportation to the holiday destination and back. Do you understand?" said Novikova, choking with laughter. "I tried (to restrain myself), you heard it.”

Aleksey Kostylev, CEO of the Kamchatka state television and radio company, has already commented on what had happened. He gave the assurances that the situation was being examined, although the decision concerning the news anchor Alexandra Novikova had not been made yet, and she continued working as usual. "We are aware of the whole process how this video came around but so far, we have our internal questions to get the final answers to for ourselves," Kostylev told KP.RU.

However, there are simply no grounds -- at least legal ones -- for any proscriptions. Valery Sarkisov, a lawyer at the Sudebny Advokat legal firm agrees that certainly, there is no criminal or administrative offence in the actions of Alexandra Novikova as she did not offend anyone – she just emotionally reacted to the news. Probably, she will be subject to disciplinary action in the form of a reprimand. As explained by Sarkisov, if it is stipulated by the local regulatory acts of the Kamchatka state television and radio company, Novikova may be fined. However, this is highly unlikely.

Vladimir Solovyov, a well-known TV presenter and employee of All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, tried to explain the incident by someone’s desire to create fake news. "Has anyone checked where the text that she was reading came from? I have never heard any money had been allocated for international transportation. Have you ever heard about it? So many questions are arising. What is it? What was that for? Where did it come from? It would be very interesting to hear out both Novikova and the executive editor," Solovyov told URA.RU.

At the same time, he said that he did not remember that employees had ever been fired for the incidents of this kind, and he noted that the management of the broadcasting companies always respected their audience and employees. "As a professional, I cannot make any assessment on the behavior of Novikova because I do not know what it was,” said Solovyov. “Was it a bad joke, a prank or just fake news?"

A logical question arises: if it really happened, who posted this video on the Internet and why? Was it just for the so-called “hype” or a scandal? If yes, they got it -- the scandal turned out to be huge. Maybe, the reason was to take the revenge on a colleague? This version is quite likely, especially in the media sphere and on a federal channel with its great competition for jobs.

One can easily imagine how Alexandra Novikova feels: she is “enjoying” a lot of attention and hatred of millions of people. Even though it was not she who allocated these miserable social payments. And it was not the viewers who she was laughing at. How is she supposed to work on a TV channel where she was the "image" of the newscasts? It may happen that one of these days she will be suspended from the air because of the potential loss of audience. Maybe, it will be done under another pretext. Her future career on TV is also in question. In any case, the situation is difficult, and the law enforcement agencies could theoretically deal with what happened. At least, with a case related to the reputation losses of a TV presenter or a TV channel.

Artem Kiryanov, first deputy chairman of the public control commission at Russia’s Public Chamber, the highest public consultative body in the country, said in an interview with that in general, there is certain “backstage” in the work of a TV reporter that is usually hidden. "In this case," he says, "we see the inner face of the process posted on the Web for some reason. And this could be the end of the discussion."

However, Kiryanov wonders why someone is trying to make the "breaking news" out of a purely technical moment of indexation of the social payments. The new details that are not related to life, but to the methods of calculation of indexation are coming up. "The question arises: is there really nothing to tell about in the news shows? Or is it a sudden desire to look at things more positively? In this case, we should look for it certainly not in the matter-of-fact data from Rosstat and the Ministry of Finance," said Kiryanov.

"This situation is not worth discussing so much," agrees Alim Bishenov, managing partner of Bishenov & Partners. “From the legal point of view, the TV presenter has not violated anything, and there is no reason to fire her, as many people assume. As a person connected in one way or another with the media, I can say that this happens almost every day on any channel. The question is about the ethics of her colleagues: should they have done it without her permission? I don't think so.”

Bishenov adds that as for the subject of the host's laugh -- the size of benefits increase -- the question is much more serious. The Russian Federation is a social state under its Constitution, which means that the life and health of its citizens is a top priority. And, unfortunately, some payments cause tears rather than laughter. However, this is another issue for other people on another level.

From the ethical point of view, the story is really unpleasant and strange and requires examination. It once again brings us back to the promises of the authorities and issues of social welfare benefits, which remain extremely low and often look like a mockery of their beneficiaries. Recently, for example, in Republic of Karelia, a constituent territory located in the northwest of Russia, pensioner Sergey Andrunevich was dissatisfied with the indexation of veterans' payments. He came to a meeting with deputies of the local Legislative Assembly with two rolls of toilet paper in hand.

"I want to say thank you on behalf of all the veterans of labor. I could buy two rolls of toilet paper thanks to your indexation of veterans' benefits. I am giving them to you so you can use them according to the intended purpose," RIA Novosti cited Andrunevich. The news agency specified the amount of indexation for public transport and communication services, which had not been indexed for 12 years, was 21 rubles ($0,32.)

A little earlier, a resident of Magadan, a city in the Far East of Russia also decided to send a pension supplement, which he considered "humiliating,” to Dmitry Medvedev, then Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

Vladimir Popov, a labor veteran, wrote a corresponding letter to the regional social center. He asked for help in "returning" 682 rubles ($10,43) to Medvedev, according to the documents published in the Internet. "I hope this money will help you in the fight against the elderly and other human material," said the Popov. These examples are more than graphic.

Everyday life is becoming more and more expensive, says Anna Bodrova, senior analyst of the Alpari information and analytical center. Of course, the state indexation does not keep up with this pace so as to make the social payments more or less corresponding to the real prices for goods and services, it is necessary to completely review the plans of payments and take into account the changes of the cost of those products and services that are really used by people.

In the meantime, the benefits are laughable, but it is not clear who laughs at them. Either the TV hosts, or the officials who appoint such bonuses.Pensioners and the disadvantaged are not laughing at all.