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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Small Steps to Tame Our Wild Market

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In an article in Izvestia (April 14) by Semyon Novoprudsky, I finally found a phrase that ideally describes the fate of NTV: "a life of exceptions from nonexistent rules." The rise and fall of NTV was possible solely under conditions of a regulatory vacuum, an opaque media market and incestuous ties between the mass media and the authorities.

I know that it may seem shocking to anyone who has been following the NTV events, but I think that the Russian media market may have become a bit more civilized over the last 10 days.

Last week, the process of forming the Media Committee was completed. This body consists of representatives of broadcast companies, professional associations, advertisers and advertising agencies and is intended to establish control over the process of producing television ratings.

At the same time, three separate bills were introduced in the State Duma that would limit the foreign ownership of Russian media. One bill proposes a 50 percent cap, another 30 percent, and the version proposed by Yabloko would limit any investor — Russian or foreign — to a 25 percent stake. Conceptually at least, these proposals strike me as crucial to the creation of clear rules to govern the Russian media system.

For television, audience measurements — ratings and share — are simply money. The present system was virtually forced on the market by Russia's largest media-buying company, Video International. This situation had the most destructive influence for television companies, advertisers and media-rating companies, all of which have been accusing one another of corruption. If the new Media Committee is able to work out an acceptable, unified system of audience measurements, it would make the market considerably more transparent and help optimize ad spending.

The majority of the world's free-market democracies do not have "information security doctrines," but they do have rather strict limitations on the rights of foreigners to own local media, especially broadcast media. Russia, though, has an information security doctrine, but no limitations on foreign media investment. Therefore, the bills introduced in the Duma are essentially a step toward accepted world standards.

Click here to read our special report on the Struggle for Media-MOST.

However, my optimism is somewhat restrained. The Media Committee was created on the initiative of the Press Ministry. Two similar initiatives that proceeded from the private sector — in 1996 there was a proposal by media-rating companies and in 1998 a similar idea came from advertisers — gloriously went down in flames.

State involvement in this sphere — which by rights should be the sphere of industry self-regulation — is always fraught with danger. After all, if NTV has any lesson to teach us, it surely is "don't get involved with the government."

I have my doubts about the media-ownership bills in the Duma as well. These proposals are essentially emergency reactions by deputies to rumors that American media magnate Ted Turner intends to purchase a stake in NTV. Although the bills were introduced on April 10, they are already scheduled to be debated on April 25. In Europe, by contrast, such proposals take months to be developed.

And well they should. After all, we are talking about extremely important issues that touch the interests of Western media companies already working in Russia — companies which, incidentally, are practically the only ones actually creating effective companies.

I fear that the current rush could lead to the adoption of an ineffective law that will merely provoke a new round of pointless property redistribution. If that happens, we'll all be quoting Viktor Chernomyrdin's immortal words, "We were hoping for the best, but it turned out like it always does."

Alexei Pankin is editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (www.internews.ru/sreda).