Friday, 22 July 2011

Privatizing Russia's media

n a bid to free the media from state control, President Dmitry Medvedev is proposing that the government stop financing several major TV and radio stations – opting instead for public television stations with alternative funding.

Medvedev, speaking after a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, called for alternative funding schemes to ensure that the media doesn’t fall under the sway of the government or big business – as it did toward the end of the 1990s.

On their own

The president, who is heading an ambitious campaign to modernize the economy, has already called for weaning the media from the state.

At his annual speech to the Federation Council last November, Medvedev urged the media to become financially independent and start financing itself.

Currently over 80 per cent of local TV and radio stations, as well as print press is controlled by the state. Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders rated Russia 140th on the Press Freedom Index list in 2010, out of 196 countries, placing it next to several African countries.

And while the government will continue financing federal level media – including Russia Today, Rossiya [VGTRK], radio Voice of Russia, news agencies ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti, Rossiyskaya Gazeta – all others should look for ways to finance themselves, Medvedev said.

Public television

Experts say that the only way to make the media self sufficient is to make it public.

“The only alternative funding scheme I see now for the stateowned TV stations and other media is advertising, since this will help them accumulate finances and become free from the state and entrepreneurs,” Iouli Matevossov, a media analyst at AlfaBank,said.

“The Internet… is a very cheap way of getting the news on current affairs. I’d say if TV will broadcast online, there is a future for it.”

In the UK and Ireland, public television is funded primarily through advertising and a system of licensing, which makes it free from any involvement in the editorial policy by the state or business.

But Matevossov said that TV licenses are most likely not going to work in Russia.

“I’d doubt this option can be applied to Russian reality.”

Creating public TV in Russia is next to impossible, according to Elena Vartanova, head of the journalism faculty at the Moscow State University. “This will require, at least, significant financial investments, a huge political will and an active civil society,” she said.

“Another important condition – support for viewers, as a subscription fee is a sort of voluntary tax and an important part of the "feedback" between society and public TV. Ideally, we should strive for public television, but in reality this seems unlikely.”

But it’s possible that media ownership will shift from the state to the business sector – media moguls in Russia often wind up controlling large shares.

“We can always say that media moguls will try and purchase these stations,” he said.

State control is not over

But according to political experts, the idea that state TV and radio will become public is unlikely, given the current political regime.

“Federal TV and radio station that broadcast news in Russia are the government’s most valuable political resource,” Maria Lipman, expert at Carnegie Center Moscow,said.

Lipman said that there are no signs that this situation will change soon and it still requires implementation through the use of stateowned media.

“The powerful political and business elite, having accumulated such great media resources, will never give them up,” she said. “Look at the way Medvedev speaks about liberalization – do we see any changes? No.”

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