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#15 - JRL 7033
The Russia Journal
January 24-30, 2003
Experts decry lack of press freedom
Christopher Kenneth

Top media experts have blamed unclear economic policies, obsolete
legislation and absence of a viable media market for the Russian media’s
failure to become a vital democratic instrument.

The experts convened last month at the presentation of a study entitled
"Mass Media as an Instrument of Democracy and Government and Private
Corporations’ Media Polices in Russia," which was conducted by the Russian
Union of Journalists (RUJ), Moscow-based International Press Club (IPC),
the journalism department of Moscow State University, the Gorbachev Fund
and the Universities of Calgary and Mount Ellison in Canada.

IPC Director Alexander Chumikov said the study showed declining trust in
media and falling professional standards among journalists. "Other findings
included the absence of media outlets that serve public interests and the
concentration of most media in the hands of government and big businesses.

"These findings have also underlined how far the Russian media are behind
their counterparts in open societies built on truly functioning democratic
principles," he added.

Vsevolod Bogdanov, chairman of the RUJ, lauded the report as a
comprehensively researched work that truly reflects the state of the press
and its problems in Russia.

"Monthly wages in the order of 2,000 rubles ($63) are very common in the
media industry. This acute lack of funding makes journalists very
compliant, especially in the regions where the opportunity to generate
extra funds through advertising is very limited," he added.

"Highly pressed for cash, and unable to generate the needed funds on their
own due to a lack of clear-cut economic policies, the media have no other
alternative but to serve and/or depend on whoever has the cash to support
them – be it government, businesspeople or organized crime," Bogdanov

Other experts said this has created conditions in which people with money
feel they can dictate what media outlets write about or present to their
audiences with the result being so-called "black public-relations
reporting," which has become an effective tool for smearing opponents in
politics, especially during elections, or in corporate disputes to wade off

They also noted that politicians are already devising mechanisms to exploit
financial hardship in the press during the upcoming parliamentary and
presidential elections.

As an example, they cited United Russia – a major political party
reportedly with Kremlin support which has launched a special media program
– that comes with huge financial inducements for journalists willing to
take part in it.

Experts also blamed the monopolization of the media-advertising market by a
firm affiliated with a high-ranking media bureaucrat for the current
lamentable state of the media industry’s finances, noting that more than 90
percent of the $2 billion advertising market belongs to this company.

When pressed for details, an RUJ member who requested anonymity said the
company in question is Video International, a firm reportedly linked to
Press Minister Mikhail Lesin.

"This company is very aggressive in dictating its advertising terms to
media outlets, including commissions and advertising companies and/or
agents to be used in preparing commercials. The terms are so draconian that
the media outlets airing commercials only get chicken feed at the end of
the day," Bogdanov said.

Yury Krasin, an expert with the Gorbachev Fund and the study’s coordinator
at the University of Calgary, said the report should be not only of
academic interest, but should also serve as a tool for solving pressing
media problems in the country.

"One way to achieve this goal is to build a democratic society that will
develop civil reflexes, allowing people to use their intellect instead of
wholly relying on doctored media and their spin masters who are more
interested in serving hidden political agendas or other special-interest
groups," he said.

Alexander Muzykantsky, a Moscow City Hall information director, called for
a total overhaul of media legislation.

"The current [media] law was enacted in the early ‘90s when maximum
civil-rights freedom was attained, and the same law is still in force in
today’s era of ‘controllable democracy’," he noted, adding, "It is
therefore clear that a new law reflecting today’s changes ought to be
enacted as the current one has completely exhausted its legal usefulness."

"These legislative shortcomings are the main reasons behind major media
problems, including press freedom and the recently vetoed amendments which
were to curb press independence following the [Moscow] hostage crisis," he

"Worse still, it seems the government is very satisfied with the current
status quo.

"Most media outlets are compliant, and the advertising market – the main
source of revenues in the media sector – is under the control of trusted
people," Bogdanov added.

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