The following is an abridged version of a 20 December 2007 Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) press
Government influence over media kept public uninformed during recent elections, says CJES
Elections of the absurd
Coverage of the recent Duma poll and forthcoming presidential race suggests that Russian media, increasingly, only
functions to endorse the government line, writes Oleg Panfilov
On 12 December 2007, Vladimir Putin had an official meeting with the Chairman of the Central Election Commission,
Vladimir Churov, and with the chairmen of several regional election commissions. The president offered his
congratulations with regard to the Constitution Day and thanked them for the "highly professional work" done during the
campaign season of the State Duma elections.
The Central Election Commission is an officially independent organisation, so this meeting, and many others like it,
could be viewed with some surprise. However, the reality is that Russians are not surprised or worried about this in the
slightest. Political aggression from President Putin's supporters has long been the norm, and it does not seem to upset
anyone. On the contrary, such behaviour is widely welcomed, as many regard Putin's actions to be an expression of
masculine power, supreme courage and strong arm tactics.
A few days before the above-mentioned meeting, Vladimir Churov officially declared that the elections were over, the
results being fair and thus peremptory, even though The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the
Parliamentary Assembly and other European organisations stated that the elections were "not fair". However, their
worries do not feature prominently on the President's list of concerns. Eager to preserve his vast political influence,
he is now putting all his energies into the preparations for the next presidential elections.
It follows that none of the cases of election law violation will ever be investigated. Of course this fact will only
please those who have grown sick of watching lengthy reports with only one protagonist, President Putin. Even though the
number of such reports has marginally diminished 10 days after the elections, the gap has been filled by an equal amount
of reports regarding Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's chosen successor.
It was televised news that caused one of the first conflicts regarding election law violation. According to statutory
law, all the political contestants (the majority voting system has been dropped in Russia) are entitled to free airtime
for coverage of their platforms and political agenda via promotional clips. They are also entitled to take part in
moderated television debates. The United Russia Party that supports President Putin refused to participate in any such
The law states that "free broadcasting time for promotional clips should be made available by relevant television or
radio channels to all political contestants in equal measure during the prime-time news programmes". However, the free
political promotional clips were shown at either seven in the morning or after eleven at night.
Objective and balanced information about the contestants and their platforms could have been made available through
everyday news coverage, shown every 2-3 hours on all five national channels. Instead, the audiences were fed the
propaganda of one single party.
(. . . )
In addition, we must point out that all five national TV companies are controlled by the government. The state exerts
direct influence on the First Channel, Rossiya Channel and TV Centre. All three are state-managed or at least consulted
by government officials. Two other channels, NTV and Ren-TV, are officially independent channels. However, NTV belongs
to the state fuel company Gazprom and Ren-TV is owned by a financial company with close connections to the Kremlin.
Russia has no public television and the legislation for its creation has been gathering dust in the Duma for about ten
years. Besides, Russians do not pay television license fees, hence they do not have any influence over the management of
the TV companies. The government does, though, and so does the presidential administration. Private television companies
are initially pressured into obedience by negotiation. When this fails, the uniformed services get involved and the
company may end up completely ruined, as happened to the only independent national channel NTV in 2002. This company was
taken over by Gazprom, the chairman of which is the new presidential candidate, Alexandr Medvedev.
(. . . )
As far back as a year and a half ago, the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) began monitoring the
content of the prime-time news programmes of the five national channels. Usually such investigations are conducted
during the pre-election campaign season in order to establish the fairness of the elections. Our aim, however, was to
evaluate the mass-media's overall performance, with the hope that come the pre-election time, the government might
consider imposing changes for the best.
We were astonished by the amount of propaganda shown on television. Around 91-93 per cent of the total news coverage
(news programmes being 25-30 minutes long), save the news on culture, sports and weather, was dedicated to the
activities of Vladimir Putin (30-35 per cent); the government (35-40 per cent), and United Russia (20-22 per cent).
The CJES proceeded with the monitoring project up until October 2007, the month before the pre-election campaign. By
then the amount of propaganda had increased even more (by 1-1.5 per cent on average). We witnessed the blatant violation
of statutory law on elections, which requires a fair amount of media coverage for all party candidates. However, the
Central Election Commission ignored our investigation, and even proclaimed it to be non-objective.
The worst violation of election law was the totally unrestricted coverage of the activities of President Putin. The law
forbids governmental officials, who run for a seat in the Duma, from enjoying special privileges. More so, the officials
are required to go on leave, yet the Central Election Commission decided this provision did not apply to President
History repeats itself. The next presidential elections will be held on the 9 March. However, Russian television is
already breaking records with regard to the amount of coverage dedicated to Putin's successor, Alexandr Medvedev. The
pre-election campaign has not even started, the list of candidates has not yet been established, but TV and newspaper
coverage is already presenting Medvedev as the incumbent president.
More and more Russia is starting to resemble the Soviet Union, and the Russian mass-media is being overrun by
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Source: Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), Moscow