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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

TV Declares War on Communists




Russia's national television stations held a hastily arranged news conference Thursday to announce what amounted to a full-blown declaration of war on the Communist Party, a day after top Communists said they intended to mark the Nov. 7 holidays by setting up a "public committee" to "prepare accusations" against leading television news anchors.


Communist Duma Deputy Alexander Kuvayev, who heads the party's Moscow organization, on Wednesday singled out television journalists and commentators Nikolai Svanidze of RTR, Sergei Dorenko of ORT, and Yevgeny Kiselyov and Tatyana Mitkova of NTV and accused them of "collaboration with the regime in its crimes against society."


"These people today are maiming and raping public consciousness, they are among the main provocateurs in Russia," Kuvayev said. "We believe that the time has come for them to render an account to society."


To that end, Kuvayev said, the Communists would set up a "public committee" during protests Nov. 7 - a holiday marking the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that created the Soviet Union. The committee would "prepare accusations." Exactly what would happen next remained unclear.


Seated next to Kuvayev at Wednesday's news conference and visibly uncomfortable, Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov attempted to moderate his underling's rhetoric, saying the party should "observe ethical and moral laws."


"We are not a party of revenge. We are a party of the future," Zyuganov said.


But that has done little to calm the angry chiefs of Russia's national television stations. RTR chairman Mikhail Shvydkoi and general directors Igor Shabdurasulov of ORT and Oleg Dobrodeyev of NTV likened Kuvayev's threats - and particularly his list of people to be "accused" - to the hate policies of the 1930s, when political trials and scapegoating were instruments used to keep the nation in submissive fear.


The television chiefs also said they saw much in common between Kuvayev's threats and the unwillingness of the Communist Party to criticize one of its other Duma deputies, Albert Makashov, for telling crowds that Jews are to blame for Russia's economic collapse and should be jailed. Wednesday, as Zyuganov and Kuvayev talked of reining in the media, the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, voted against censuring Makashov.


"These events put the Communist Party outside the ethical laws of the civilized world," ORT's Shabdurasulov said. "We have television cameras, pens and microphones, and we'll do everything in order to show our citizens and the whole world community, what in fact yesterday's story means and what the consequences for the country will be if we continue to treat this as light political expression."


Shabdurasulov said that ORT will show programs intended to remind Russians of their Soviet-era history and of Bolshevik atrocities against the nation.


That would seem to mean dipping back into archives for documentaries like those that flooded the airwaves in 1996, when President Boris Yeltsin's main challenger was Zyuganov and media pulled out all the stops to derail the Communists. Such reruns have the added advantage of being cheap - important for Russia's crisis-strapped television stations, which have suffered dramatic drops in their advertising revenues.


All three television executives dropped heavy hints that they might also censor Communists in their programming, although all were careful to say that they would not entirely deny the Communists media coverage. Dobrodeyev said that NTV, which prides itself as the only major channel that invites Communist leader Zyuganov to participate in live broadcasts, will continue to give the air to Zyuganov, but may ban Kuvayev and similar "marginal politicians."


Dobrodeyev said that Wednesday was a "black day" in the history of the Communist Party, one that suggested the party is indeed on the verge of a schism. "Playing a communist opposition with a human face is over," Dobrodeyev said.


The television executives also demanded that Yeltsin, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and the leaders of the upper and lower houses of parliament speak out on the Communist's news anchor hit list.


RTR, which is entirely state-owned, is more dependent on the government than ORT and NTV. Last month Zyuganov complained about RTR's coverage and demanded that Shvydkoi be replaced, but the conflict was settled when Shvydkoi and RTR met with the Communists to hear their concerns.


- The Duma voted Thursday to override the Federation Council's veto of a law that would extend existing tax breaks to Russian media for another three years. The Law on State Support of the Media was originally adopted in 1995 but is due to expire this year.


But the Duma failed to overcome the veto of another law that would exempt Russian media from customs duties. Some Russian newspapers and most color magazines are printed abroad. Editors have said that slapping customs duties on their publications could drive some of them out of business.