Prime Time for Putin's Anointed

Russian TV news often features upbeat reports on Dmitry Medvedev.
Russian TV news often features upbeat reports on Dmitry Medvedev. (Mikhail Metzel - AP)
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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

MOSCOW, Jan. 29 -- In mid-January, the publication Kommersant First Rating released the results of its annual poll, in which Russians were asked to name the country's elite in 2007. Heading the list of 200, as in previous years, was President Vladimir Putin, followed by one of the country's most popular singers, a first deputy prime minister and the country's emergency situations minister.

Coming in at No. 5 was Dmitry Medvedev, another first deputy prime minister. And fifth place was apparently unacceptable for the man Putin has ordained as his successor.

Kommersant commissioned the poll with state-controlled Channel One television. But when "Sunday Time," a current affairs program on Channel One, released the "results," the singer, Alla Pugacheva, had mysteriously fallen to fifth place and Medvedev was elevated to second.

Petr Tolstoy, host of "Sunday Time," told the magazine Kommersant Vlast (Power) that "for the political section of the show and simply for the compositional integrity of the show it would be strange to talk about" the singer. He said Medvedev's candidacy "allowed him to occupy the second position in our rating."

In the run-up to the March 2 presidential election, national television channels, where a majority of Russians get their news, are relentlessly promoting Medvedev.

According to Medialogia, a media analysis firm in Moscow, Medvedev was mentioned 419 times on national television news programs between Dec. 29 and Jan. 29, and was the main actor in 223 of those reports. Comparable figures for his only real opponent, Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party, were 107 and 20, Medialogia found.

"Television plays the role of mobilizing society," Anna Kachkayeva, a professor of broadcast journalism at Moscow State University, said in an interview. "And since Medvedev was nominated, television has found someone else to love and support besides Vladimir Vladimirovich," she said, using Putin's patronymic.

Almost nightly, television here airs upbeat reports on such events as Medvedev visiting a new high-tech health center or inspecting a new Russian cargo plane or promising higher pensions or marking the anniversary of the World War II siege of Leningrad and meeting with veterans.

Television recently covered an evening out for Medvedev (he went to a movie). Meanwhile, his opponents are barely visible.

The coverage is devoid of any critical analysis of Medvedev's record. As deputy prime minister, he is responsible for using Russia's bountiful oil and gas revenue to improve health, education, housing and agriculture in the country. But there is no hard scrutiny of his efforts in these still-troubled sectors.

"Television is creating this wonderful picture of Medvedev," Vadim Solovyov, a Communist Party official and member of parliament, said in an interview. "But he is a virtual candidate who has never had to debate his record or face any real challenge about whether he has demonstrated enough experience for the job. We're not impressed with what he has achieved."

For months, the race included a vociferous critic of the Kremlin, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov. He was mentioned 114 times in national newscasts, 46 of them as the main actor, the survey found. It said that in most cases, the coverage was negative.

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