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November 2018
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Russian Government Hits Last Independent News Outlet With A $338,000 Fine

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The Russian government took another consolidation-of-power step recently. Deciding to exercise a 2012 law written specifically to give it leverage against independent press outlets, a Moscow court has hit the country's last remaining opposition magazine with a massive fine.

The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned an exorbitant fine imposed on the independent news outlet The New Times. A Moscow court on October 26 ordered the outlet to pay 22.3 million rubles (US$338,000) for failing to provide financial information under Russia's "foreign agents" law and ordered the outlet's editor-in-chief Yevgenia Albats to pay an additional fine of 30,000 rubles, TV Dozhd reported.

Albats suspects this fine is the result of an October 22nd interview with opposition politician and vocal Putin critic Aleksei Nalvany. The hefty fine should result in the closure of The New Times, which would be exactly what the Russian government wants.

The law used to effectively push the magazine into bankruptcy went live in 2012. It requires all non-government operations that receive foreign funding to register as "foreign agents." This law was upgraded last year in response to a new US policy requiring similar "foreign agent" registration for Russian state-run news outlets. This newer twist allows for direct targeting of press outlets. But, even without this addition, the Russian government still could have crippled The New Times. As Agence France-Presse reports, part of The New Times' funding involves donations collected by a registered charity.

With this move, Russian citizens will now be limited to state-run publications. The internet will still provide opportunities for Russians to read news not controlled by the state, but those too will eventually dry up as the Russian government continues to assert its control of this medium as well. The internet was the last refuge of The New Times, which had to cease publication of its print edition due to a lack of funding.

The court decision itself is suspect. Rather than pretend the fine (supposedly triggered by single failure to update registration paperwork three months ago) could be discussed or disputed, the court made its decision without input from the defendants. New Times' staff and lawyers were not present and evidence showing the outlet had made a good faith effort to rectify its error was not presented.

The court case, which began back in April, suddenly accelerated towards a hefty fine following the publication's interview with a prominent Putin critic. There are additional details contained in The New Times' post on the subject -- including its justifiably dour announcement that it will be appealing this decision -- harbors no expectations any Russian court will reverse this decision.

If it all plays out the way everyone involved believes it will, the Russian government will have secured a "100% Complete" trophy for press suppression. If it can just keep the internet in line, it will be able to return the country to its former Cold War glory.

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posted at: 11:57pm on 07-Nov-2018
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Iowa State Students Make Demands Over School Trademark Policy Public, Plan Possible First Amendment Lawsuit

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Iowa State University just cannot stop shooting itself in the foot. After attempting to bully a pro-marijuana student organization out of using school iconography, the school both lost the lawsuit that came afterwards and managed to piss away nearly half a million dollars in taxpayer money in having to pay out the would-be victims of its bullying. Instead of learning its lesson after that whole episode, ISU instead decided to alter its trademark usage policy to be way more restrictive, which only pushed student organizations to drop references to the school en masse. At the same time, the student government issued a resolution demanding the school review its policy again and make it less restrictive. Administration officials at that time agreed to meet with the student government to hear their concerns.Well, that meeting happened this past week, and everybody is still seriously pissed off.

Student organizations demonstrated their issues with Iowa State’s administration for its implementation of a new trademark policy at a meeting Thursday evening.  For the immediate future, Student Government wants an apology from the university and an immediate block on the enforcement of the policy. They have alternate plans of action if this deliberation works out poorly.Woodruff, other members of Student Government and organization presidents agreed that acts of protest like wearing trademarked clothing and sending emails to university officials were encouraged. Student Government also talked to Student Legal Services regarding a possible lawsuit on using the First Amendment as a basis for suit.
For the second time in a couple of years, ISU might find itself the subject of a First Amendment lawsuit brought against it by its own students. Given its track record and the insane amount of money it had to pay out the last time, it would be flatly insane for the school to allow things to get the point of a lawsuit. But, then, this is ISU we're talking about.One of the chief issues the student government has is that the administration apparently has tried to cut them out of the process at every turn.
One issue that Student Government had with the process is the lack of transparency. Woodruff said they have not been able to produce any documentation, including the email that was sent out to club organization presidents, Regent or Big 12 policies that may have prompted the new university measures. In addition to this, he said the meetings that the university had about this subject originally were not public and did not have any minutes recorded.“Things are getting worse, not better,” Woodruff said. “This fuse is getting shorter and shorter.”
And that's not a good sign for the school, given the threat of a possible lawsuit on the horizon. Adding to much of the anger is that much of the iconography and mascot imagery the school uses, and is attempting to control through its trademark policy, were student creations from long ago. To turn the trademark policy like a gun on its own student groups could pretty much only lead to anger.It's a full on mystery why the school doesn't just scrap this altogether and agree to work with its students on a sane trademark usage policy. Perhaps doing so would end this, ahem, cyclone of dissent.

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posted at: 11:57pm on 07-Nov-2018
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