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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2002: Going Out on a Positive Note

As I was mulling over what to write about in this last column of 2002, I began reading through previous columns and discovered recurrent thematic cycles amid the welter of current events.

Winter and early spring were devoted primarily to freedom of the press. Everyone was preoccupied with the trials and tribulations of the journalists led by Yevgeny Kiselyov who left Vladimir Gusinsky's television station NTV, moved to Boris Berezovsky's TV6, and finally wound up at TVS, a station owned by a group of oligarchs presided over by Yevgeny Primakov. In these columns, fury directed at domestic democrats and foreign human rights activists was mixed with outrage at the actions of the Russian government. The situation was a volatile mix of basic liberties, political deal-making, dubious business interests and personal conflicts. But the democrats and foreigners saw everything in black and white: Freedom of the press is under attack. The authorities' total inability to formulate a coherent mass media policy also roused my ire.

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Spring and early summer were given over to a cycle of business-related columns. The Russian-American Media Entrepreneurs Dialogue was in full swing. June saw the main event of the year: a conference called "The Media Industry: Directions for Reform." It seemed that a breakthrough had been achieved in press-state relations. The consensus was that freedom of speech could only be guaranteed by a financially independent press. The government and the media community promised to back up their words with deeds. Several of the columns written before the summer break were almost euphoric in tone.

The next cycle of columns, however, was characterized by disaster. Russian news coverage was saturated with an unprecedented number of fires, floods and airplanes falling from the sky. This led to reflection on how the global mass media influence how people feel about themselves and the world around them.

In the fall a lull set in. One of my columns from that period was called "An Autumn of Disillusionment." It seemed that our hopes for media reform were up in the air as the government began sending mixed signals about its plans in the media sphere.

But this was merely the calm before the storm: the "Nord Ost" hostage crisis. Once again we entered the freedom of speech cycle. The six columns written from the end of October to early December reflect a precipitous development of events in which the entire history of relations between the press and power in the Putin era was repeated: theats of censorship, third-rate government PR, often irresponsible and unprofessional press coverage, and finally, fresh negotations between the state and the media in an attempt to reach a mutually acceptable working relationship.

This was followed by another series of articles on the media business. If not for the upcoming Christmas and New Year's hiatus, I would have carried on writing on this topic. For the press, this is a time of renewed hope. The media seem to have retained some key tax breaks. Work has begun on a new mass media law that will apparently focus on media ownership and the media market. The current law on advertising, which is clearly inadequate to the task of creating a level playing field in the media business, is slated for review.

In short, the year has come to an end on a positive note. Once more we enter the holiday break filled with optimism.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (www.sreda-mag.ru)