Rossia Should Bite the Bullet and Apologize

Rossia television has laid to rest any lingering doubts about whether the level of propaganda on state television has returned to record Cold War highs. Konstantin Syomin, an anchor with "Vesti Plus," opined on the nightly news program last Thursday that Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic had deserved to be assassinated for "selling out" to the West.

Syomin described Djindjic as "a Western puppet" who "destroyed the legendary Serbian army." He accused Djindjic of "selling the heroes of Serbian resistance" to the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague. Therefore, Djindjic "got a well-deserved bullet" in 2003, Syomin said.

One has to wonder whether even Soviet television anchors made such outrageous observations after the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Moscow's Cold War foe.

The Serbian Foreign Ministry has filed an official protest, and Serbian lawmakers have complained. But neither the Russian Foreign Ministry nor Rossia have deemed it necessary to apologize.

Lax reporting standards allowing television anchors to opine on their news programs have long been a tradition in Russia. Another tradition has been state control of television management and the editorial content of news programs. The anti-Western bias, if not borderline hysteria, fomented on the national channels these days is part of this carefully planned coverage.

But to call the assassination of a prime minister "well deserved" is beyond the realm of biased reporting. It is simply appalling and unacceptable. It is also unsatisfactory for a democratic country and for any media outlet, whether it is state-controlled or not, to refuse to apologize.

The anchor's remarks were so shocking that one might be tempted to speculate that they were an attempt to undermine presidential candidate Dmitry Medvedev ahead of his trip to Serbia on Monday.

Not only do Rossia and the Foreign Ministry owe an apology, but the channel would do well to fire the anchor and whoever allowed -- or instructed -- him to put such a "spin" on the bullet that killed Djindjic.

State media and its Kremlin supervisors should stop fomenting irrational anti-Western hysteria. True, there is a divergence of interests between Russia and Western countries on many key issues. But this does not mean that coverage of the West should be based on groundless or unacceptable invectives, such as the one voiced about Djindjic.

Sooner or later ordinary people will begin to wonder why the country's rulers want them to hate the "evil" West but send their own children to study there, keep their money in banks there, and buy real estate there.

Strangely enough, the Politburo, which guided the anti-Western propaganda on Soviet television, was more honest with the people because it did none of that.