Russian TV channels face cutbacks

MOSCOW — Russian broadcasting unions appear set to carry through with threats, first made two weeks ago, to cut transmission time for TV channels owing money to the country’s Ministry of Communications for past broadcast facilities.

Particularly at risk are the country’s Channel 1 & 2. Public Russian Television (ORT) and RTR, threatened by unions with cuts which might reduce programming to a daily 2-hour schedule effective from July 7, according to local press reports.

While privately funded Russian broadcasters are expected to pay their broadcast fees on the nail, pubcasters-the Russian government maintains a 51% stake in ORT, and fully owns RTR-have fallen victim to internal battles which have seen transmission prices increased dramatically without corresponding budget funding increases.

For example, debts accrued by RTR between January and November 1996 grew by almost 15-fold, reaching a total of 100 billion rubles (approx. $72.72 million) by end-96.

ORT has been attempting to defray local transmission costs by selling advertising to local companies in return for direct payment to local transmission providers, but high initial start-up costs have apparently deterred local advertisers.

Whether union threats will reach any result, given Russia’s highly centralized bureaucracy, is another matter. Government speakers, from Russian President Boris Yeltsin down, have repeatedly stressed the importance of a central TV network to ensure social stability in the country.

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