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#16 - JRL 7040
Russia/USA: Voice of Russia wants US airtime in exchange for RFE/RL relays

Moscow, 28 January: US-sponsored broadcaster Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe [RFE/RL] can scarcely hope for more airtime and greater coverage on the territory of Russia if the US Administration does not provide airtime and frequencies in the US for Russian broadcasters on parity grounds, a high-ranking official of the Press Ministry said Tuesday.

Sources at the ministry indicated Mikhail Seslavinski, a deputy minister, said this after talks with Jeffrey Hirschberg, a member of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, and Jeffrey Trimble, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty director of broadcasting.

Seslavinski told his interlocutors Russia wanted parity for its radio stations when Hirschberg and Trimble asked for an opportunity to expand Radio Liberty programming in Russia.

"A positive decision on the request may present certain problems at the moment, as the American law still denies the stations like the Voice of Russia free access to the US wavelengths," Seslavinski said.

"Any steps in that direction must necessarily be reciprocal," he indicated.

Russia has long provided Radio Liberty with an opportunity to do relay programming on its territory, and further talks on the issue are contingent on the US moves to furnish Russian broadcasters with an equal opportunity in the US, the Press Ministry sources said.

In the meantime, the Voice of Russia came up with an official press release at the end of last week, saying audiences in the US had received access to its programmes at any time convenient for them as of 1 January 2003. Each month, about 800 families tune in to broadcasts from Moscow via the US-based partner radio.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were set up by the US Congress 50 years ago, when Europe was divided by the Cold War. While Radio Free Europe targeted its programmes at the former socialist countries of Europe, Radio Liberty broadcast in Russian and other languages spoken in the USSR.

The united headquarters of that station moved to Prague from Munich eight years ago.

Shortly after the abortive coup of August 1991, President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree that gave Radio Liberty virtually exclusive rights to broadcast on the territory of Russia, compared with other foreign radios. President Putin revoked that decree last October.

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