Friday, October 16, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Economic Crisis May Help Moscow Tighten Control Over TV News

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 16 – Moscow’s “Kommersant” newspaper reported today that beginning next year, the last two all-Russian television channels which currently broadcast news they produce on their own will instead, because of losses arising from the economic crisis, instead broadcast materials produced by the Russian government’s news service, Russia today.
The paper said that officials at REN TV and the Fifth Channel would neither confirm nor deny this report (, but if the report proves to be true, observer Yury Gladysh argues, it will mean a return to one of the worst aspects of the Soviet past in which most people will have access to only one version of news.
(That it may not be true or may only be a trial balloon by either the companies or the Russian government is entirely possible. RENT TV staffer Marianna Maksimovskaya told that she is “certain that in the immediate future, the information policy of [her] channel will not change (
But Gladysh clearly believes such a step is likely given that it would be a logical continuation of the ongoing effort by the Russian powers that be to re-impose a Soviet-style system of information control, a drive that he suggests will ultimately involve Moscow following the North Korean model and going after the Internet, the last free area in the Russian media.
Because of the importance of television as a source of news in contemporary Russia – all polls there show that most Russians now get their news from TV and that fewer Russians now read newspapers and news magazines – such a centralization of editorial control would have an even more chilling effect that many outside observers might expect.
But the saddest aspect of this change, Gladysh continues, is that the majority of Russian viewers are likely to be “completely indifferent” to the change. More precisely, they simply will not notice it.” Their favorite shows won’t go off the air, and most “have long ago become accustomed to televised praise of ‘the national leader’ and the guarantor of the Constitution.”
That these channels are in financial difficulties has long been known. During the first six months of 2009, REN TV saw its revenues decline by 29 percent even though its audience share had risen to 6.1 percent. The Fifth Channel now has only a two percent audience share, “Kommersant” reported, and its revenues equal only 500 million rubles (16 million US dollars).

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