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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Casts Protest Vote To Return ORT to State

The Russian State Duma on Wednesday passed the first draft of a resolution to put ORT, Russian Public Television, entirely into state hands, just over one year after its controversial privatization.

Angered by the company's pro-Yeltsin coverage of the presidential election campaign, opposition deputies accused ORT of distorted reporting of their activities and said the absence of a national television station was a blow to Russia's pride.

"The television we have now is simply led by a little group of schemers," opposition deputy and filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin said after the debate. "It's not independent at all, it's dependent on a handful of banks that use the television to promote their own interests. Don't forget that this is not a democratic country and playing these kinds of games is very dangerous."

While the resolution, even if it passes the requisite three readings, carries no legal weight, ORT's nationalization would be unlikely to affect programming significantly.

"I wouldn't say that ORT has changed much since it was privatized," said Yasen Zasursky, dean of the Moscow State University journalism faculty. "I think that in a way it is doomed to be seen as the official mouthpiece of the government and the president.

"The opposition does not want to make it independent, they just want to make it dependent on the Duma as well as the government. That's no way to run a television company," he said.

Yury Kuznetsov, a member of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, which sponsored the resolution, said television is threatened as a national symbol if it is not in state hands.

"If today we allow the cultural aggression that we see through the media, we'll lose our national connections and we'll become internationalized or like the Americans," said Kuznetsov. "But we're Russian and so we see a nationalized television that shows a Russian culture as a guarantee of our national independence and sovereignty."

ORT director Sergei Blagovolin professed himself delighted with the Duma's initiative.

"One thing you have to admire about the Duma is its constancy," he told NTV. "They have been pounding on us all along, and they continue to do so. No matter what happens, their interest in us never flags."

As for the Duma's negative reaction to how the opposition was portrayed during the election campaign, Blagovolin replied, "There is no use blaming the mirror because you have an ugly face."

The giant Ostankino State Television and Radio Company was replaced in April 1995 by ORT, with the government retaining a 51 percent controlling stake. Ostankino kept an additional 9 percent, while the remainder was divided up between eight private shareholders.

Supporters of the move said the government lacked the funds to run the company single-handedly, and that partial privatization would reduce corruption.

Opponents said the price set for ORT's start-up capital, 10 billion rubles (then $2 million) was a fraction of the company's real value, and complained that no audit was done beforehand.