| Going Together, the youth organisation close to the Duma
United Russia, has carried out a sting to catch corrupt journalists
red-handed. Working undercover, its representatives paid the editors of
some major Russian newspapers large sums of money to publish articles that
contained blatant lies. Some call it a brilliant exposure, others a
Without checking a line, newspapers eagerly found room for the commissioned
works. Afterwards all Going Together had to do was to name the code words
hidden in the texts and accuse the newspapers of cynical corruption. Young
people are still picketing the editors' offices with posters "We
newspapers to publish the courageous admission, 'We publish lies'".
Many Russians are certain that the domestic media does not promote freedom
of speech, but has rather replaced it with a policy of selling pages and
airtime to the highest bidder. The buyers are spin doctors, with an
inclination for dirty tricks, mudslingers targeting leading politicians,
promoters of self-serving business interests and wizards of unscrupulous
It seems that following the downfall of the Soviet state, the Russian
community did a deal with Mrs Corruption. And she is aggressively driving
out honest journalism as it tries to remain faithful to ethical norms.
If in the first years of Russia's path towards the market economy, this
media epidemic was obvious and even defiant, then today it is turning
deeper inward, becoming largely concealed and unseen by the unsophisticated
observer. This is a more dangerous phase.
This leads Igor Yakovenko, secretary-general of the Russian Union of
Journalists, to make a gloomy conclusion, "journalism is being driven
the media, and replaced with propaganda, political technologies and show
The sensational results of some opinion polls show that Russian readers
viewers seem to be most tired of this situation. According to a recent
survey conducted by ROMIR Monitoring, 71% of ordinary Russians and 41%
journalists approve the introduction of censorship in the media. The point
at issue is not political censorship, of course. Most of the discontented
masses want a certain moral and ethic filter that would protect information
consumers from rough propagandist manipulations, "black PR"
and other paid
Such public sentiments have alarmed Russian parliamentarians and those
the epicentre of public criticism, journalists themselves. The State Duma
committee for information policy recently held a roundtable with the
editors of Russia's largest electronic and print media. The seminar was
dedicated to problems of professional ethics, including the degree of
responsibility for paid publication of unchecked information.
The debates proved to be right on time. The day before a Moscow newspaper
had published a false "letter of five American Congressmen",
designed to discredit a former prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko. Another
newspaper helped to fuel panic among banks' clients by publishing a
self-made "black list" of banks whose reliability was allegedly
Russia's Central Bank.
Those attending the roundtable found two ways to save the media from
immorality: Russian journalists should keep to internal professional
guidelines more consistently, while the state should adopt laws to assist
Global experience shows that the more prosperous a newspaper or a TV
network, the more resistant it is to external pressure. Accordingly, a
journalist's immunity to corruption largely depends on his salary, which
Russia leaves much to be desired. This gave Russian deputies the idea
drafting a bill on the economic independence of the media, which would
the state main guardian of the press. The state is expected to drastically
cut the taxes levied on the media and ensure affordable fixed prices for
paper, typography expenditures and equipment.
The Duma is preparing another bill that is more in line with modern
experience. It will place restrictions on media monopolies. The bill sets
threshold on the share packets of different media an owner can have in
portfolio. A ban will be introduced on owning several TV channels and
media with the same target audience. The bill's authors are not concealing
that they have borrowed Western legal norms.
Russia, however, has its own national specifics. The practical application
of such a law would require a level of ownership transparency that so
is only the stuff of dreams. For example, it is well known that oligarch
Boris Berezovsky, who is hiding from prosecutors in London, has sold his
49% stake in the Channel One. But the identity of the new owner is not
clear. When nobody knows the name of an owner and the property he or she
may possess, any anti-monopoly law is destined to fail.
Russian parliamentarians are also thinking about creating a public TV
network along the lines of those prospering in the US and Britain. There
are no ads, only a licence fee. It could be a mere 16 roubles ($0.5) per
person, an affordable sum for ordinary Russians even in the current hard
times. Public television, the State Duma believes, could alleviate the
irritation of the public, which is tired of politicised, biased programs
and round-the-clock adverts for beer and Tampax.
of Speech and Media Law in Russia