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RUSSIA: NTV Television
Cameron Sawyer replies to Gene Mazo: "I hardly know where to start with this, perhaps the thundering hyperbole of the following statement: "Two years ago Putin's forces closed down NTV, an independent TV channel, signaling the end of a free press". First of all, NTV was not shut down, the general manager was fired. In fact I was watching NTV this morning an interesting and highly critical piece on whether or not the FSB screwed up by using that gas to free the hostages on Saturday. Can one fired general manager at one television station mean the end of a free press ? This is silly on its face.
The second glaring factual error is the proposition that after the NTV affair, Russians were left with only state television . Did this information come from the Stanford Review? Shame on their fact-checkers. Not only does NTV still broadcast, but there are dozens of other independent television stations. Moscow currently has 16 channels on the air (only two of these are state-controlled). Many Muscovites have cable, which offers another 50 channels or so, or satellite. Other cities are also well-served. According to the USAID (an old and somewhat outdated but still interesting paper at http://www.internews.ru/report/tv/tv_preface.html):
- Every major city in Russia has a local non-governmental television station, and many cities have several.
- New stations are still appearing throughout Russia on VHF and UHF frequencies, as well as on cable. Many older non-governmental stations are now businesses of a significant size and influence. The general manager of NTV was not a businessman or professional manager, but rather a brash young journalist named Sergei Kiselev who did not take care of business. NTV was deeply indebted and losing oceans of money and its shareholders were fed up with Kiselev's arrogant refusal to do anything to improve the station s financial performance. Whether or not the Kremlin had a hand in his firing is still debated today, but you will find little sympathy for him in Moscow today. General opinion is suspicious of the Kremlin, but at the same time harshly critical towards Kiselev, who is considered to have cynically made his personal career into an issue of freedom of the press.
I urge any WAISers interested in Russian television to read the USAID report cited above, which is factual and informative. Real problems in Russian television, as I mentioned in my first post on this subject, include its bias against Communists and failure to adequately report the atrocities in Chechnya. It is possible that government pressure is involved here, but if so, this is far from the only or even the main reason.
Russian television journalists, like journalists in other countries, have their own prejudices. This is simply human nature. In the U.S., most journalists are prejudiced in favor of liberal causes. In Russia, nearly all journalists are prejudiced in favor of democracy and capitalism, and are strongly prejudiced against Communism, although 20% of the country supports the Communists, and plenty of people are skeptical about capitalism, if not democracy. The USAID study correctly reports the heavy media bias in favor of Yeltsin during the 1996 presidential elections. Another problem with Russian journalism is the odious practice of journalists of writing fawning articles about people or firms for under-the-table payments.
A critical understanding of the situation is not served by apocalyptic and factually incorrect statements about the end of the free press in Russia".
Ronald Hilton - 10/30/02