#11 - JRL 7260
July 22, 2003
Media Revolution Out of Steam
By Alexei Pankin
A "velvet revolution" swept through the Russian mass media in the summer of 2002, launched in part by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. One year later, the "revolution" is all but forgotten.
The main event of last summer was a conference, held in Moscow at the end of June, called "The Media Industry: Directions for Reform." The conference was an outgrowth of the Russian-American Media Entrepreneurs Dialogue, or RAMED, initiated by Bush and Putin in November 2001.
After six months of bilateral meetings, Russian and American participants in RAMED met with Putin in May 2002. Among their conclusions was the need for a conference devoted exclusively to the Russian media industry.
On the eve of the conference, Putin met with a group of delegates. The conference attracted top executives and editors from all of the major Moscow-based media organizations as well as representatives of the regional mass media. No problem facing the media industry was off the table. A resolution passed at the close of the conference called for a new industry-wide model that would make Russian media companies more competitive and attractive to investors. That model would promote professional management, high editorial standards, economic independence and financial transparency. The conference identified the excessive presence of the state on the media market as a fundamental obstacle to growth. Press Minister Mikhail Lesin became the darling of the broadsheets when he declared that in time he would gladly hand over some of the functions of his ministry to the media community.
On July 15, 2002, three dozen heads of major Moscow-based print media, television and radio stations formed the Media Industrial Committee lobbying group, headed by Konstantin Ernst, general director of the state-controlled Channel One television station. The committee vowed to pay particular attention to the problems facing regional and local media.
One year later, no one -- not the participants in RAMED and the conference, not the Media Industrial Committee, not the press -- has bothered to assess the progress made to date.
I was disappointed by this disregard for the Bush-Putin initiative. In mid-June, Sreda magazine asked visitors to its web site to rate the impact of the media industry conference on the subsequent development of the mass media in Russia. Just under 15 percent of respondents said the conference had made a positive impact, while 5.6 percent said that impact was negative. An overwhelming 44.4 percent said the conference had made no impact whatsoever, and 35.2 percent stated they expected Sreda to put forward more meaningful questions for discussion.
In preparation for the first anniversary of the Media Industrial Committee, media executives and editors in Moscow and the provinces were asked if the committee reflected the interests of the media community. In Moscow, we managed to find a few people with something positive to say about the committee. In the regions, however, the responses varied from ignorance to hostility.
"I am not familiar with the activities and declarations of the Media Industrial Committee," said Andrei Filinov, editor of the Vladimir State Television and Radio Co. Boris Kirshin, head of one of Russia's few independent newspapers, Chelyabinsky Rabochy, dismissed the committee as out of touch with the trials and tribulations of the regional press. "At the same time, I am convinced that the regional press needs a voice," Kirshin said.
Clearly Bush and Putin will have to roll up their sleeves and get back to work if they want to make a real difference in the Russian media industry.
Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals.