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#5 - JRL 7168
From: "William Dunkerley" <wd@publishinghelp.com>
Subject: the end of Russia's purported press freedom
Date: Mon, 5 May 2003

When Freedom House revised its rating of Russian press freedom from "partly free" to "not free" (JRL 7164), it did the right thing for the wrong reason. There never was a partly free Russian press. The media in Russia, right from the start of the Russian Federation, have been beholden to governmental, political, or commercial overlords who provide funding in exchange for a chance to color the news, and to other sponsors of paid "news" stories.

Theres no disagreeing, as Freedom House cited, that the government acted heavy-handedly with the media last year. And, its certainly worth speaking out against such actions. But, its clear were not talking about media victims that theretofore had the strength and independence to tell the truth.

The reason theres been no press freedom in Russia is simple: a conspiracy of laws mandated the unprofitability of media outlets, and sent them into the clutches of politicians, oligarchs, and others to make up for the losses.

Ironically, in the year that Freedom House degraded its estimation of Russian press freedom, these culprit regulatory shackles were mostly removed. Indeed, 2002 was a milestone year, one in which, for the first time, real press freedom moved from being an unattainable fantasy to becoming a practical reality. The Putin administration is due credit for taking that long-overdue action.

But, while press freedom is now possible, it hasnt emerged yet. There is still another obstacle. It is the intransigence of so many media companies to abandon the current, corrupt system of sponsorship and paid-for stories. They now must become servers of their consumers (readers, viewers, listeners) and their legitimate advertisers.

Lamentably, inertia is on the side of things staying the same. The media companies feel comfortable with the current system. It has been a sustaining one for them. They know how it works. It provides comfort that is hard to abandon in exchange for a new way of doing business, which for them, is an unknown quantity. On top of that, regional administrations are not uniformly applying the new regulatory environment that is permissive of the switch.

Whats needed now is a change in the business culture of the media sector, a new way for both media companies and advertisers alike to abandon current practices, and adopt above-board and truly market-oriented approaches to doing business. Facilitating such is the target of the Russian Media Fund (www.publishinghelp.com/RussianMediaFund). It is a project that is backed by the International Center for Journalists (Washington) and the Media Research Center Sreda (Moscow). RMF had advocated for the regulatory advances of last year, and now has developed a comprehensive program to instigate and nurture the transformation of the medias business culture.

William Dunkerley
Media Consultant
New Britain, CT

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