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Cablegate: Media Agencies Merge Ahead of Elections And

VZCZCXRO9038
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #2129/01 1281556
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 081556Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0057
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4064
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2430
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2107

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 002129

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PHUM PINR RS
SUBJECT: MEDIA AGENCIES MERGE AHEAD OF ELECTIONS AND
SWITCHOVER TO DIGITAL


MOSCOW 00002129 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Against the background of an
increasingly controlled media climate, the GOR has merged the
agencies Rosokhrankultur and Rossvyaznadzor into one "super"
agency in an effort to consolidate regulatory control of the
media and information technology. It will not be known for
at least a few months what the new agency's mandate will be,
but the new head of the agency, Boris Boyarskov, is well and
favorably known to the Embassy. Some Embassy contacts
speculate that the merger was undertaken to increase control
over media content, including the Internet, in advance of the
upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. Russia's
imminent switchover to digital broadcasting might be the real
impetus for the merger, however. End summary.

------------------
New "Super" Agency
------------------

2. (U) On March 12, President Putin decreed the merger of
Rosokhrankultur, which issues and revokes broadcasting
licenses, and Rossvyaznadzor, which issues technical licenses
for data transmission, as part of an effort to consolidate
regulatory control over media and information technology.
Head of Rosokhrankultur Boris Boyarskov was put in charge of
the new "super" agency on March 26.

3. (SBU) Boyarskov chaired the working group that assessed
the viability of merging the two agencies and told us in a
March 22 meeting that the new agency's functions would be
made clearer by mid-June via amendments to the Law on Media,
supplemented by GOR regulations specifying its powers. No
proposed amendments have been discussed as of mid-May.

-----------------------------
Initial Reaction Apprehensive
-----------------------------

4. (SBU) Reaction to the merger has been low key, but
apprehensive to date. Foundation for Information Policy
Development Director Yelena Kolesnik attributed the merger to
the GOR's desire to centralize control over all media
content, although she admitted that she had no evidence to
support her suspicions. In an April 26 meeting, Director of
the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations Oleg Panfilov
reserved judgment, predicting that little would be known
before September. Still, he feared the merger was a Kremlin
attempt to ensure maximum control over the media in the
election season.

5. (SBU) Director of the National Research Center on
Television and Radio Aleksey Samokhvalov told us April 9 that
in light of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential
elections, the GOR may be contemplating overtly stronger
controls over media content. He said, however that the
agency's main task would be to oversee Russia's impending
switchover to digital broadcasting, which is scheduled to
occur in 2008. The newly-merged agency will have a federally
supported budget with estimates ranging USD 4 - 6 billion for
managing the transition, as well as the power to allot a
substantially increased number of licenses.

-----------------------------------
Suspicions of GOR Intentions Remain
-----------------------------------

6. (SBU) In a March 16 article, Reuters wrote that the
merger had sparked fears of a "bid to extend tight publishing
controls to the relatively free Web." Saying that Russia is
"not China," interlocutors were in agreement that it would be
"impossible" for the GOR to control the Internet should the
newly-merged agency attempt it. Kolesnik and Panfilov felt
that pressure nevertheless would be brought to bear.
Panfilov was specifically concerned that the independent
radio station Ekho Moskvy and the newspaper Novaya Gazeta
(late journalist Anna Politkovskaya's employer) might be
singled out for their more independent coverage, but
Boyarskov was at pains to reassure us of his support for
freedom of press and journalists' rights.

-------
Comment
-------

7. (SBU) It is not surprising that media watchers here are
inclined to suspect the worst of the merger, since they
subscribe to Freedom House's view, as published May 3 in its
2007 report on freedom of the press, that GOR efforts are

MOSCOW 00002129 002.2 OF 002


directed at "(further marginalizing) independent media
voices, punctuated by plans to regulate the Internet." The
GOR's attention has been increasingly focused on the need to
avoid any surprises during the upcoming elections and greater
control over media content would be a logical task for the
new agency to undertake. Post, however, has yet to see any
concrete steps in that direction and is persuaded that
Russia's switchover to digital is an equally important factor
in divining the intent of the merger. Boyarskov himself is a
very modest figure and has been very helpful to the Embassy
in our earlier work with him on the IPR account.

BURNS

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