Well, I see that Russian President Joseph Putin ... er ... I mean, Vladimir Stalin ... er ... well, you know who I mean, has decided that Russian winters will now be summers, anti-Kremlin demonstrations will not exist, opposition politicians and political parties will no longer exist, global warming is a positive thing, and the next time there's a natural or man-made disaster in Russia - say an earthquake or another Chernobyl-like nuclear disaster - Russia will refuse U.S. aid for the victims because A) there was no disaster, and B) it refuses to take aid from the enemy. Tomorrow's non-headline in
You can read this article by New York Times correspondent Andrew E. Kramer, reporting from
At their first meeting with journalists since taking over
In addition, opposition leaders could not be mentioned on the air and the
How would they know what constituted positive news?
“When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive,” said one editor at the station who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.”
In a darkening media landscape, raio news had been a rare bright spot. Now, the implementation of the “50 percent positive” rule at the Russian News Service leaves an increasingly small number of news outlets that are not managed by the Kremlin, directly or through the state national gas company, Gazprom, a major owner of media assets.
The three national television networks are already state controlled, though small-circulation newspapers generally remain independent.
This month alone, a bank loyal to President Vladimir V. Putin tightened its control of an independent television station, Parliament passed a measure banning “extremism” in politics and prosecutors have gone after individuals who post critical comments on Web chat rooms.
Parliament is also considering extending state control to Internet sites that report news, reflecting the growing importance of Web news as the country becomes more affluent and growing numbers of middle-class Russians acquire computers.
On Tuesday, the police raided the Educated Media Foundation, a nongovernmental group sponsored by
With this new campaign, seemingly aimed at tying up the loose ends before a parliamentary election in the fall that is being carefully stage-managed by the Kremlin, censorship rules in
“This is not the U.S.S.R., when every print or broadcasting outlet was preliminarily censored,” Masha Lipman, a researcher at the
Instead, the tactic has been to impose state ownership on media companies and replace editors with those who are supporters of Putin - or offer a generally more upbeat report on developments in
The new censorship rules are often passed in vaguely worded measures and decrees that are ostensibly intended to protect the public.
Late last year, for example, the prosecutor general and the interior minister appeared before Parliament to ask deputies to draft legislation banning the distribution on the Web of “extremist” content - a catch phrase, critics say, for information about opponents of Putin.
On Friday, the Federal Security Service, a successor agency to the K.G.B., questioned Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion and opposition politician, for four hours regarding an interview he had given on the Echo of Moscow radio station. Prosecutors have accused Kasparov of expressing extremist views.
Parliament on Wednesday passed a law allowing for prison sentences of as long as three years for “vandalism” motivated by politics or ideology. Once again, vandalism is interpreted broadly, human rights groups say, including acts of civil disobedience. In a test case,
State television news, meanwhile, typically offers only bland fare of official meetings. Last weekend, the state channels mostly ignored the violent dispersal of opposition protests in
Rossiya TV, for example, led its newscast last Saturday with Putin attending a martial arts competition, with the Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme as his guest. On the streets of the capital that day, 54 people were beaten badly enough by the police that they sought medical care, said Human Rights Watch.
Rossiya and Channel One are owned by the state, while NTV was taken from a Kremlin critic in 2001 and now belongs to Gazprom. Last week, a St. Petersburg bank with ties to Putin increased its ownership stake in REN-TV, a channel that sometimes broadcasts critical reports, raising questions about that outlet’s continued independence.
The Russian News Service is owned by businesses loyal to the Kremlin, including Lukoil, though its exact ownership structure is not public. The owners had not meddled in editorial matters before, said Mikhail G. Baklanov, the former news editor, in a telephone interview.
The service provides news updates for a network of music-formatted radio stations, called Russian Radio, with seven million listeners, according to TNS Gallup, a ratings company.
Two weeks ago, the shareholders asked for the resignation of Baklanov. They appointed two new managers, Aleksandr Y. Shkolnik, director of children’s programming on state-owned Channel One, and Svevolod V. Neroznak, an announcer on Channel One. Both retained their positions at state television.
Shkolnik articulated the rule that 50 percent of the news must be positive, regardless of what cataclysm might befall
When in doubt about the positive or negative quality of a development, the editor said, “we should ask the new leadership.”
“We are having trouble with the positive part, believe me,” said the editor.
Shkolnik did not respond to a request for an interview. In an interview with Kommersant, he denied an on-air ban of opposition figures. He said Kasparov might be interviewed, but only if he agreed to refrain from extremist statements.
The editor at the news service said that the change had been explained as an effort to attract a larger, younger audience, but that many editorial employees had interpreted it as a tightening of political control ahead of the elections.
The station’s news report on Thursday noted the 75th anniversary of the opening of the
Already, listeners are grumbling about the “positive news” policy.
“I want fresh morning broadcasts and not to fall asleep,” one listener, who signed a posting on the station’s Web site as Sergei from
“For Echo of Moscow, this is positive news,” said Venediktov. “We are a monopoly now. From the point of view of the country, it is negative news.”