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Regional Diversity in Russian TV Likely to Decrease, Expert Says

(Washington, DC--April 10, 2006) The Kremlin's increasing control over information in Russia will "likely decrease" the amount of regional diversity which exists in local television programming throughout Russia, two experts said. Speaking to a recent RFE/RL briefing audience, Floriana Fossato and Masha Lipman said that recent changes in national media and advertising laws and regulations will quicken the pace of changes in regional TV programming, making it more closely resemble current national programming.

According to Fossato, a political analyst at University College London, there are "17 main federal TV networks or channels" which serve viewers across Russia. She noted that a viewer poll conducted by Gallup Media in October 2005 had shown that regional daily audiences pick a federal channel for their first and second viewing choice, but a strong third is their regional station, particularly for news. Fossato suggested that local stations in the regions have gained the "strong loyalty" of their viewers because they cover political topics, crime, social and health issues, and foster public dialogue through their local talk shows, while national networks avoid politics and broadcast a "framed" message from the federal authorities.

Fossato said there are 1,000 regional television companies, of whom half are not state-owned, rely on advertising for revenue and at most broadcast 18 hours per day. Most of these commercial stations are beginning to work with the Moscow-based networks that primarily broadcast entertainment programs, Fossato said, expressing concern that regional diversity in programming is likely to decrease as these stations are forced by logistical and financial problems to affiliate with the federal networks. At the same time, advertising revenues have increased enough to allow several regional stations to survive and forestall takeovers. Fossato said the Russian regional television advertising market grew by 38 percent in 2004, and that a similar increase was expected in the 2005 revenues.

Regional stations, Fossato reported, now get "phone calls from the Kremlin" that complain about news coverage, particularly when after visits to the regions by President Vladimir Putin. The federal authorities, she said, have a goal "to create a new national television station for the regions," which would further erode the diversity of news programming in Russia. Fossato noted that the "Kremlin awarded 41 television frequencies at once, under one tender", in January 2005, something she described as "unprecedented occurrence."

Masha Lipman, Editor-in-chief of the journal Pro et Contra for the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the Kremlin "consolidated" control over national television coverage in 2003 and 2004. She said the Kremlin has turned national television into its own information outlet and is looking for other ways to expand its control of information flows. According to Lipman, the Kremlin realizes that "diversity is an obstacle to control," so it will now seek control over the print media and regional television before the 2007-2008 election cycle.

Archived audio of this briefing can be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media formats.