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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How Much Do TV Ads Really Cost?

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Last week the deputies of the State Duma ganged up to take on television advertising. From their speeches, we learned that advertising is an assault on the Russian language, that it depresses the have-nots in society and that "sanitary napkins are trampling the dignity of our women." Even the pro-Kremlin Unity faction voted in support of the ban on advertising during films and children's and educational programming. Without their support the Duma can't even sneeze these days.

Naturally, all the television channels united to condemn the deputies. This was the first time ever that NTV and RTR found something that they could agree on. We were told that advertising is a necessary evil and that without advertising there just won't be any good programming or analytical shows. It isn't a matter of television with or without advertising, they said, but of television with advertising or no television at all.

The history of the struggle against advertising is an excellent illustration of some of the particularities of Russian politics — a politics in which the Duma and business both understand perfectly what is happening and who wants how much, although they must publicly act as if they are concerned with principles and the good of society.

The controversy centers on a perfectly concrete question: Who is going to pay off the deputies? After all, under Boris Yeltsin they were doing fine. The budget never passed through the Duma without a certain amount of grease being spread around, the impeachment process was a great boon and, generally, any serious political question was easily converted into plain old blackmail.

But what about now? The Unity faction now holds a "controlling block" of the shares of the company "Duma." This faction, of course, votes for the budget mechanically, and the opportunities to turn politics into cash have become decidedly fewer.

So the advertising debate couldn't be more appropriate. For one thing, it is conveniently covered by a palatable veneer of patriotism. "We are just concerned for the morale of our poor beat cops who spend all day chasing thugs but don't even earn enough to buy butter for their bread," say the deputies. For another, the advertising business has deep pockets — and foremost among those who have earned good money from advertising is Press Minister Mikhail Lesin.

In fact, I'd like to say a few words about Lesin. He has developed a decidedly bad public image. In all his interviews, he maintains fiercely that he has sold all his shares of the advertising monopoly Video International (although he has never said to whom and for how much), but he is nonetheless frequently listed among Russia's oligarchs and media magnates. There have even been articles suggesting that the current Kremlin assault on Media-MOST harmonizes perfectly with Lesin's commercially motivated desires to redistribute the television sector. Perhaps as a result of all this bad publicity, the deputies have gotten the impression that Lesin won't let the advertising sector fall apart and that it might be possible to get him to pay dearly to save it.

As you may have guessed, I have no doubt that this advertising law will eventually be defeated. I am only interested in how much this question is worth. The answer to this question will determine tactics. On the one hand, advertisers can pay off the Duma and defeat the bill in its second reading. On the other, it may be cheaper to lobby the Kremlin and get President Vladimir Putin to veto the initiative.

I'm for the second route. There is no point in encouraging the Duma's bad habits.

Yulia Latynina is a journalist for ORT.