Sobesednik: Opposition Politics As Seen on Russian TV

When the «YUKOS affair» first started up in late 2003 and early 2004, people at the oil company told me that they were suddenly unable to place television ads for YUKOS gasoline and motor oil anywhere on Russian TV. Either they were being told all the slots had been sold already, or they were being asked to pay preposterously high rates that made no economic sense. Judging by a recent article in the general-interest weekly «Sobesednik» that our Russian correspondent Grigory Pasko brought to my attention, blacklisting of politically-incorrect individuals is rife on Russian TV these days as well, and only getting worse as the “elections” approach. The story below concerns Mikhail Delyagin, with whom I worked on several occasions while I was still being allowed to visit Russia. Apparently, only his foot is now allowed past the censor.—R.A. From the weekly magazine «Sobesednik» issue No. 42, 29 October 2007, Television section Authors: Marina Suranova, Andrei Gamalov Where are the legs sticking out from? A mysterious story took place in one of the editions of Kira Proshutinskaya’s program “The People Want to Know”. A “ghost” appeared in the picture – legs, belonging, apparently, to a live person before the video editors had “erased” him… Fact… These legs, visible in the picture, belonged to the director of the Institute for Problems of Globalization, Mikhail Delyagin. Before_and_after_row1104.JPG Mikhail Delyagin’s face used to make regular appearances on Russian TV. Now he’s lucky if he gets his leg in the picture (that’s it in the bottom left corner). “The topic of that program concerned state interference in the economy”, recalled Mikhail Gennadievich in response to a question from «Sobesedink» about what that was. “We talked about how with a state such as ours, we are ensured a systemic crisis in the nearest future. But personally I didn’t say anything seditious either while we were on the air, or before it, or afterwards!”

“Perhaps, a conflict had arisen for you with the management of the production group of the program ‘The People Want to Know” or with Kira Proshutinskaya?”“No, if we don’t count one old incident, when during the time of discussion of a question about the monetization of benefits in the year 2004 I and one legless veteran (he was wearing prostheses) walked out of the studio as a sign of protest – they were constantly shutting him up. But after that I had already been on TVC on numerous occasions.”“Then for what?!”“A theory about an updating of the ‘stop-list’ (everybody has them, I know) before the elections begs itself. When they were recording the program, it was allowed to show me, but then X-time arrived, an escalation of the political struggle has begun since September. And it was then that I became undesirable. And as to the folks who do the program, I just feel sorry for them…”As the host of the show, Kira Proshutinskaya, explained, she was not in Moscow during the time of the editing of the program “The People Want to Know”….and commentaryThe existence of “blacklists” on TV is a medical fact, although the management of all the channels has repeatedly denied their existence. It is another matter that they do not coincide on the «First», on «Rossiya», on NTV, on «TV Centre», and on the «Fifth». Georgi Satarov [a brilliant scholar who heads the INDEM Foundation and has conducted excellent research into corruption in Russia—R.A.] asserts that there are 12 persons on the “blacklist” of the «First channel» and that he himself is in fourth place there (behind Vladimir Ryzhkov, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Garry Kasparov). According to some data, on the “blacklists” of the channel NTV are Viktor Shenderovich, Yevgeni Kisselev, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, that is the faces of the channel until the year 2001.As_seen_on_TV_block1104.JPGAs seen on TV? Not in Russia! Leading opposition figures such as independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (1), former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (2), and former chess Grand Master Garry Kasparov (3), as well as the scholar Georgy Satarov (4), who specializes in researching government corruption, are at the top of the “blacklist” at Russia’s most widely watched «First channel».Boris Nemtsov, Irina Hakamada, Yegor Gaidar, and other democrats of the first wave are not prohibited, but only under the condition that they will have a strong opponent who will be attractive to the audience. Members of the family and lawyers of Mikhail Khodorkovsky are not recommended for showing and interviewing. Roman Abramovich personally imposed a veto on the second part of a film about himself and diligently monitors other mentions, trying to stand out as little as possible – he has placed himself on the “blacklists” voluntarily. [Nationalists such as] Rogozin and Potkin are officially not recommended for showing, inasmuch as any utterance of theirs can be interpreted as extremism.Strong_and_attractive_row1104.JPGFirst-generation democrats Boris Nemtsov, Irina Hakamada, and Yegor Gaidar (L-R) can only be shown on Russian TV opposite strong opponents the audience finds attractive.We should not, however, demonize the power: it prohibits practically nothing at all, relying on the self-censorship of the managers, and, as practice shows, the power is not wrong in assuming that it exists. Today, telemanagement is even ready to go farther than necessary, prohibiting nearly all oppositionists, even the communists, who in the absence of other opposition parties are becoming whipping boys number one. Although there is no prohibition on Zyuganov, [his more radical colleague] Anpilov, on the other hand, is undesirable.By the way, “blacklists” existed even in the freest of times. During the time of the ruckus between Gusinsky and Berezovsky, NTV and ORT put practically all of each other’s notable telepersonas on these lists. Berezovsky differed from Gusinsky only in that he was not afraid to invite those who inveighed against him personally to come on the air. Gusinsky, meanwhile, prohibited also those critics who did not like him personally, his position, and his programs from being called to him.