Russia promises editorial freedom for TV

Russia’s outgoing president Dmitriy Medvedev has said that Russia’s new TV public service will be independent from the state. He also noted that some of the existing state-controlled TV channels should be either sold or “merged into the existing state structures”. Medvedev was speaking in an interview with six TV channels on April 26th – state-controlled Channel One TV, official state channel Rossiya 1, state-owned news channel Rossiya 24, Gazprom-owned NTV, privately owned REN TV, and satellite and Internet broadcaster Dozhd TV – shown live on all of them with the exception of REN TV. The report was carried by the BBC’s Monitoring service.

Dozhd TV’s Mikhail Zygar asked Medvedev to explain why he had signed the decree on public television. “Does this mean that the existing state TV channels are failing to perform their functions and inform citizens, and the funds being spent by the state on them are being wasted? Then perhaps taxpayers should not spend their money on financing state channels? Perhaps, after the public TV service is created, the state channels will be privatized?”

Medvedev replied: “Mikhail, it is easy to talk about it while working for a private TV channel. Well, if your colleagues from a state TV channel asked the relevant questions, it would be more interesting”.

“They, as taxpayers, are paying too,” Zygar countered.

Medvedev replied: “They are paying, I agree. As regards public television, as I have repeatedly said, I never have an unmovable position, I think it is normal… My position on public television also changed. At one point, I thought that the existing state resources were enough”. He went on to say that any owner of a TV channel, including the state, always influenced the channel, sometimes openly and sometimes subtly.

“Thus, public television, unlike a TV channel that belongs to a specific owner or owners, is the only resource that belongs to no-one, because it is independent from state sources,” Medvedev said. The state will help the new public TV service initially, and then it will be independent, he added. “Because they will live off their own money. This creates a very different degree of independence, excuse me for saying this – even more [independence] than that of a private channel,” Medvedev said.

Zygar said: “But the director-general is appointed by the president, which means that the source of legitimacy is the state anyway”.

Medvedev replied: “No, that is not so, because the president is a consolidating figure, everywhere in the world. You may like it or not, but it is a consolidating figure, the guarantor of the Constitution. In France, the head of public television is appointed by the president. In Great Britain, if I remember correctly – by the prime minister. But no-one is outraged, saying that this is an infringement on their rights”.

As regards state TV channels, “I believe that after the transition to digital broadcasting, which will happen very soon, the state will need to finally determine the number of state-owned media at all levels. In my opinion, there are many of them, and it is necessary to reorganize the state network. Some of these channels should be sold, and some should be merged into the existing state structures,” Medvedev said.

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