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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Here's a Plan To 'Improve' State TV

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Anyone who still naively thinks that the government's persecution of Media-MOST is not politically motivated should take a look at last week's Audit Chamber report on the state-controlled broadcast companies ORT and VGTRK (which runs RTR television).

The gist of the Audit Chamber report is that both RTR and ORT are in debt up to their necks. VGTRK borrowed $120 million from commercial banks in the first half of last year, more than 60 percent of which was simply used to service earlier debt. ORT was granted a $100 million state loan in 1998, repayment of which has been repeatedly extended without penalty. Mismanagement and malfeasance at both companies has cost the state many millions of dollars.

However, nothing will be done. The Audit Chamber report merely advises the government to "improve" its oversight.

And why is that? Because state-run, state-controlled television — the kind that enables the government to paper over the kind of gross corruption and malfeasance alleged in this Audit Chamber report and hundreds of others — is deemed to be "strategically important for the national information security of the Russian Federation." The problem of government-controlled television will only be solved by reworking this entire system hammer-and-tongs.

Click here to read our Special Report on the Struggle for Media-MOST.

First, the government must make a compelling case that Russia needs state-run media at all. It must convince the public that by supporting some media it will not destroy — as it has heretofore — the market in which private media must operate. Critics must be given the chance to argue that private media, exercising a watchdog function over the government, are what is really "strategically important" for Russia.

Next, if the government is able to convince taxpayers and the Duma that state television is necessary, it must immediately proceed to a sensible system. A country that cannot afford adequate health care, decent education or a fair legal system surely cannot afford three national television stations. One is fully sufficient for making the state's views available to the public.

Further, that one station should be fully funded from the budget, perhaps partially by the introduction of a tax on television sets. The part-state, part-private hybrid that ORT is and VGTRK may become is a shameful legacy of Yeltsin-era oligarchy that must be eliminated. State participation in the advertising market must be ended, and the corruption it has engendered must be rooted out and prosecuted.

These measures might just be enough to make a real difference, even a "strategically important" one.