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Cablegate: Press Bias Shifts in Favor of Medvedev, but Putin

VZCZCXYZ0002
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMO #2425/01 2281049
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 151049Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9519
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 002425

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/15/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL RS
SUBJECT: PRESS BIAS SHIFTS IN FAVOR OF MEDVEDEV, BUT PUTIN
STILL IN CONTROL

Classified By: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Alice G. Wells for reason
1.4(d).

1. Summary: xxxxx reported the results xxxxx in a recent meeting with PolOff. While
Medvedev dominated Russian programming on four of five
surveyed stations, his appearances were disproportionately
ceremonial in contrast to Putin's hands on control of the
Russian government. The virtual absence of airtime provided
to most opposition parties continued to slow an already weak
opposition, and experience and intuition told xxxxx that
his study would fall on deaf ears, a prediction already
supported by the empty auditorium at his press conference
hours before our meeting. Russian Communist Party (KPRF)
leader Gennadiy Zuganov publicly and privately praised
xxxxx for his research as a boost to KPRF calls for
greater press freedom. Medvedev's sagging standing in the
polls, despite lavish T.V. coverage, is one indication of his
difficulty in coming out from Putin's shadow. End Summary.


Medvedev Main Headliner, but Putin Top Dog
------------------------------------------

2. (C) On August 4, xxxxx told PolOff that while
Medvedev received twice as much press coverage as Putin
during the testing period, most of his meetings were largely
ceremonial, while Putin's on-air performances continued to
give the impression that he held the reins of power. xxxxx
unabashedly called Medvedev a "no one" in Russian politics,
claiming he was nothing more than a "pen in one's pocket" or
"a glass on the table" as he raised a pen and glass from his
desk. Medvedev continued to attract interest with his
anti-corruption campaign, but Putin still called the shots
that mattered.

3. (C) An August 7 poll from Levada Center indicated only 9%
of Russians believe Medvedev controlled Russia's direction,
while 36% believed Putin remained in sole power and almost
50% saw a tandem presidency. A related Levada Center poll
from July 18-22 showed that 82% of Russians believed, to some
degree, that Medvedev merely continued Putin's policies,
while only 11% saw Medvedev gradually changing the country's
political course. Leading pollsters tended to agree with
survey results. xxxxx hinted to
PolOff on August 6 that Russians would probably see Medvedev
as even less in control after Putin's recent Mechel comments
and subsequent stock market scare. xxxxx told PolOff on
August 8 that the then-emerging conflict in South Ossetia
clearly painted Putin as the country's leader.


Study Results: Winners Won, Losers Lost
---------------------------------------

4. (SBU) xxxxx detailed the results of his recent
research project on propaganda in the press, done in
conjunction with Memo 98 Media Monitoring. The project
tracked primetime press coverage of major political figures
and government departments from June 5-20 on three
government-run television stations (Channel One, TV Rossiya,
and TV Center) and two privately-owned channels (NTV and REN
TV). xxxxx ascribed a positive, neutral, or negative
connotation to each news item, then calculated the total
amount of time devoted to each person or group.

5. (SBU) The study revealed that all channels, except for
REN TV, dedicated a disproportionate amount of airtime to
positive or neutral coverage of incumbent politicians and
cabinet members, rarely casting them in a negative light. REN
TV, however, distributed airtime more evenly to a greater
number of political parties and levied negative commentary
against the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Vladimir
Zhirinovskiy-led Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR).
Most of REN TV's remaining coverage was neutral and biased.
Stations devoted remaining airtime to less important
government figures including Duma Speaker and Chairman of the
High Council of United Russia Party Boris Gryzlov, First
Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, Russian Minister for
Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, Vice Premier and Finance
Minister Alexei Kudrin, Regional Development Minister Dmitriy
Kozak, and Economic Development Ministry chief Elvira
Naibullina. xxxxx produced the following
results:


Channel One (16.9% market share, formerly ORT,
state-controlled network): Medvedev (48.9%), Putin (22.9%),
United Russia (6.1%), Russian Deputy Premier Sergei Ivanov
(3.0%), A Just Russia (1.4%), FSB (1.3%), KPRF (0.3%).

TV Rossiya (15.8% market share, formerly RTR,
state-controlled network): Medvedev (50%), Putin (26.8%),
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (2.7%), Ivanov (2.0%),
United Russia (1.9%), FSB (0.9%), KPRF (0.9%), LDPR (0.8%), A
Just Russia (0.1%).

TV Center (4.2% market share, city of Moscow-owned national
network): Medvedev (43.9%), United Russia (17.1%), Putin
(16.9%), Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov (15.7%), Lavrov (4.8%),
Ivanov (3.0%), A Just Russia (0.2%), FSB (0.1%).

NTV (12.3% market share, Gazprom-owned national network):
Medvedev (57.3%), Putin (17.6%), Ivanov (5.7%), United Russia
(2.2%), Lavrov (2.0%), KPRF (1.1%), FSB (0.6%).

REN TV (7.1% market share, Rossiya Bank majority ownership,
independent network): Medvedev (28.6%), Zhirinovsky (12.2%),
KPRF (12.0%), LDPR (12.0%), Yabloko (11.3%), United Russia
(10.4%), Union of Right Forces (SPS) (6.7%), FSB (6.0%),
Putin (2.1%), A Just Russia (0.8%).


xxxxx and Communists: an Unexpected Alliance
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (C) xxxxx showed PolOff a letter from Zuganov that
lavished praise on xxxxx his outstanding
contribution to political reform in Russia. xxxxx then
recalled to PolOff that Zuganov approached him at the Embassy
Independence Day celebration at Spaso House, joyously thanked
him in front of numerous witnesses, hugged him, and named
xxxxx a "friend of the Communist Party." xxxxx retorted
to Zuganov saying "I did not do this research for you, I did
it for my country's future." xxxxx shuddered as he relayed
the story, sheepishly noting that his grandfather and father
would turn in their graves had they heard he had helped the
Communists. (Note: xxxxx grandfather was shot and killed
by Communists, and his father spent time in the Gulag)

7. (U) On July 14, the Communist Party presented the results
of the June 2008 Center for Research of Russian Political
Culture's complementary study on press freedom and propaganda
as it pertained to the KPRF. Zuganov noted that the study
found 45% of all KPRF references to be decidedly negative and
only 14% decidedly favorable. The Russian channel TVT
provided the most negative coverage while NTV projected the
KPRF most favorably. Considering xxxxx, however, NTV only dedicated about 1% of its
programming to the KPRF; therefore, its resonance with and
impact on the public remained minimal despite its positive
tone.


Opposition Hamstrung by Press Bias
----------------------------------

8. (C) xxxxx said data supported the opposition claim
that they received less government-controlled airtime, but
didn't address the GOR counter-charge that the classic
"liberal" opposition is doing little to generate news. xxxxx agreed, charging that "Russians feed from the same
information trough." xxxxx attributed much of the blame for
the stagnation of Russia's political opposition to a lack of
leadership; however, he claimed the lack of unbiased press
coverage reinforced the Russian population's unwavering
support of the current leadership.


Press Research Lacks Public Influence
-------------------------------------

9. (C) xxxxx bemoaned the fact that no one showed up to
the August 4 press conference at the House of Journalists
organized to discuss the results of his research. (Note:
PolOff was the only attendee present) While he admitted that
both he and the organizers did a poor job of informing the
press and publicizing the event, he felt that the public's
general ennui about press freedom contributed to the lack of
attendance. When asked about the projected influence of his
research, xxxxx told PolOff that he hoped organizations
such as the UN and OSCE would utilize his analysis to
advocate for greater political transparency in Russia.
Conversely, he claimed the largest influence of his
organization sprung from its relations with foreign
journalists at the Washington Post, Le Monde, and other
western papers. While his center operated quietly, trying not
to attract attention, it cooperated with foreign journalists
by supplying opinions and information for more scathing
articles. xxxxx told PolOff with obvious delight, "when
western press articles have infuriated Kremlin officials in
the past, xxxxx


Comment
-------

10. (C) xxxxx data strikingly demonstrates that despite
Medevedev's lavish courage in the media, he has yet to come
out from Putin's shadow and create a political identity that
resonates with Russian viewers.
Beyrle

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