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DATE=4/3/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA ELECT / MEDIA NUMBER=5-46067 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: The conduct of Russia's media during the recent presidential election campaign has raised questions about just how free the country's press is. International observers gave a relatively positive verdict on the election. But as V-O-A Correspondent Peter Heinlein reports from Moscow, some media critics and watchdog groups say press freedom is at its lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union. TEXT: When Vladimir Putin was asked during a pre- election interview to outline his plans for Russia, he bluntly told a reporter, "I won't tell you." In most countries, such a remark would have provoked outrage. But not in Russia. Here, the state-run television channels that most Russians rely on as their only source of news completely ignored the remark. Media researcher Igor Galin, who studied the campaign coverage, says only positive images of Mr. Putin dominated the airwaves. /// GALIN ACT /// We have a situation where about 50 percent of news coverage was about Putin and what he did during the campaign. Not exactly about him campaigning, but about his being acting president. /// END ACT /// Media watcher Alexei Pankin, publisher of a weekly journalism review, says even the independent N-T-V channel, which favored liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky, was careful not to offend Mr. Putin, knowing he was certain to win, and as president would hold vast power it. /// PANKIN ACT ONE /// N-T-V was playing funny games at the same time, trying to look critical as not to antagonize Putin strongly enough that he demands they pay their unpaid debts. /// END ACT /// Mr. Pankin says the Russian press is extremely vulnerable to government pressure. This is because few media organizations pay taxes, knowing that authorities usually look the other way (ignore the violations). But Mr. Pankin says independent newspaper publishers and broadcasters know that if they offend local bureaucrats, they might suddenly find the tax collector at the door. /// PANKIN ACT TWO /// Basically, it's their own corruptness above all. If you're not paying what you owe, if your transactions are mostly in black cash, you are extremely vulnerable. The media loves to be fed by the state, and then to call itself independent. /// END ACT /// Those newspaper publishers who choose to remain completely independent find themselves facing fierce competition from well-financed state-run publications. Eventually, most find themselves with a stark choice: either accept government subsidies, and the state control that goes with them, or go bankrupt. /// OPT /// Yefim Shusterman is one exception. His independent weekly paper in the southern city of Volgograd, known as "Inter", has nearly twice the circulation of the largest state-run daily. His business is surviving, though he says it is a day-to- day struggle. He adds, however, that hard times (financial difficulties) have forced most of his colleagues to sacrifice their principles. /// OPT // SHUSTERMAN ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER TRANSLATION /// The authorities know perfectly well that economic hardships these days make the press become prostitutes, to submit to the governor. Those who have little conscience have given in to him already. /// END ACT // END OPT /// Media watcher Robert Coalson of the U-S government- funded National Press Institute says that by controlling the regional press and the main national television channels, Russian authorities maintain firm control over public opinion. /// COALSON ACT ONE /// It's not an accident that the state has kept tight control over papers and less control over (regional) TV because the combination of nationally controlled TV and locally controlled papers is such an effective way of manipulating public opinion. /// END ACT /// /// opt /// Mr. Coalson points out that the government has another weapon that effectively silences all election campaign coverage in the influential regional press. /// OPT COALSON ACT TWO /// The election law is written is such a way basically that any material about any candidate or any party could be considered some sort of agitation. Or some sort of libel. And most papers are in such a vulnerable position that they didn't participate at all. /// END ACT // END OPT /// Mr. Coalson says a review of regional papers in the week before the presidential vote revealed that most of them had no election coverage whatsoever. He lashes out at international observer groups which effectively gave the election, and Russian democracy, a stamp of approval. /// COALSON ACT THREE /// The idea that democracy is flourishing is a misconception. The fact is even in the Soviet Union they had elections and people voted and it wasn't a democracy and they fact they have election now is not a sign it has democracy. An election process without the active and informed participation of the electorate is just a sham. /// END ACT /// Several observers say another disturbing sign is the number of incumbents who win with overwhelming majorities, even in regions where anti-government sentiments run high. One example is the northern Murmansk region, where the governor was re-elected last month with 98 percent of the votes. So while Europe's main security organization, the O-S- C-E, gave the election its preliminary approval, several independent analysts have concluded the vote was a farce, and question whether it may have done more harm than good to the cause of democratic development in Russia. (Signed) NEB/PFH/DW 03-Apr-2000 06:54 AM EDT (03-Apr-2000 1054 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .