Economic Crisis Will Not Be Televised

As a wave of grim news swept in from global markets Monday, MICEX halted trading a record three times, while the RTS shut down twice. The day still ended in a bloodbath, with both indexes plummeting about 19 percent. But you wouldn’t know that from watching the evening news.

Instead of reports about the markets’ losses, the three main television channels — state-controlled Channel One, Rossia and NTV — showed billionaire Mikhail Fridman telling President Dmitry Medvedev that the global financial meltdown offered new opportunities for Russian companies abroad.

When faced with unpleasant news, the government has often resorted to a strategy that can be summed up as: “If we don’t report it, it didn’t happen.” The tactic led to delays in news about the Beslan attack in 2004, the Kursk submarine sinking in 2000, and even Leonid Brezhnev’s death in 1982.

This “silent treatment” now appears to be a government strategy for dealing with the fact that the global financial crisis has reached Russia. The main channels have either downgraded or ignored altogether Russia’s financial turmoil since it began in mid-September.

On Monday, for instance, none mentioned the meltdown in Russia or any possible repercussions from the crisis. Only the smaller Ren-TV and Zvezda channels mentioned the stock plunge, according to Medialogia, a private company that tracks the media.

The Kremlin recently instructed both state and privately owned television channels to avoid using words like “financial crisis” or “collapse” in describing the turmoil in Russia, said Vladimir Varfolomeyev, first deputy editor at Ekho Moskvy radio.

“Specifically, the blacklist includes the words “collapse” and “crisis.” It recommends that “fall” be replaced with the less extreme “decrease,” Varfolomeyev said in comments posted on his LiveJournal blog late last week.

Anton Nosik, a pioneer of the Russian Internet, said on his LiveJournal blog that the VGTRK television company, which runs Rossia, banned the broadcast of a recent speech by Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin because of its “excessive frankness.”

Kudrin, speaking at a financial conference last Wednesday, drew a parallel between Russia’s fortunes and the Biblical story of Joseph and the Pharaoh’s dream of seven fat and seven skinny cows.

Kudrin said that just as Joseph saw seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, Russia’s stabilization fund would see an end to the boom years and the start of leaner times.

Economic Crisis Will Not Be Televised
The Moscow Times, 09.10.2008

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