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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

 

How Putin took control of TV news

The Washington Post prints an excerpt from the new book Kremlin Rising : Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution, written by two of its reporters, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser. One section discusses how Putin took over Russia's broadcast media:

The new Russian president grew particularly irate early in his tenure when the submarine Kursk sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000 and Russian television aired tough reports about the government's slow response and dishonest public statements. Even state-controlled Channel One, under Berezovsky's control, broadcast critical segments, including interviews with the wives of Kursk sailors distraught at the way the situation was being handled.

Outraged, Putin called personally to rail about the report and accuse the journalists of faking it. "You hired two whores . . . in order to push me down," Putin exclaimed, as anchor Sergei Dorenko remembered it. Dorenko was taken aback. "They were officers' widows," he said, "but Putin was convinced that the truth, the reality, did not actually exist. He only believes in [political] technologies."

Putin's anger boiled over at a closed-door meeting with relatives of the crew six days after the submarine sank. When fuming relatives shouted him down, saying they knew from television that the Russian government had initially turned down foreign assistance, Putin bristled.

"Television?" he exclaimed. "They're lying. Lying. Lying."

After that, the die was cast. Determined to dominate television, the Kremlin drove Berezovsky, who controlled Channel One, and Vladimir Gusinsky, the owner of independent NTV, out of the country and seized control of both networks. No one understood better than Putin just how powerful television could be in the new Russia. "He came to power through television, and that's why, to have an independent channel that covers 65 percent of Russia, that creates a danger," the top aide said.

With troublesome owners out of the way, the Kremlin convened meetings each Friday with the top television directors at which Putin aide Vladislav Surkov, Kremlin consultant Gleb Pavlovsky and others handed out weekly talking points. Over time, the agenda became nakedly political, aimed at supporting Putin and his political party, United Russia. "It turned into an instrument of control," one participant said later. ". . . It was so direct and unsophisticated, like propaganda."

At each session, a written agenda was handed out with the week's expected news topics and recommended approaches. "At some point," the participant said, "the list started including the phrase 'recommendation -- don't cover.' It was things not to mention, like Chechnya."

As parliamentary elections approached in 2003, the Kremlin dispensed with even that subtlety and dispatched Marat Gelman, a top political strategist, to oversee Channel One. His programs, Gelman later said, were all guided by a single mission: "to create the image of United Russia and to destroy the Communists."

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