A Positive Image For A Drunken Bear

The Public Chamber is out to polish Russia’s image in the eyes of the international communityProposals for improving Russia’s image abroad.

[Yesterday’s forum on promoting a positive image of Russia abroadbrought together Public Chamber members, academics, journalists, andmembers of the public. Three hours of discussion produced a decisionto set up a working group to work out the basic principles forpromoting Russia abroad.]

“Our country has an image as some sort of menace, and thismakes it seem unattractive to investors and foreign companies,” saidAlexandra Ochirova, chairwoman of the Public Chamber Commission for Social Development and organizer of the forum. “I propose weestablish an international portal where information on Russia,properly systematized, will be made available.” Ochirova believes that this will only support Russia’s gradual evolution into a worldpower.

Ochirova also called for public awareness measures at home. Infact, conference participants argued that Russian citizens themselves are poorly acquainted with the state of affairs in their own country and therefore proposed a considered policy of socialsecurity.

“All foreigners associate America with the proud white-headed eagle,” says Ernst Galumov, director of the Contemporary International Affairs Institute at the Diplomatic Academy. “And what about Russia? What is it associated with?”

“A drunken bear,” said someone in the audience.

“Right!” Galumov exclaimed. He proposed “promoting a new positive image of Russia in international public opinion.”

Pavel Gusev, chairman of the Public Chamber Media Commission, drew everyone’s attention to the ingenuity with which the United States is turning practically all news items against Russia. “Ther eport that two Russian journalists applied for political asylum in the United States evolved into a powerful anti-Russian PR campaign,”Gusev said. “This insignificant incident enabled a major smear campaign against Russia’s image… However, promoting the whole country at once is difficult. We should single out certain aspects. Say, concentrate on how Russia supplies gas to a third of the international community. This would generate the image of a wealthy and stable country.”

The Russia Today television channel, Russia’s principal project in promoting a positive image, was mentioned at the conference as well. Experts supported the idea as such, but pointed out that the channel is mostly working for the domestic audience for the time being. Alexander Ageyev, director of the Economic Strategies Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that budget funding for Russia Today is only sufficient to maintain the channel, at best. “Much more is needed for expansion into the international news market, to challenge even Al-Jazeera,” Ageyev said, “not to mention giants like CNN and the BBC. We could pour billions into PR campaigns and end up with nothing to show for it. Or we could invest millions wisely and get the effect we expect.”

The state allocated $90 million (2.4 billion rubles) to Russia Today this year, triple the 2005 budget. According to The Financial Times, establishing its Arab and Latin American services will require $35 million more.

All in all, 18.2 billion rubles were set aside for support ofthe Russian media this year.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta and RIA-Novosti news agency launched Trendline Russia (another image-promoting project) last year. Rossiiskaya Gazeta is the only promoter of the project these days. Insiders say that the matter concerns Rossiiskaya Gazeta supplements in “four leading foreign newspapers” – the Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph, the Times of India, and a Bulgarian newspaper. Alla rticles for the supplements are written by Rossiiskaya Gazeta staff. “The project was noticed and appreciated. It is being relaunched now. We are working on an even larger project these days, called Russia Above the Headlines,” said Rossiiskaya Gazeta Deputy Director Yevgeny Abov. This project will be sponsored by Rossiiskaya Gazeta alone. Its cost is not revealed. It is only known that in 2006 United Russia arranged almost $100 million (2.6 billion rubles) of additional funding from the state budget for Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Some reports indicate that Presidential Advisor Mikhail Lesinis one of the initiators of Trendline Russia.

Freedom House refuses to consider Russian media outlets independent

The Freedom House annual report (May 1, 2007) doesn’t regard Russian media outlets as independent.

The Freedom House report says that “aggressive attempts by the Russian government to isolate independent media voices, interspersed with plans to regulate the Internet,” are among the most alarming trends of 2006.

The report notes that the Putin administration has admitted existence of plans to control the Internet. The report ranks Russia alongside countries like China, Vietnam, and Iran where journalists and so-called cyber-dissidents are hunted down and prosecuted.

Along with everything else, Russia is listed among countries where the media freedom situation has deteriorated over the last five years. Other countries in this category are Venezuela, Thailand, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Argentina, and Uganda.

Freedom House described the media in ten post-Soviet republics as unfree. Ukrainian and Georgian media outlets are partially free and independent.

All in all, Russia is ranked 165th on the list of 195 countries in terms of media freedom. In 2005, it was 158th. This slide is attributed to restrictions imposed on the media and lack of investigation of crimes committed against journalists.

In general, only 1% of the world’s population lives in countries with independent media outlets. The list of countries where the situation is exceptionally bad includes Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. The situation is best in Finland, Iceland, Belgium, Denmark, and Norway.


Author: Svetlana Kazantseva, Anastasia Novikova 

July 3, 2007

Translated by A. Ignatkin


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