07MOSCOW2469, MEDIA FREEDOM IN THE ELECTION YEAR

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW2469 2007-05-25 14:18 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO6893
RR RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #2469/01 1451418
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 251418Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0633
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 002469 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/24/2017 
TAGS: KDEM PHUM PGOV SOCI RS
SUBJECT: MEDIA FREEDOM IN THE ELECTION YEAR 
 
REF: 06 MOSCOW 2117 
 
Classified By: Pol M/C Alice G. Wells.  Reason:  1.4 (d). 
 
------- 
Summary 
------- 
 
1. (C) The Kremlin or its well-wishers have been making 
erratic attempts to fine tune the press in an effort to 
ensure that the looming Duma and presidential elections go 
according to script.  Ownership of key media by the 
government or by those friendly to it has been consolidated, 
a code of behavior has been introduced at one national wire 
service, and law enforcement has been used in an attempt to 
enforce a boycott on some opposition politicians or to close 
NGOs that work with the press.  Meanwhile, internet 
newspapers continue to offer unvarnished versions of the 
news, some of the national printed press remains fairly 
free-wheeling, and the regional media is in places as vital 
as ever, while the more traditional source of information for 
a majority of the population --television-- generally offers 
Kremlin-friendly views of events.  Uncertainty surrounding 
the looming succession will likely lead to increasingly 
concentrated attempts to exert further control as the year 
progresses.  End summary. 
 
-------------------------- 
Changes in Media Landscape 
-------------------------- 
 
2. (C) The preceding months have seen a series of unconnected 
actions by the GOR "wellwishers" that have in some cases 
arguably altered the media landscape for the worse and in 
others increased anxiety among those in the mass media.  Some 
of the developments: 
 
-- In May, many members of the staff of the Russian News 
Service (RNS) quit in protest at what they describe as 
requirements to force them to concentrate their attention on 
the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, members of the 
officialy-sanctioned Public Chamber, official human rights 
activists Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin and Chairwoman of the 
Presidential Council for Human Rights Ella Pamfilova, while 
ignoring "Other Russia" opposition figures Mikhail Kasyanov, 
Eduard Limonov, Garry Kasparov, and "unofficial" human rights 
activists.  According to the daily Kommersant, the Service's 
editorial staff has allegedly been told that its motto is 
"America is Our Enemy."  According to Gallup, as many as 
eight million Russian-speakers comprise RNS's audience. 
 
-- On April 18, representatives of the Department of Economic 
Security confiscated the financial documents and computer 
servers of the Educated Media Foundation, the successor to 
Internews Russia, allegedly as part of an investigation 
sparked by a failure by EMF's President and one other 
employee to properly declare currency they were bringing into 
Russia in January. The confiscations effectively ended the 
work of EMF, an NGO that since 1992 has trained more than 15 
thousand media professionals and provided invaluable 
assistance to the estimated 1,500 companies that broadcast to 
local audiences across Russia's eleven time zones. 
 
-- The Prosecutor General's (PG) office has on three 
occasions required that Gazprom-owned radio station Ekho 
Moskvy provide transcripts of comments that it thought may 
have contravened the law on extremism.  Transcripts of Ekho 
interviews with Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov, both 
members of the anti-Kremlin umbrella group "Other Russia," 
have been requisitioned.  More worryingly, the PG's office 
has also demanded a transcript of comments made by Ekho 
journalist Yuliya Latynina.  A finding that Latynina had 
violated the law on extremism would at a minimum have a 
chilling effect on the station and could, if repeated, have 
implications for its broadcasting license. 
 
-- In August 2006, Gazprom subsidiary director Alisher 
Usmanov bought national daily of record Kommersant (reftels). 
There was no immediate, discernible change in the newspaper's 
content until January 2007, when Kommersant's editorial page 
disappeared, allegedly to allow the paper to parry pressure 
by the Kremlin to place opinion pieces espousing official 
positions. Subsequent months have seen the newspaper's 
coverage become at times more tendentious, for example with a 
front-page article attacking the USG's Supporting Human 
Rights and Democracy report. Still, Kommersant continues to 
provide largely unvarnished coverage of, for example, the 
activities of the anti-Kremlin "Other Russia" organization 
and Viktor Gerashchenko's dead in the water presidential 
campaign. 
 
--  In April, the investment company Abros, a subsidiary of 
 
MOSCOW 00002469  002 OF 004 
 
 
the Petersburg-based bank Rossiya, which is controlled by 
President Putin's Petersburg confederate Yuriy Kovalchuk, 
acquired controlling interest of the national network REN-TV. 
 REN-TV's not very adventurous news broadcasts have not been 
affected by the takeover to date, but the ownership 
re-shuffle sparked rumors that REN-TV was to be brought to 
heel. 
 
-- In March, Radio Russia fired journalist Irina Vorobyova 
after she discussed the Other Russia-sponsored "March of 
Dissent" on an Ekho Moskvy program that featured as well 
United Civil Front Chairman Garry Kasparov.  Vorobyova was 
reportedly told by Radio Russia management t
hat she was being 
fired because of her "lack of loyalty to the station." 
 
-- An amended law on extremism has made media, particularly 
in the regions, much more careful in their coverage of 
election campaigns. 
 
-- The Kremlin has parlayed financial problems at the 
independent weekly magazine Profil into a change in the 
magazine's editorial staff.  Pro-American Editor Georgiy Bovt 
has been replaced with his polar opposite, Mikhail Leontiev, 
of Channel One's "However" program.  Bovt told us that he 
expects most of his staff to either be sacked or depart 
voluntarily when Leontiev takes over at the beginning of 
June.  Kremlin unhappiness with Profil had been expressed 
more frequently and pointedly since the beginning of the 
year, Bovt said. 
 
-- On the week of May 14, the national television network NTV 
continued its drift away from providing news, a process begun 
three years ago when Vladimir Kulistikov became General 
Director.  The 2200 news program is now shown at 2245, and 
the day's events are reviewed only very briefly and at great 
speed.  NTV's well-regarded Thursday program "To The 
Barrier," which features debates on topical issues between 
generally well-known public figures has been shortened by 
twenty minutes.  Andrey Malkov's higher-rated weekly program, 
"Extraordinary Events," has recently featured tendentious 
documentary films on the anti-Kremlin umbrella group "Other 
Russia," Mikhail Khodorkovskiy ("The Man From Yukos"), and 
alleged connections between exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskiy 
and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. 
 
--------------------------- 
Observers Present Different 
National Pictures 
--------------------------- 
 
3. (C) Conversations with journalists, media observers, and 
other contacts over the last few weeks suggest that the media 
are falling under ever closer scrutiny as the succession year 
progresses.  While some, like owner and editor of the 
independent daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta Konstantin Remchukov, 
maintain that they are free to publish whatever they like, 
and have no contact with the Kremlin.  Others, like outgoing 
Profil Editor Bovt, tell us that their publication has been 
under a microscope since at least January. 
 
4. (C) Bovt reported he had been regularly counselled by 
Presidential Administration Deputy Vladislav Surkov or others 
in Surkov's office on his magazine's content.  Surkov had 
asked Bovt why Profil had not joined the Russian national 
media attack on the Department's Supporting Human Rights and 
Democracy Report or criticism of the Estonian government in 
the wake of its decision to relocate its Soviet World War II 
liberation monument.  A Profil article suggesting in the wake 
of the suppressed Other Russia meetings that demonstrators 
should be allowed to demonstrate caused much unhappiness in 
the Kremlin, said Bovt, as did a longer article on Other 
Russia's "March of Dissent."  Remchukov, on the other hand, 
noted that his newspaper publishes pieces critical of the 
Kremlin and, as in a recent article on the legal problems of 
the appointed governor of Amur Region, of Putin himself. 
 
5. (C) Bovt alleged to us that all media are being watched 
carefully by a nervous Kremlin as the succession year 
progresses.  The scrutiny, Bovt said, extends to close 
textual analysis.  A colleague at the large-circulation 
national daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta had told him recently of an 
angry telephone call from Surkov complaining of a phrase in 
an article that had Prime Minister Fradkov "ordering" First 
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev to do something. 
"Fradkov," Surkov allegedly instructed, "cannot 'order' 
Medvedev." 
 
6. (C) Ekho Moskvy Editor Aleskey Venediktov told us the 
media environment has worsened measurably over the last year, 
and that his station no longer enjoys its previous 
"privileged status" as the channel of dissent.  It is more 
difficult to secure government guests.  Anonymous threats 
 
MOSCOW 00002469  003 OF 004 
 
 
directed at Venediktov have increased, and the internal power 
struggle in the Kremlin translates into minute scrutiny of 
progamming details.  When "Just Russia" party leader Sergey 
Mironov was interviewed in connection with NATO developments, 
the Kremlin called, asking "Why not United Russia leader 
Gryzlov?" 
 
--------------------------- 
The Kremlin's Sliding Scale 
--------------------------- 
 
7. (C) Daily reading of the national newspapers Kommersant, 
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Izvestiya, Vedomosti, Novaya Gazeta, 
Moskovskiy Komsomolets, and Rossiiskaya Gazeta and scans of 
the weekly magazines Kommersant Vlast, The New Times, Profil, 
Itogi, and Russian Newsweek over the past several months 
suggest that the Kremlin's calculus, if there is one, may be 
selective and situational.  Circulation, readership, subject 
matter, and personality seem to be to varying degrees 
important, as is the way that any purported criticism is 
handled.  Novaya Gazeta (NG) and The New Times feature the 
most searing criticism of the GOR.  NG's adroit, connected 
half-owner (Duma Deputy and businessman Aleksandr Lebedev), 
its relatively small circulation, and modest (twice-weekly) 
publication schedule may explain its survival. The weekly New 
Times is small in circulation as well and was launched only 
in January.  Venediktov told us that its scorching criticism 
of the GOR has made it a "must read" in the Kremlin and that 
the Presidential Administration directed that Business Russia 
hire Olga Romanova as Editor, rather than let her join New 
Times' coterie of reporters. 
 
8. (C) Although it is true, as Remchukov maintains, that 
pointed articles appear in Nezavisimaya Gazeta; Nezavisimaya, 
Izvestiya and Vedomosti often confine their criticism to 
longer pieces that avoid the names of prominent government 
personalities.  The articles generally focus instead on 
"Russia's" problems, as in a recent, full-page Izvestiya 
piece by Merkator President Dmitriy Oreshkin that compared 
Russia's recent economic and social development unfavorably 
to that of Estonia and Germany.  The newspapers manage to 
make the point that Russia's over-reliance on raw materials, 
staggering levels of corruption, and troubled demographic 
picture are the product of government policies without 
criticizing the principle government actors by name. 
 
9. (C) The national daily Moskovskiy Komsomolets (MK) 
produces good, critical journalism for the masses (its daily 
circulation is two and one-half million).  Possibly providing 
protective coloration are Editor Pavel Gusev, who has a slot 
on the establishment Public Chamber, and one of MK's key 
journalists, Aleksandr Khinshteyn, who is a Duma deputy with 
a background in the intelligence services.  The paper leavens 
its pointed criticism of the GOR with Russian patriotism and 
cloaks the results in a nearly-impenetrable format. 
 
 
--------------------- 
Observers
 Worry About 
the Internet 
--------------------- 
 
10. (C) Liliya Shibanova, Director of the NGO Golos, tended 
in a recent conversation to see the authorities' 
interventions as selective and the result imperfect if 
compared to the sweeping censorship that existed during the 
Soviet period.  Driving the Kremlin, she thought, was an 
calculation that involved achieving the desired outcome with 
a minimum of outrage, although she acknowledged that the 
looming succession could make the authorities willing to 
sacrifice outrage to outcome.  With central television news, 
the chief source of information for most Russians, firmly 
under control, Shibanova thought it made little sense to 
focus on the printed media.  Shibanova guessed, however, that 
the same impulse that caused the crackdown on the handful of 
Other Russia demonstrators was behind the urge to control the 
less influential media, as well.  The approach of the 
presidential succession would only exacerbate this tendency, 
she thought. 
 
11. (C) Director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme 
Situations Oleg Panfilov tended to be, if anything, more 
pessimistic than Shibanova. Panfilov claimed that key 
internet news sites were already under pressure.  He noted 
that Gazprom and Kommersant's Alisher Usmanov had purchased 
gazeta.ru, and claimed to have detected a resultant change in 
the tenor of its coverage.  Oleg Buklemishev of ex-Prime 
Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's Popular Democratic Union agreed 
that gazeta.ru had become less bold.  He pointed to its 
treatment of the latest twist in the Litvinenko assassination 
scandal as evidence. 
 
 
MOSCOW 00002469  004 OF 004 
 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
12. (C) The inroads on the media, although significant, have 
been uneven and largely situational. The authorities' 
sensitivity to any attempt to distract them as they manage 
the --for them-- perilous succession process will likely 
usher in an even more overdetermined media landscape by the 
time the official presidential campaign begins in January. 
BURNS

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