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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Press Day Celebrated By Attacks on Media

The loyal Communist daily Pravda celebrated its 84th birthday Sunday with a party for its readers in Gorky Park and an attack on the non-Communist press for distorting the truth in favor of "their candidate," Boris Yeltsin, in the run-up to Russia's presidential elections next month.

"Before your eyes, one candidate for the presidency [Zyuganov] has somehow 'thinned out' not in a matter of days, but of hours, as if he had lost the political weight gained last December, while the other [Yeltsin] has risen from the brink of death, shaken off his heart problems and other ailments and, as they say, is easily pumping up a balloon of popular trust," Pravda opined.

During the Soviet era, May 5 was known as Press Day, dedicated to the founding of Pravda in 1912 and to the Party press generally. But apart from Pravda itself, most Russian papers ignored Press Day this year. Of the other major dailies, only Segodnya devoted an article to the event, and, like Pravda, used the occasion to warn of increasing government influence on the mass media as the election campaign progresses.

"In our homeland they love to speak of press freedom. They love to speak on this theme as much in the upper echelons as in the lower," Segodnya wrote. "In the Kremlin they promise to support [press freedom], as is to be expected, while the papers and magazines, as a rule, have more occasion to notice the tightening of the screws."

Accusations of political engagement in the mass media have multiplied as the elections draw near, and many observers have noted Yeltsin's growing control over the press and television. Pro-Communist papers such as Pravda and Sovietskaya Rossiya do not conceal their partisanship, but the liberal papers, such as Izvestia, claim to have maintained their independence.

"Some publications support the president, but that is their choice," said Igor Golembiovsky, editor-in-chief of Izvestia, which has itself been accused of supporting Yeltsin.

The Izvestia editor said that he felt "no pressure" from the government to bring his paper's coverage into line with official propaganda. "As regards the independent press, it is not a question of influencing us, but of attempts to convince us, to bring us over to the government side," he said, adding that the gravest problems facing the press now are economic, not political.

A watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders, said in a report issued on World Press Freedom Day last Friday that journalism in the former Soviet Union remained a "high-risk occupation." Another group, the New York-based Freedom House, issued a survey in which the Russian press ranked as only "partly free."

In other parts of the former Soviet Union, the press finds itself under much stricter control. Freedom House included four former republics in its list of 20 countries that most oppress the media: Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia and Moldova.

In Belarus, the government of President Alexander Lukashenko maintains strict control over the mass media, and the main opposition newspapers are printed abroad. In early April Lukashenko threatened to revoke the accreditation of foreign journalists who covered a mass rally held to protest the signing of the "SSR" treaty on integration with Russia.