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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hopes and Fears for the Coming Year

At the end of each year, Sreda magazine, which I edit, asks media executives in Moscow and the provinces, and heads of professional media associations two questions: (1) In your opinion, what events in politics, the economy and public life during the past year were most important for the mass media, and why? (2) What are your hopes and concerns for the year ahead?

We poll different people each year, but the results as a whole produce an accurate sense of the current mood. The year 2001 was remembered for the change of ownership at NTV, the looming bankruptcy of TV6 and fewer tax breaks for the mass media. Many of those polled were therefore anxious about 2002, if not downright scared. "As for next year, I would say all of our worst fears will come true," Yury Fedutinov, general director of Ekho Moskvy radio, said at the time. "You'll see for yourself in the very near future."

What's the mood of the Russian media as it looks forward to 2003? I would call it ambivalent. Things didn't get worse in 2002, but they didn't get much better, either. Yury Purgin, general director of the Altapress Publishing House in Barnaul and the vice president of the Association of Independent Regional Publishers, voiced a common view: "The main positive event of 2002 was the conference 'The Media Industry: Directions for Reform,' held during the summer. And yet the conference was also the worst thing that happened last year, primarily because regional media were not represented and took no part in the Industrial Committee. ... In theory, the committee should have united Russia's mass media, but it only united a very select group. That's the real tragedy."

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Similar assessments turn up again and again in the Sreda poll from people working throughout the media industry across Russia. They see opportunity and danger in the same events. They hope that things will get better, but don't exclude the possibility that they will get much worse.

The press was perhaps not at its best during the "Nord Ost" crisis, but did its trangressions really merit the punishment meted out in the planned amendments to the mass media law? Fortunately, the president vetoed the bill, and the press is now working on a code of ethics that spells out norms of professional behavior for covering crisis situations. But the risk remains that the press will become a willing accomplice in the vertical structure of power. The government did well to reduce the tax burden on advertisers by allowing them to include advertising expenses in the cost price of their products. But at the same time, it did nothing to restrict unfair competition from state media outlets.

It may sound paradoxical, but many media executives are concerned about the upcoming national elections. The positive dynamic in media reform and the transformation of the mass media into a normal, socially responsible industry could be reversed as the political stakes rise. The powers that be will be all the more interested in further restricting press freedom, and off-the-books cash traditionally used to fund political campaigns could well kick in again in full force.

"I hope that the mass media will become more profitable and that they will make their operations more transparent and begin to follow their own professional principles more strictly," said Manana Aslamazyan, general director of the nonprofit organization Internews Russia. "But I'm afraid that things could go the other way entirely."

Only one sector of the media industry views the current situation with unconditional optimism: the advertisers. "From the perspective of the advertising community, this was a very good year," said Vadim Zhelnin, general director of the Association of Advertisers. "I hope that we will see economic growth across the board and that growth of the advertising sector will continue. I see no reason why these hopes should not come true."

Only time will tell.

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