In Russia, television has always been influenced by economic and political factors. In the past few months, federal forces gained public support largely by using television as a weapon of propaganda to support the Chechen war.
Russian state television, ORT, is the only channel that broadcasts just about everywhere across the country's vast expanse. While its news bulletins naturally favor government policy, even the biggest private television station, NTV, which does not have the reach of state broadcasters, took a line of muted criticism of the war until a few weeks ago. Until that time, most NTV reports gave straight news accounts of the war without analysis or comment.
After President Boris Yeltsin's New Year's Eve resignation, a mood-shift occurred in NTV's war reporting, with the criticism flowing more freely. NTV has since broadcast interviews with refugees complaining of bad treatment by the military, while also probing them about civilian casualties. When showing the funeral of a soldier in St. Petersburg, the channel stated that Russia would start to see another side to the war. ORT has, so far, failed to mention that angle.
NTV prefers to let its interviewees outline disturbing aspects of the war, rather than having its journalists push a critical viewpoint. Vladimir Karamurza, anchorman of the station's 1 a.m. news program, has gone further than other news reporters in his criticism of the war, although sometimes his comments seem simply to be aimed at ruining acting President Vladimir Putin's reputation.
One of Karamurza's recent interviews examined the idea that the war will continue in an effort to reinforce Putin's rating. Another time, he talked sarcastically about the military diktat that defined all Chechen males between the ages of 10 and 60 as rebels.
ORT broadcasts, on the other hand, stick to official cliches about the war: "We are liberating the poor population of Chechnya from bandits." The station's dispatches focus on the freeing of Russian hostages held by Chechens; reports of soldiers helping civilians to establish a normal life in Russian-controlled regions; and generals recounting their victories.
The station always underlines Russia's intention to pay Chechens' outstanding wages and pensions, while managing to add as an unspoken postscript: "even if they don't deserve it."
ORT presenters never talk about civilian losses, nor do they criticize the military's method of waging war. They prefer to concentrate on describing acts of cruelty perpetrated by Chechens. Support for the war is even implied in the language used by the station. Chechen fighters are always defined as "terrorists," "criminals bands," and "bandits."
And while NTV quotes Western news agencies, ORT limits its reports to official sources, taking the line that Western reports are damaging to Russia's reputation. And of course, ORT's official version of the war is the only one available to viewers in many parts of the country, who are unable to pick up NTV's signal.
In an announcement late last week, NTV said Oleg Dobrodeyev had left his job as director of the station. He will be replaced by Yevgeny Kiselyov, who hosts the "Itogi" news magazine.
Dobrodeyev reportedly told his staff that he had decided to leave after speaking to station owner Vladimir Gusinsky, although he apparently gave no reason for his departure.
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