Cleaning the airwaves
President Vladimir Putin spent three hours on Tuesday discussing what to do about developing culture, in particular on TV. Putin expressed his disapproval with the content situation on the airwaves today, especially regarding children's programs, which are too few and of poor quality.
The explanation for this situation is no secret children's programs don't have any commercial interest for TV channels because the law prohibits putting advertising breaks in them. As for forcing them to increase their children's programming, that tactic doesn't go down well in a market economy.
Given that these explanations come from none other than the Media Ministry itself, the situation looks hopeless indeed. But Putin made it clear enough he thinks the Media Ministry's position is dubious, to say the least. For a start, there is such a thing as licensing, and the Media Ministry can keep checks to the extent to which TV channels abide by the licenses' conditions. And second, it is not clear why this explanation should apply to the state channels. ORT and RTR are funded by state budget money, after all, and it's not clear why taxpayers should be forced to watch ads at prime time rather than something of more social worth. What's even less clear is why the Media Ministry, which is supposed to defend the state's interests, is more concerned with protecting the advertising market from any possible restrictions that could be slapped on it.
But this is unclear only at first glance. Anyone even a little familiar with the situation on the TV market has no problem associating Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, the very official supposed to keep the airwaves "clean," with Video International, the company he founded and to this day looks after. Video International just happens to hold a virtual monopoly in TV advertising airtime sales in Russia. So, from the point of view of businesses close to Lesin, the Media Ministry's position looks perfectly reasonable.
But now, Putin's recent statements have given a lot of credence to the rumors that Lesin, by not reining in his business appetites, is playing with fire. A recent warning sign for Lesin was the dismissal of RTR chief producer Alexander Akopov, a close friend of his from their student days, when they were involved in the KVN student-comedy shows together.
RTR General Director Oleg Dobrodeyev, who has Putin's personal trust, plans to make the channel better reflect the state's interests. Dobrodeyev said these interests do not always correspond to Akopov's tastes. One rumor has it that the final straw came when the recent Defenders of the Fatherland celebration concert included a song evoking homosexual love among its chosen "masterpieces" of Russian pop. Dobrodeyev was said to have simply ordered broadcasting of the concert to be interrupted after this.
Who will win the oil battle?
The government soon has to decide what stand it will take regarding cooperation with OPEC on reducing oil production. This time, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is between more than just the proverbial rock and hard place he has the interests of four different parties to consider. Three of these parties OPEC and two opposing Russian oil-lobby groups are particularly active at the moment, while the fourth is the state, whose interests Kasyanov is supposed to be looking after.
OPEC's position is clear it wants Russia to join with it in keeping artificial restrictions on the oil supply, in order to to be able to dictate prices on the world market.
Government sources say the Russian oil barons do not have a common position. Some, such as LUKoil, think it would be better not to get into disputes with OPEC and say prolonging supply restrictions won't cause Russia any problems. Others, such as Sibneft, say Moscow shouldn't make any concessions to OPEC because Russia would lose more from keeping production low than from a potential drop in oil prices.
Sources say that this second group is looking more to its own interests, as the companies opposed to supply restrictions are all in one stage or another of being prepared for sale or are being discussed as potential candidates for sale. These companies include Sibneft, Yukos and TNK (Alfa Group). A drop in production would mean a decrease in their capitalization, which would do nothing to help attract potential buyers.
Kasyanov is going to have to make up his mind quickly whose arguments are most convincing, then try to take at least a bit into account the interests of the other groups and, finally, make sure the resulting decision also corresponds to the state's interests.
Ekaterina Larina is The Russia Journal's assistant editor. E-mail Katya at email@example.com.