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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lesin Likens U.S. to an 'Obnoxious Policeman'

Press Minister Mikhail Lesin on Tuesday responded with indignation to U.S. criticism of Russia's record on press freedom, saying his ministry is investigating media violations by the United States itself and may launch an ad campaign to polish up Russia's tarnished image in the West.

Lesin's remarks came in response to the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights, which criticized the Russian government — and Lesin personally — for exerting "considerable pressure" on large media conglomerates and endangering free press.

Lesin, who is routinely criticized by free press advocates, said his ministry is drafting a "report on the state of freedom of speech and the freedom of media activities in the United States." Referring to the criticism in the U.S. report, he likened the United States to an "obnoxious policeman."

Lesin also told reporters that the Russian government plans to commission an advertising campaign aimed at projecting a "positive image of Russia" in the United States and Europe.

"I am not embarrassed by the word propaganda," Lesin said. "Otherwise we seem like bears wandering the streets, growling and constantly trying to shut someone down."

Lesin refused to say how much money could be spent on the advertising campaign, but he said it is likely to be funded from the federal budget, the ministry's proceeds from license fees and donations by Russian companies whose business has suffered from Russia's negative image in the West.

"How long can Americans be tricked about processes under way in Russia?" he said. "It's time to speak the truth."

The report on free speech in the United States has been in the works since January and will be released in two weeks, Lesin said.

Lesin, who has previously complained about Washington's refusal to allow Russia's Radio Mayak to broadcast in the United States while the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty manages to broadcast in Russia, said the report would cover restrictions faced by foreign news organizations and the concentration of U.S. media in too few hands.

Although Russia and the United States have a comparable number of media outlets, Lesin said, Russia's are controlled by thousands of companies, while U.S. media are run by about 50 conglomerates.

"De facto, U.S. media express the viewpoint of 50 people or 50 boards of directors," he said, adding that the ministry is considering giving grants to U.S. groups fighting for freedom of speech in America.

When reporters started to laugh at Lesin's suggestions, the press minister warned: "This is not funny at all. This is very serious."