Russia establishes single media body

Lesin to head Yeltsin's Press Ministry

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Lesin to head Yeltsin's Press Ministry

MOSCOW — Russia’s TV world looks set for a shakeup after President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree Tuesday establishing a body that will administer all of the country’s mass media organizations.

The new Press Ministry assumes control of all functions previously run by two different bodies, the State Press Committee and the Federal Service for TV and Radio Broadcasting.

It will be headed by Mikhail Lesin, a one-time advertising baron whose most recent job was deputy chairman at Russia’s State Television and Radio Co. (VGTRK). A Kremlin loyalist, Lesin was one of Yeltsin’s media advisers in his successful 1996 reelection campaign.

Political correctness

Skeptical observers immediately voiced fears that the new body would force broadcasters to toe predefined political lines in parliamentary and presidential elections.

Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin was the first to comment on such fears, saying the body would not be a “propaganda ministry,” though he added, ambiguously, that its responsibilities would be similar.

“We are creating a federal strategy that would bring together all the state’s capabilities in, if you will excuse an old-fashioned phrase, ideological work,” he told agencies.

With the new body responsible for issuing licenses to broadcasters, there’s concern among channels that existing licenses may be put up for commercial tender before their current deadlines expire.

With Lesin responsible for scheduling tenders by March 2000, broadcasters are worried that the slant of their election coverage may play a decisive role in the allocation of new licenses.