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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lesin Would Like His Ministry Closed

Press Minister Mikhail Lesin said Wednesday that he would like to see his ministry disbanded by 2005 as part of an ambitious plan to reduce the government's role in the media and shift responsibility to the industry itself.

"In two or three years when, I hope, solutions have been found for the majority of the industry's problems, I will be prepared to raise the issue of disbanding the ministry and will be ready to leave," Lesin said.

He said two federal commissions or an agency would then take care of the "essential state interests" of licensing and monitoring the legality of media activities.

Lesin made his remarks at the start of a two-day conference of several hundred media executives from around the country. The declared goal of the conference is to begin consolidating the splintered media community to allow it to assume greater responsibility for internal regulation and to become an effective lobbyist for laws to make the largely state-funded market self-supporting.

The reduction of the government's role as both owner and subsidizer of the media was at the center of Wednesday's discussions. President Vladimir Putin a day earlier gave his blessing to the plan but cautioned that the process would be more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Lesin said the state should one day own only one newspaper, one television channel, one radio station and one news agency.

"However, the state's desire to divest itself of the majority of its media assets does not mean a panic-struck, lightening-fast sell-off," he said.

A gradual, well thought-out process should be established in which state media would be sold off piece by piece, he said. (See page 8 for the full text of Lesin's speech.)

Lesin said he was not ready to give specifics about which state-controlled television channels should be sold or the terms of their sale.

As for radio, however, he said he would like to see Radio Rossia as the only state-owned radio station and Radio Mayak divided into two parts. The wireline service should be merged with Radio Rossia, while the broadcast service should be turned into a commercial station, he said.

Conference organizers pushed participants to come up with concrete proposals at a time when the government is open to advice on how to reform the media. Yet the audience was clearly divided over whether the state should subsidize the media or allow them to sink or swim on their own.

NTV general director Boris Jordan warned that television would be unable to modernize and introduce the new technologies already widespread in the West without billions of dollars of investment. He said Western investors are only considering business plans worth $1 million to $2 million for Russian media these days.

"Economic growth is simply not enough [for Russian media]," Jordan said. "We have to create a level playing field."

One proposal raised Wednesday called for the cancellation of a 1998 presidential decree that introduced lower transmission tariffs for ORT, RTR, NTV and Kultura. Jordan supported the move.

Publishers, meanwhile, discussed raising the portion of advertising in publications eligible for a lower tax rate from 40 percent to 70 percent in view of the different opinions over what can be considered advertising in the press. Purely advertising publications such as Iz Ruk v Ruki get charged the higher tax rate.

Participants also discussed possible amendments to the law on mass media that they said would bring the legislation in line with market realities and the Civil Code.

Lesin made it clear he would rather have the market players come up with proposals than do it himself, saying wryly that he would once again be accused of meddling in press freedom if he intervened.

The conference will conclude Thursday, when delegates are expected to form a media industry committee and vote for the issues they want the committee to lobby for.