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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Managing the Reporters and The Reality

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Do we really have a dictatorship in Russia?" my 16-year-old son asked me recently.

"Where did you get that idea?" I replied, completely stunned.

"They say it at school all the time," he answered.

That calmed me down a bit. My son has been living with his mother in Germany and going to an English-language school for the last few years. He visits Russia frequently, so he would never have come up with this strange idea on his own. Rather than pitying him as another victim of Western propaganda, I gave him a nudge and told him to spend less time reading local papers and watching German television. I had to wonder what had happened to convince him not to believe his own eyes.

Just take the media. With all the ballyhoo over press freedoms, foreign readers might be unaware of the dynamic growth in printed, electronic and Internet-based publications in the country. It seems like every day my cable operator offers me new pay-per-view programming or adds another free access cable station is added to the list of options. The transition to digital broadcasting in 2009 will inevitably lead to a surge in domestic television production, since the hundreds of newly created channels will have to be filled with something. Internet penetration is growing. Young people are giving up on traditional television land creating menus according to their individual tastes. More and more publications are entering the marketplace.

A characteristic example is the appearance of four new publications for media managers that have gone to press just since the start of the year -- in two of which, I should confess, I have had a hand. So there is demand for competent management in a competitive market -- something that didn't exist a few years ago. The media market has matured. Isn't this newsworthy?|

On the other hand, it sometimes seems to me that a conspiratorial underground organization within our power structures is trying to ruin the country's image and bring it into conflict with the West. Maybe Boris Berezovsky is behind it.

We've known for at least a year that the 26th World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists was to open Monday in Moscow. In the lead up to the congress the Prosecutor General's Office has been conducting an investigation in the activities of the Educated Media Foundation, a nongovernmental agency that provides training into journalists, and reporters and photographers have been beaten as riot police moved in to break up opposition marches in a number of cities. The Federal Property Management Agency also announced its intention to cancel the contract for rent-free offices for the Russian Union of Journalists. Property issues aside, sparking such a dispute just a few days before the congress is just asking the guests to come out in solidarity with their Russian hosts. The authorities gain nothing by harassing the media NGO or by dispersing protesters, but its not difficult to imagine the effect on the conference participants and, ultimately, on international headlines.

All that remains, if you're looking for a logical explanation, is to blame it all on a conspiracy by the country's disgraced oligarchs. "Yes, it was a neat thing, very neat and pretty to see. It resembled a steamboat explosion on the Mississippi," Boris Berezovsky would kid at the end of the conference, recalling the words of Mark Twain. It would be hard to think of a better gift for someone who had devoted so much energy to discrediting "Putin's bloodthirsty regime" after it cut him off from the state trough.

Joking aside, what does the government's stupidity have to do with the media boom? The answer is that life is full of contradictions. My feeling that a journalist's mission should be to portray life in all its fullness, and not to focus on a single aspect and blow everything out of proportion.

Have pity on my poor son.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of "Strategii i Praktika Izdatelskogo Biznesa," a magazine for publishing business professionals.