Vienna, April 23 – As the Kremlin expands its influence in the media in advance of the 2008 elections, officials at Moscow television and radio channels three times over the last week have censored their programming apparently out of a desire to be politically correct with those above them rather than as a result of direct orders from above.
According to Russian commentator Svetlana Samoylova today, these three unrelated events do not reflect the onset of censorship, but she argues that so “concentrated” are they in number that they almost certainly will have “a cumulative effect” of leading to others (http://www.politcom.ru/print.php?id=4468).
The first of these incidents took place last Tuesday, April 17. On that date, documentary filmmaker Valeriy Balayan accused the Moscow “Culture” television channel of subjecting his film on the life of Russian human rights activist and literary figure Lev Kopelev to censorship.
The channel eliminated references to the fact that in 1945 Kopelev, then an officer in the Red Army, was condemned to the GULAG because he had protested against the use of force against German civilians in East Prussia, something Moscow’s current “political correctness” does not permit, Samloylova said.
The second incident involved a mid-week decision by the managers of the Russian News Service not to allow journalists there to make any references to the leadership of the opposition coalition “The Other Russia” including Mikhail Kas’yanov, Garri Kasparov, and Eduard Limonov.
Moreover, the managers decreed, journalists could invite as “political newsmakers” only leaders” from the pro-Kremlin “United Russia” party, members of the Social Chamber and “’official’” human rights activists like Vladimir Lukin and Ella Panfilova.
Journalists at the channel have announced plans to resign en masse to protest this decision. And former chief editor of the station, Mikhail Baklanov said that he considers this development to be “immediately connected with preparations for the elections” later this year and next.
And the third incident, at the end of last week, involved the selective editing of a French documentary about the “’color’” revolutions in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. Not only did the editors completely eliminate the section filmed in Russia, but they also eliminated any reference to the French national who directed the film.
“We don’t want to be assistants of the Russian authorities,” Herve Chabalier, an Alliance France Presse manager in the Russian capital said. “We thought that Russian television had learned to work professionally, but we have to acknowledge that this is not the case.”
(Samoylova pointedly noted that Radio Liberty’s Russian Service had given extensive coverage to this last development.)
In summing up these three events, Samoylova added that the Russian media is becoming a “propaganda” arm of the state and that this is generating “internal resistance” on the part of journalistic groups. But at the same time, she said that these developments should not be overread.
They do not in and of themselves yet show that the Putin regime has changed fundamentally – only that it is sending out signals that media managers must take harsher steps to isolate and thus minimize the influence of what she and others refer to as the “extra-systemic” politicians the Kremlin opposes.