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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Draws Curtain Over Media Budget

The draft federal budget for 2001 includes an article for funding mass media marked "top secret," and officials say the money is intended to help the government influence press coverage here and abroad.

Word of the classified media funding set off alarm bells.

After Communist State Duma Deputy Leonid Mayevsky announced last Friday on Ekho Moskvy radio that the budget submitted to the lower house in August contained the top secret article, newspapers that have been critical of the Kremlin responded with front-page articles.

The headlines played on the Russian abbreviation for mass media — SMI. "Secret Means for Mass Media" said Saturday’s Segodnya, which like Ekho Moskvy is part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s beleaguered Media-MOST holding. "Secrets of Mass Media" continued Boris Berezovsky’s Kommersant on Tuesday.

The initial reports apparently assumed the entire state media budget was classified, which against a backdrop of Kremlin attempts to rein in private media would be an ominous sign.

But officials said Tuesday that routine media expenditures — to finance state-owned television, radio and news agencies and to provide subsidies to private publications — remain public as they have been for the past 10 years.

Total media spending is projected at 6.13 billion rubles, or $220.5 million, said Andrei Losev, assistant to the chairman of the Duma committee on information policy and communications, Konstantin Vetrov. That is 7.1 percent more than last year, and the breakdown also is not classified, he said.

However, Losev said there is a separate article in the budget under mass media that is indeed classified and it covers money for handling Chechnya and other security threats.

A high-placed government official also said that funding of "special propaganda operations," in particular in regard to Chechnya, is classified. The money will fund the operations of a propaganda commission under the Security Council, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We have to oppose Chechen and other propaganda," the official said. "How else would we fund information activities abroad?"

Nikolai Leonov, a retired lieutenant general of the KGB and professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said Tuesday that it is "absolutely normal" to have secret budgets for media-related operations abroad, such as "bribing" reporters or funding whole media organizations.

"Every state has such allocations, whether under ‘media’ or other articles," Leonov said.

Oleg Panfilov, who leads the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, a press freedom watchdog group, said he believed Press Minister Mikhail Lesin would use the money to strengthen state television.

"So Mr. Lesin is getting several billion rubles that he doesn’t need to account for," Panfilov said.