The problem is that "managed democracy" does not need free media, they are only a hindrance. That is why a policy of stifling the free mass media has been adopted. In the present situation among television channels, and to a lesser degree radio and newspapers, only those controlled by the authorities are really functioning. We witnessed the demolition of two independent television companies, one by one. Only some programmes have survived on the NTV channel. Speaking about the state-owned channels, ORT and RTR, in my view, they are a disgrace. The information selected by them and programmes they broadcast obviously comply with official policy and obviously all this is approved by the President.
A free press, together with political parties with access to independent sources of financing, is an obligatory condition for the development of a civil society and liberal reforms. But as the first, second and third condition have been suppressed, then I can draw only one conclusion - the main goal is to build a managed democracy, i.e. concentrate the power in the hands of one person, rather than liberal reforms.
In general an enlightened democracy is the best model for the implementation of serious transformations. However, an enlightened democracy has one drawback guaranteed by such enlightenment - free will and a resolution to conduct the reforms. The history of our country demonstrates many such examples. If we turn to the history of Alexander II, than certainly the reforms conducted by the tsar considerably transformed Russia.
But the failure to complete reforms, which were only half implemented and failed to resolve the main problems faced by the country, was the underlying factor for the developments 50 years after the launch of the reforms. That is why I don't believe Putin's supporters when they say "don't get in the way of the President, he knows what he should do and any public intrigues will only limit his possibilities." I think this is an absolutely incorrect approach.
But there is also another side to the uncontrollability of the mass media. For example, yesterday's Izvestia published with a reference to another paper an obvious libel on one of the top officials. I, as any normal person, am appalled by the spread of such false information. I think that for such cases the present methods of trial by court for the authors of such false information will suffice. The power of our security bodies engaged in anything but their direct business can be channeled here.
At the same time certain topics are absolutely closed on television. For example, do you hear much about the situation in Chechnya? Do you hear much about criminal cases on corruption in the upper echelons of power or about the punishment of some corrupt officials and the loss of their positions?
Among all our Russian mass media I would distinguish the Ekho Moskvi radio station which is definitely one of the best radio stations: in my view, in any case, there is no shame in working for Ekho Moskvi, but such stations are unlikely to be of use for politicians.
By Viktor Sheinis
Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia