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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

RAMED Off Track

In the March issue of Sreda magazine, Manana Aslamazyan, director of Internews, reports on the progress of the ongoing Russian-American Media Enterpreneurship Dialogue, or RAMED. The dialogue was initiated by Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush at last year's summit, and Internews coordinates the dialogue on the Russian side.

Everyone knows that the American involvement in the dialogue serves solely as PR cover for delivering domestic ideas on reform of the media to the highest organ of the Russian state -- the ear of the president. And, therefore, by far the most interesting part of the dialogue is on the Russian side.

Aslamazyan relates how difficult it has been for the players in Russia's media industry to find a common language, and, as an example, she cites the disagreement over how to go about creating a public television network.

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"Representatives of the commercial networks usually promote the idea of turning the state-owned VGTRK into a public television network," Aslamazyan writes. "Let the state fully finance its own network, and let the network be responsible for implementing government policy, they say, but that network should not go anywhere near the advertising market. It's no surprise that the heads of the state television companies are against such a proposal. They're happy to receive money from the state budget, but why, they ask, should they have to give up advertising?"

Aslamazyan nevertheless holds out hope that the dialogue between media organizations will produce a unified policy for the industry.

"If these proposals win industry support, we will submit them to the Press Ministry with the goal of reaching the president and providing him with practical guidelines for further action. And we will do our best to control implementation of this program," Aslamazyan writes.

This approach demonstrates one of the main flaws of reform efforts in this country in general: Transformation of the most important areas of public life has fallen not to society itself but to those responsible for creating the problems in the first place. Generals are reforming the army, collective farm chairmen are reforming agriculture, and so on. The downside of such an approach is so blatantly obvious that it doesn't take much effort to predict that the media dialogue in its current form will yield no sensible result.

Take the army, for example. The "generals' reform" has given us a hybrid army made up of conscripts and quasi-professional troops. Surely, one would think, this is an improvement. The generals' feelings haven't been hurt and the public is happy. Snotty-nosed draftees see less fighting, and that part of the adult male population that has been trained to fight -- the kontraktniki, or hired soldiers -- has the opportunity to earn a legal living. Unfortunately, this sort of army seems to have been specially created for looting.

The mass media are no less important to the interests of society than defense. It cannot therefore be left to interested parties -- the heads of state and private networks -- to decide among themselves the fate of public television and to hand down their own compromise as the only possible model for this crucial institution. Industry opinion must not be allowed to guide the president's hand. And it would be nothing short of mockery if the press were to control the state's implementation of a media reform program created by media companies for the selfsame media companies.

Far be it from me to criticize the organizers of RAMED. They're doing the best they can. I blame the government, which has failed once more to play a constructive role in the reform process. What the government should be doing is fostering a public debate in society on the crucial question of reforming the mass media. The media lobby has an important role to play in this debate but not the leading role, let alone monopolizing the whole thing.

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