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The Broadcast Media

In 1992 some 48.5 million radios were in use in Russia. Domestic radio programming is provided by two state communications companies, the Federal Television and Radio Service of Russia and the All-Russian Television and Radio Company. The Voice of Russia (Golos Rossii) is the main foreign-language broadcast service, providing programs in thirty languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English, Japanese, Farsi, and Spanish.

In the 1990s, television reached an increasing number of Russians with increasingly diversified programming. In 1992 about 55 million televisions were in use. For most Russians, television is the chief source of news. Television channels and transmission facilities gradually have been privatized, although in 1996 the most prominent "private" stockholders were entrepreneurs with strong ties to the Yeltsin administration. The largest of the four major networks, Russian Public Television (Obshchestvennoye rossiyskoye televideniye--ORT, formerly Ostankino), which reaches an estimated 200 million people, remained 51 percent state-owned after partial privatization in 1994. However, ORT has offered regular programs, such as one hosted by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that are critical of the Government. ORT's news broadcasts tend to favor Government policies.

The second-largest network, the All-Russian Television and Radio Company (Vserossiyskaya gosudarstvennaya teleradiokompaniya, commonly called Russia Television--RTV), was fully state-owned in 1996 and reaches about 140 million viewers with relatively balanced news coverage. The largest private network is Independent Television (Nezavisimoye televideniye--NTV), which reaches about 100 million people. NTV has received praise in the West for unbiased news reporting. Its Chechnya coverage forced other networks to abandon pro-Government reporting of the conflict. The TV-6 commercial network brings its estimated 70 million viewers in European Russia mainly entertainment programs. Its founder, Eduard Sagalayev, was strongly influenced by an earlier partnership with United States communications magnate Ted Turner.

Besides the four networks, state-run channels are offered in every region, and an estimated 400 private television stations were in operation in 1995. More than half of such stations produce their own news broadcasts, providing mainly local rather than national or international coverage. The Independent Broadcasting System was established in 1994 to link some fifty stations with shared programming.

By 1995 the administration of state television had become heavily politicized. After the 1995 legislative elections, Yeltsin dismissed Oleg Poptsov, the head of RTV, for having aired what the president considered unfairly negative coverage of his administration. In exerting such overt political pressure, Yeltsin likely had in mind the prominent role television would play in the 1996 presidential election. In fact, all candidates in that election were represented in an unprecedented wave of televised campaign advertising, some of which was quite similar to that in the United States and little of which provided useful information to voters. Convinced that their independence would be jeopardized if KPRF candidate Gennadiy Zyuganov won, television broadcasters provided virtually no coverage of his main campaign events, and even the independent NTV aided Yeltsin by muting its criticism during the election. Critical coverage of the Chechen conflict and other issues resumed once Yeltsin's reelection seemed assured, however.

The Political Outlook

Russia's political culture made long strides toward democracy in the first five years of the post-Soviet era. By mid-1996 numerous political parties with widely varying agendas and viewpoints had participated in three free national elections--two legislative, one presidential. Although the sitting president enjoyed a distinct advantage in media coverage, all sides agreed after the 1996 election that the people had spoken. Observers noted the similarity of the 1996 campaign to those in the West, including barnstorming speeches, generous promises to special interests, and ample use of "photo opportunities." Never in the history of Russia had a head of state been subjected to open public evaluation and then been peacefully assured of a new term in power. Certainly this was a complete reversal of the Soviet Union's programmed, one-party political rituals.

Although the process of choosing a leader has been democratized, the process of governance remains a hybrid of Soviet and Western practices. The first administration of Boris Yeltsin was a combination of bold democratic initiatives and secretive decision making by committees and individuals beyond public view and responsibility. As criticism of Yeltsin grew in 1993 and 1994, his hold on power depended increasingly on presidential decrees rather than on open consultation with other branches of government or with the Russian people. Yeltsin's relatively easy reelection in mid-1996 fueled hopes that a second administration would revive some of the democratic processes that had enthused Russians as Yeltsin struggled with Gorbachev for Russia's sovereignty before the demise of the Soviet Union. As a leader, however, Yeltsin showed little interest in the routine of day-to-day governance, and he often exercised poor judgment in delegating authority. Meanwhile, a formidable array of antireform factions retained their power base in the State Duma, and Yeltsin's precarious health further endangered the continuation of his reform program.

According to many analysts, the long-term well-being of Russia's political system will be determined by the next generation of political figures, who will not have been schooled in Soviet-style power politics. The question is how well democratic institutions will fare in the meantime.

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Richard Sakwa covers Russian politics since the collapse of the Soviet Union in his textbook Russian Politics and Society . Boris Yeltsin offers an account of his forcible dissolution of the legislature in October 1993 and other Russian political events in The Struggle for Russia . Among books with useful sections on Russian politics are After the Soviet Union: From Empire to Nation , edited by Timothy J. Colton and Robert Legvold, and Russia and the New States of Eurasia by Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott. Prognoses of the future of reform in Russia are given in Anders Aslund's "Russia's Success Story," the "Russia Symposium" in the Journal of Democracy on the theme "Is Russian Democracy Doomed?," and Russia 2010 by Daniel Yergin and Thane Gustafson. Informative articles on federalism and local politics include Susan L. Clark and David R. Graham's "The Russian Federation's Fight for Survival," Paul B. Henze's "Ethnic Dynamics and Dilemmas of the Russian Republic," and Robert Sharlet's "The Prospects for Federalism in Russian Constitutional Politics." In her article "Wrestling Political and Financial Repression," Laura Belin describes the situation of Russia's print and broadcast media in the mid-1990s. Information on current events in government and politics is provided by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service's Daily Report: Central Eurasia , the Open Media Research Institute's journal Transition , and the Jamestown Foundation's Prism , a monthly bulletin on Russia and the CIS. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of July 1996

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