Something Old, Something New

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We have no special controls on mass media that differ from those in other countries." These were the words of President Dmitry Medvedev in answer to a question from Reuters agency several days before the EU-Russia summit in Khanty-Mansiisk.

Leonid Levin, general director of the Yakutsk publisher Nord Press and a speaker in one of the roundtables at last week's Publishing Expo 2008 in Moscow, said, "All of our current success will quickly become a thing of the past. The future belongs to multimedia."

These two statements, made almost simultaneously, once again highlight the strange co-existence in modern Russia of archaic thinking and rapid technological progress.

If Medvedev's comment about "other countries" was a reference to Belarus or North Korea, then he is apparently right. If, however, he was speaking of democratic countries, then it must be asked whether Medvedev is being purposely disingenuous in his demagoguery. Or perhaps he actually believes what he is saying, and, if so, couldn't anyone close to him explain how, for example, public service broadcasting works in Council of Europe member countries? Or at least, since the statement was made in response to a British news agency's question, explain to him how the BBC differs from the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company? After all, his advisers should not let the new president say things that would make people laugh at him.

The statement by Levin underscores the dynamic development of the publishing business, and how rapidly the modern communications revolution is penetrating even the most remote corners of Russia. Levin, who works in Yakutsk, a city literally constructed on permafrost, has built up a truly successful publishing business without sacrificing the values of independent and responsible journalism. Only 12 months after last year's Publishing Expo, where it seemed to me that many publishers were hearing for the first time that they could automate their editorial and publishing operations, an IT-solutions market had formed with Russian and foreign firms in competition with the giant U.S.-based company Oracle.

At this year's expo, a few Russian publishing companies demonstrated such advanced samples of multimedia work, proving that they have few equals, even in developed publishing markets. The pace of growth in the advertising market, Internet broadband and mobile communications prompted clear signs of envy among the various foreign experts in attendance. Of course, some companies are growing faster than others, but on the whole it can be said that if the high price of oil has brought about a boom in the advertising and consumer markets and their rapid modernization, then the publishing business is surely a beneficiary of this development.

On one hand, we have Levin from far away Yakutsk who admits that he doesn't like the digital age but who nevertheless plans to create a modern multimedia company. On the other hand, we have a young president from St. Petersburg -- perhaps Russia's most European city -- who starts his day with the Internet, but whose ideas and global visions are drawn from the pages of Soviet-era propaganda books.

In comparison, former President Boris Yeltsin had the most progressive views on freedom of the press, although there were practically no transparent and honest media businesses during his presidency.

Oh, this is a very difficult country to comprehend -- even for those who have lived here their whole lives.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.