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BBC Monitoring
Russian opposition analyst speaks favourably of Putin's press minister
Source: TVS, Moscow, in Russian 0423 gmt 13 Jan 03

Russian political commentator Andrey Cherkizov, earlier known as an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin in general and his media policy in particular, unexpectedly praised his old foe, Russian Minister of Press, Television and Radio Broadcasting and Mass Communication Mikhail Lesin. He and his team are making progress in learning how to live in a free country, Cherkizov said. The following is an excerpt from Cherkizov's daily programme Nazlo [Out of Spite], broadcast by Russian TVS television at 0423 gmt 13 Jan 02:

Good morning. Now I'll be doing something that I usually don't do. I shall speak about my profession. There is a good reason for this. Russian journalism is 300 today. [Editorial note: Russian Tsar Peter I signed a decree on the establishment of the first Russian newspaper, Vedomosti, on 13 January 1703.] And by the end of the year my own journalistic career will have turned 25. [passage omitted: Cherkizov thanks some of his mentors and colleagues.]

I was in Israel not long ago. A Russian-language television channel called Israel Plus has been working there for the second month. It belongs to Mr [Lev] Levayev [Soviet emigre and diamond mogul who reportedly has Kremlin support for his business activities in Russia]. News is provided to it by another [Israeli] commercial channel. While watching the news, I heard that the president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, had handed awards for contribution to Israeli culture to five persons. A 2.5-minute report was entirely devoted to Levayev, then the same Levayev was featured talking about his role and his mission. Not a single word was said about the other four. And I suddenly realized that nothing like that could be possible in Russia. A news editor would be fired from any channel in half an hour. It means that we are doing not so bad. After seeing the situation there [in Israel], I say that it's nonetheless possible to do a good job in this country despite some self-censorship which, unfortunately, still exists.

However strange it may sound, we partially owe this to a state institution which is informally called Minpechka [Russian media ministry]. On a jubilee day I must mention the names of [former Russian media ministers] Mikhail Poltoranin, Mikhail Fedotov, Sergey Gryzunov, Ivan Laptev and [the current minister] Mikhail Lesin. On a holiday, I won't speak about those for whom I have no good words.

An attentive and honest viewer may be surprised by the fact that I speak of Lesin favourably. I'll give an explanation. The recent history has shown that, when freedom of speech in this country is in trouble, it is Lesin and his team who are trying to help us out of it. The State Duma's crazy amendments [restrictions on media freedom approved by the Russian parliament's lower chamber in the wake of the Moscow hostage drama in October 2002] were vetoed by Putin due to the efforts by the press ministry, as well as by Media-Soyuz, Ekho Moskvy and other colleagues of mine.

Second, the whole of Minpechka's team are learning how to live in a free country, which is still very young. They are making mistakes, getting involved in rows and scandals, hardly overcoming the burden of their official posts, but they are learning.

The third point is personal. At the end of 2000, when we heard about the so-called Protocol Six [a confidential agreement allegedly made by Lesin and Gusinskiy, in which the latter promised to sell his media business in return for lifting criminal charges against him], I called Lesin on his mobile and said: "I'm tired of hatred. I want to ask you some questions." We met on my initiative in [Moscow restaurant] Balaganchik in Tverskaya [Street] and spoke confidentially for more than three hours. I was asking him questions and Lesin was answering. At the end of the talk I said: "That's enough. I've heard you, and I have no more questions." Now I am the first to tell this story to the public.

So, we can talk to bigwigs confidentially, and thanks be to them for this. [Passage omitted: the 300th anniversary is not a mere nothing; the life in Russia will improve step by step]

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