Cablegate: Putin and United Russia Dominate Media in Run Up
DE RUEHMO #5598/01 3341228
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 301228Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5576
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 005598
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/29/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM PHUM KPAO RS
SUBJECT: PUTIN AND UNITED RUSSIA DOMINATE MEDIA IN RUN UP
TO DUMA ELECTIONS
REF: MOSCOW 5584 Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns for reason 1.4 (d)
1. (C) Summary. All one has to do is watch the national nightly news to see that President Putin, his administration, and United Russia garner the majority of coverage in the run up to the December 2 Duma elections. Over the past two months, three-fourths of the national television coverage and over half of the national print media coverage has gone to United Russia and Putin. The cause of this skewed coverage is clearly a combination of Kremlin influence and media self-censorship. Even insiders at the state-run media have candidly told us that the media coverage is lopsided and cited examples of Kremlin pressure. Despite United Russia's clear and overwhelming lead, the Kremlin is still employing overkill tactics to secure its advantage. Several noted that this practice is not new and began with Yeltsin's 1996 presidential campaign; what is new is the extent of the one-sidedness of the news and campaign coverage in United Russia's favor. Looking ahead to March, most media insiders are bracing themselves for a more restrictive environment in the run up to the presidential elections. End summary.
The Facts ---------
2. (SBU) Statistics of print and broadcast coverage devoted to political parties and politicians during the election campaign have been produced by multiple groups from across the political spectrum as well as non-governmental organizations. Taken together, a clear consensus emerges that Putin, his administration, and his party United Russia receive the overwhelming majority of news and campaign coverage in the print and broadcast media. According to unpublished statistics from Transparency International Russia, from September 1 to November 23 television and newspapers mentioned United Russia nearly three times more (1371 mentions) than Just Russia (490 mentions) or the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) (437 mentions). The print media covered more parties than the broadcast media, although United Russia still received double the attention given to any other party in the country's national newspapers, taking one-third of the total print press political coverage.
3. (SBU) United Russia also dominated the national television airwaves; the opposition parties Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko each received one tenth of the television coverage given to United Russia (370 stories about United Russia, and only 31 about SPS and 36 about Yabloko), according to Transparency International Russia. A recent survey by the Center for Research on the Political Culture of Russia showed that United Russia received -- on average -- 64 percent of the total political coverage on Russian national television from November 1 to 13, and up to 80 percent of the prime time coverage. The television dominance of the president, his administration, and United Russia becomes clear when added together: according to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), it accounted for more than 86 percent of state-owned First Channel's evening news in October and November, 81 percent of state-owned RTR's coverage, 90 percent of Gazprom-owned NTV's political coverage, 77 percent of Mayor Luzhkov's TV Center's coverage, and 54 percent of independent REN-TV's political coverage. Almost all of the coverage was positive (with the exception of the arrest of Deputy Finance Minister Storchak and the REN-TV broadcasts).
4. (U) According to CJES statistics, November differed slightly from October, as some national networks aired news about parties other than United Russia. The coverage, however, was almost universally negative: First Channel devoted 0.8 percent of its political coverage to SPS, and REN-TV broadcast negative stories about Putin, members of his cabinet, United Russia, LDPR, the Communist Party (KPRF) and SPS. REN-TV's audience share is small compared to the major networks, resulting in Russian television viewers being fed overwhelmingly positive stories about Putin and United Russia almost exclusively in October and November.
5. (SBU) The political discussion on the internet has been more open, but Transparency International Russia's Yelena Panfilova claims that participants in the on-line political discussions are unlikely to vote. "Most of the people who vote don't read news on the internet," Panfilova told us. She pointed to an on-line survey in which bloggers indicated that they were not inclined to go to the polls on December 2 as evidence.
Kremlin Influence MOSCOW 00005598 002 OF 003 -----------------
6. (C) United Russia benefited from the president's control of the government-owned media, particularly TV channels First Channel and RTR. NTV's news director Petr Orlov told us that NTV had provided relatively little coverage of the election campaign, because (1) as a commercial station (not directly state-owned) they are not obligated to place paid political advertising, and (2) there was "no real debate or discussion" happening in the elections and therefore, NTV's viewers were not interested. Orlov conceded that the majority of NTV's political stories during news programs could be credited to United Russia, but he claimed the amount of coverage was a trick of methodology. "If there is a four minute segment on health in Russia, and the final 20 seconds is a quote from the head of the Duma Committee on Health, who is a member of United Russia," Orlov said, "do you count four minutes or 20 seconds?" Orlov told us NTV is keeping its own accounting of how much time is given to politicians and political parties as they expect a spate of lawsuits after the Duma elections.
7. (C) First Channel's popular anchor Vladimir Pozner was forthcoming in his assessment of why the television coverage is so skewed. He said that First Channel's Director, Konstantin Ernst, received several phone calls from the Kremlin in November telling him to increase negative coverage of other parties, whereas in October he had been mostly prodded to provide positive coverage of United Russia. Pozner pushed the envelope during this election season and Ernst instantly felt the sting: When Pozner told a joke on his weekly program about Putin and the CEC's support of United Russia, Ernst received five angry phone calls from the Kremlin telling him to pull Pozner's show or edit out the joke. The show had been broadcast live (and would rebroadcast later in the day to enable viewers in other time zones to see it), and so Pozner says he refused to edit the show and told Ernst that if his show was canceled, he would hold a news conference and make a big stink. Pozner believes himself to be a special case, and knows his actions jeopardize Ernst's job. That, he said, is the only thing which keeps him from going "too far" on his show. He candidly told us that he does not see how Kremlin influence and Russian media self-censorship could get any worse than it is.
8. (C) The Russian Government is also forcing the state-run channels to air political advertising during prime viewing hours. According to NTV's Orlov, First Channel's Ernst complained during a media meeting with the Central Election Commission that his channel hadn't been paid from the 2003 campaign, and was later "forced" to air 2007 advertising for United Russia without any promise of payment. Orlov speculated that Ernst had relented because he had been threatened with losing his job.
9. (C) Not all broadcast outlets admitted to phone calls and Kremlin instructions, and some suggested that such tactics are not necessary. TV Center's Mikhail Ponomarev told us, "Our priority is United Russia. If I do not cover them, I will be fired, and my successor will cover them." Aleksey Simonov of the Glasnost Defense Fund reinforced Ponomarev's thesis that the media doesn't need instructions, because, "By now, everyone understands what to do." According to CJES Director Oleg Panfilov, many news editors rely on their own "sound" judgment when determining who to feature on their news programs. Of the national networks, only REN-TV has slightly bucked the trend and produced its own political footage (other channels often take prepared news reels) on United Russia, KPRF, Yabloko, and SPS.
10. (C) Aleksey Venediktov, Editor-in-chief of the editorially independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, told us the Kremlin complained about Ekho giving air time to opposition candidates. Since United Russia prohibits its members from appearing on the station's programs, Venediktov noted that the only people to talk to were from parties other than United Russia. "They are afraid to come on our programs because we will ask them questions," Venediktov told us. Local authorities recently closed the Ekho affiliate in Penza until December 5, citing "technical reasons," but Venediktov said its Penza affiliate had booked opposition candidates for programs, something the government didn't want to allow. Venediktov also noted that Ekho's ratings had recently sky-rocketed, possibly owing to its independent editorial stance.
Does it Matter? --------------- MOSCOW 00005598 003 OF 003
11. (C) Media insiders are divided about whether any of this matters. NTV's Orlov told us it wouldn't matter if more coverage was given to smaller parties because politically active Russians want to vote for winners. First Channel's Pozner claimed that more air time for all parties would lead to a real democratic competition. "This is not a popular election," Pozner said, "it's a selection by the media." Pozner stated this has been common practice since 1995, when (then-President) Boris Yeltsin had five percent popular support going into the 1996 campaign. Pozner recounted how then-media moguls Vladimir Gusinskiy, Boris Berezovskiy, and others, met in Davos and decided to wage a media war on Yeltsin's behalf because they could not accept that Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov had 30 percent popular support. Pozner was adamant that if there was a level playing ground, United Russia might not even exist. "Who are its members?" he asked. "No one other than those in power. It has no broader party base."
12. (C) Those we spoke with almost universally agreed that the media environment will get worse before the presidential elections in March, yet they all revealed a degree of uncertainty. Venediktov was characteristically nervous about Ekho's future, saying, "These are dicey times." Orlov is keeping his head down, and said NTV is staying below the radar and away from unpleasant stories -- such as the November 24 - 25 demonstrations in Ingushetiya (reftel) -- so as not to give the Kremlin an excuse to crack down on them. Several regional newspaper editors shook their heads in bewilderment when we asked about the future. Conventional wisdom is that the government will wait until after the Duma election to see how things come out, and then decide whether to be even more restrictive in its approach to the media in the run up to the presidential race. BURNS 0 11/30/2007 11322 PGOV,PREL,KDEM,PHUM,KPAO,RS PUTIN AND UNITED RUSSIA DOMINATE MEDIA IN RUN UP TO DUMA ELECTIONS All one has to do is watch the national nightly news to see that President Putin, his administration, and United Russia garner the majority of coverage in the run up to the December 2 Duma elections. Over the past two months, three-fourths of the national television coverage and over half of the national print media coverage has gone to United Russia and Putin. The cause of this skewed coverage is clearly a combination of Kremlin influence and media self-censorship. Even insiders at the state-run media have candidly told us that the media coverage is lopsided and cited examples of Kremlin pressure. Despite United Russia's clear and overwhelming lead, the Kremlin is still employing overkill tactics to secure its advantage. Several noted that this practice is not new and began with Yeltsin's 1996 presidential campaign; what is new is the extent of the one-sidedness of the news and campaign coverage in United Russia's favor. Looking ahead to March, most media insiders are bracing themselves for a more restrictive environment in the run up to the presidential elections. End summary.