Cablegate: Medvedev - and Putin - Dominate Media Leading To

DE RUEHMO #0564/01 0601036
P 291036Z FEB 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1.(SBU) Summary: The Russian media's bias towards
Kremlin-supported presidential candidate Dmitriy Medvedev
came as no surprise in the campaign season, and the sheer
lack of suspense may have caused media outlets to do only the
minimal required coverage of the campaign. In January and
February, government-owned or controlled national television
stations highlighted Medvedev's activities, with very little
attention to the other three registered candidates.
Newspapers and internet discussions offered a more diverse
range of commentary and coverage, but given the small
audience, had a limited impact on the overall election
climate. The government has also employed resources to
promote the election turnout, papering public transportation
with posters, and pressuring billboard companies to swap
profitable advertisements for public service announcements
reminding citizens to "vote for Russia's future." End


2.(U) Although Medvedev dominated the airtime allotted to
presidential candidates - in most cases receiving more play
that his three rivals combined -- Putin remained central in
prime time news coverage. A Center for Journalism in Extreme
Situations (CJES) summary of broadcast media showed that in
January, Medvedev received up to fifty percent of news time
on four of the five main channels. In February, when the
official presidential campaign began, Putin regained center
stage, commanding an average 55 percent of news time on
state-owned Channel One, Rossiya, and TV Centre and
Gazprom-owned NTV while Medvedev received from 25 to 40
percent on the same channels. The other candidates received
minimal attention from state-owned outlets, garnering 3-6
percent each.

3.(SBU) Only privately-owned REN TV gave any significant
airtime to other candidates, but its small market share meant
that most Russian TV viewers watched the Kremlin-controlled
campaign coverage. In February, REN-TV dedicated 30 percent
of prime time news to Putin, 20 percent each to Medvedev,
Communist party candidate Gennadiy Zyuganov, and
Liberal-Democratic party candidate Vladimir Zhirinovksiy, and
6 percent to Democratic Party candidate Andrey Bogdanov. In
January, according to CJES, NTV allocated the bulk of its
campaign coverage to Kasyanov's efforts to get on the ballot.
In contrast, Channel One, Rossiya and NTV primarily
criticized Kasyanov. Zyuganov and outside groups have
publicly complained to the Central Election Committee and
Moscow City Courts that the state-controlled media was not
following Russian law requiring equal coverage for all
candidates, but the complaints have been dismissed.

4.(U) The state-controlled media crafted a stately image of
Medvedev, whether visiting a three-child family to
congratulate their efforts to increase the Russian population
or showing Russian support for Serbia in Belgrade. At the
same time, Channel One featured Zyuganov visiting a honey
expo and described him as a "keen bee-keeper." Another
Channel One news program highlighted Liberal- Democratic
party candidate Vladimir Zhirinovksiy's visit to a Moscow
construction site, learning to plaster a wall, while
onlookers muffled giggles. Bogdanov was largely absent from
the main airwaves, garnering less that 2 percent of news
time, and visible on television mainly during the early
morning debates in which Medvedev declined to participate.


5.(SBU) Due to much smaller circulation and waning
readership, compared to broadcast media, the print press had
less direct pressure from the Kremlin than during the
parliamentary elections, and more space to offer independent
and often critical analysis of the campaign. Underscoring
the conventional wisdom that the election was a formality to
Medvedev's presidency, commentary from publications as
diverse as the liberal Kommersant to the official government
daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta highlighted the lack of real
competition among the candidates, including unequal access to
the airwaves (in a few cases drawing unfavorable comparisons
to the U.S. primaries). Very little personal criticism of
Medvedev the candidate appeared, however, and by
mid-February, most publications reduced their "campaign"
coverage to a minimum and shifted their focus towards
speculation on post-election power divisions.

6.(SBU) Transparency International Russia reported that
although Medvedev received half the national print press
mentions for presidential candidates from December 1, 2007 to

MOSCOW 00000564 002 OF 002

February 15, 2008 (296 versus 248 for Zhirinovskiy 237 for
Zyuganov, 169 for Kasyanov and 140 for Bogdanov), President
Putin still won more press attention, with 862 mentions in
the same period. Print publications gave each candidate a
fair amount of editorial space, at the same time displaying
editorial slants in line with their ownership. Rossiiskaya
Gazeta told us they were instructed not to publish any
interviews or op-eds from U.S government officials until
after March 2. Kommersant, while one of the few publications
to criticize the Kremlin and Medvedev, was also suspected of
toning down its language because of owner Alisher Usmanov's
ties to Gazprom. Quipped a Kommersant foreign correspondent,
"There is no doubt that (Editor-in-Chief Andrey) Vasilyev has
been talking to the Kremlin on a regular basis throughout the
presidential campaign."

Radio and Mass Media

7.(SBU) Like the print press, radio stations' limited and
fragmented audience allowed them to air opposition voices,
within limits. The hourly news segments of both
government-owned national radio networks - Radio Mayak and
Radio Rossii - extensively mentioned Medvedev in both his
official capacity as First Deputy Prime Minister and as a
presidential candidate. Editorially independent Ekho Moskvy
continued to offer a wide range of campaign coverage, on the
process and the candidates. However, as Editor-in-Chief
Aleksey Venediktov noted in an interview, "We are a showcase
for the West" so the Kremlin can prove media freedom exists
in Russia.

8. (SBU) While attention to the campaign dwindled to
perfunctory coverage of candidates and renewed focus on
President Putin, a drive around Moscow left no doubt that a
presidential election was still to come. Striking posters
stating "Presidential Elections March 2" superimposed on the
Russian flag were found on signs, billboards, metro cars and
stations and even adorned public transportation tickets.
Large billboards featured well-known politicians, including a
casually-dressed Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, with the caption "I'll
vote." An executive with Russia's largest outdoor
advertising firm freely admitted that the government
pressured his partners in Moscow and other cities to bump
advertising in favor of public service announcements
imploring citizens to vote. "We smile and say, 'Of course!'
and only hope we can negotiate a little about the amount of
space they will take."

"We seem to forget that March 2 is still ahead of us."
--------------------------------------------- -----------

9.(SBU) Comment: Although the media environment was not
fundamentally more restrictive than the run-up to the
parliamentary elections in December 2007, coverage and
interest decreased - even the outrage and attention to
government influence in the media dwindled noticeably. The
presumed inevitability of Medvedev's victory may have led all
but the state-run outlets to turn their attention to less
predictable topics and the state-media channels simply
fulfilled their responsibility by covering the Kremlin's
candidate. Alternative voices were available, particularly in
the print press, but their impact was minimal. As one Ekho
Moskvy editor noted, media coverage of Medvedev as the next
president became so routine, we seem to forget that March 2
is still ahead of us."

© Scoop Media

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