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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: VGTRK Shows Intent Of Primakov




Moves this week to put Yury Kobaladze, the PR boss of Russia's counterintelligence service, in charge at the state-owned VGTRK media holding make it clear that Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is intent on a long stay at the top of the political tree - if not as a future president, at least as a kingmaker.


VGTRK includes RTR and Kultura television, Radio Rossia and a host of regional radio and television stations, as well as the vast and outdated national transmission system. The company has great potential to influence looming parliamentary and presidential polls.


That the cagey Primakov should strike out for control of the media comes as no surprise. The gag order he issued the day he took office - instructing government officials not to speak with journalists for at least his first week - was an immediate sign that Primakov sees the media as a tool to be controlled in the service of the exercise of power. Primakov's apologists in this matter argue that it is necessary to replace the people installed at RTR in the days when Anatoly Chubais was a deputy prime minister and had successfully bent the channel under his control.


If that's so, then why not do something daring and move RTR entirely out of the control of this or that political clan?


Some would say the way to do this is by privatizing RTR, but that is no solution. Witness the fate of ORT, which has been partially privatized and has become a byword for Byzantine maneuverings and biased coverage. Or of St. Petersburg's Channel 5, which remains a tool of the local governor.


Instead of slyly inserting his cronies at VGTRK - whether by appointment or privatization - Primakov could set RTR free. A truly independent board could be selected to run the company with board members serving set terms.


Board members could include representatives of the Duma factions; well-known figures of moral authority like writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, composer Mstislav Rostropovich or human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov; even people drawn from the business community, or from nongovernmental organizations like Greenpeace, Amnesty International or the Russian Orthodox Church.


An RTR run by an independent board of directors could become a great state-run television station, something to rival the best moments of the British BBC or the American PBS. And if Primakov could also see his way to handing out a few more licenses for a few more private television stations, that would be even better.


Sadly, no such fundamental change is in the cards. RTR is mere spoils for the victorious political clan of the day.