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Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, November 3

© Alex StefflerRussian Press - Behind the Headlines, November 3
Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, November 3 - Sputnik International
The media are losing independence and journalists are losing their health \ Defense Ministry announces explosive ordnance disposal tender \ Voters’ rights group slams election fraud

Moskovsky Komsomolets

The media are losing independence and journalists are losing their health
The Public Chamber held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the public expectations and the reality of media problems. Pavel Gusev, head of the chamber’s commission on communications, information policy and freedom of the media, and editor-in-chief of Moskovsky Komsomolets, outlined the key media problems in Russia: the strengthening of state control over the media and flagrant disregard of journalists’ rights.

“No one can answer the question of how many of the registered media – there were over 94,000 in 2010, according to a report by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media – are truly free and independent,” Gusev said. The Public Chamber’s 2010 report indicates that “most regional newspapers and up to 80 percent of municipal papers were established by the authorities, which says much about their editorial policy and economic independence. In losing its autonomy, the press is becoming an information lobby.”

Gusev cited a shocking figure: according to the Finance Ministry, federal budget allocations to the media for 2011-2013 have been approved at 174 billion rubles (almost $6 billion). He also recalled President Medvedev’s comments about easing government control of the media and said, “There is a wide gap between theory and practice. Despite the president’s entreaty, local authorities are strengthening control of the media.”

Furthermore, the print media have become fully subordinate to the Russian Post, which is “distorting the country’s information space” by raising delivery prices and delaying the fulfillment of orders. “The authorities are completely indifferent to the media industry, which they deny preferences and other stimulus tools, unlike in France, the United States and Canada,” Gusev said. “The media is struggling under a heavy financial burden, which is forcing them to decrease their print run and curtail media projects. Taxes on the media and books in Russia are the highest in the world.”

The position of journalists is even worse. “Being a journalist, photographer or a media employee in general has become dangerous in the 21st century. It is dangerous to write about corruption or investigate certain events,” Gusev said. There are over 150 cases when journalists have been threatened or otherwise prevented from doing their job since the beginning of 2011, yet “not a single criminal case has been opened nor investigation launched,” the chief editor said. “Impunity has become the key word describing the plight of the press in Russia.”

During debates following Gusev’s report, Alexander Zapesotsky, rector of St. Petersburg University of Humanities and Social Sciences, said, “Anyone will tell you that freedom is better than no freedom. But I think this is true only when coupled with another precept: responsibility is better than irresponsibility.” Komsomolskaya Pravda Editor-in-Chief Vladimir Sungorkin said he agrees that growing government control over the media is one of the biggest media problems and allocations “are not used efficiently: approximately 70 percent of subsidized newspapers have no readers.”

Rossiiskaya Gazeta

Defense Ministry announces explosive ordnance disposal tender
The situation concerning munitions storage is becoming increasingly critical, say leading academic experts, defense industry representatives and military personnel.  The Armed Forces spend two billion rubles per year to maintain their munitions. Spurred on by two recent arsenal fires, the Defense Ministry has ordered the destruction of the most hazardous stocks – 1.5 million metric tons of old ammunition are scheduled to be blown up before the end of 2011. The government has created a federal program, called “Industrial disposal of weapons and military hardware in 2011-2015 and 2020,” to deal with the issue, and the Defense Ministry has announced a tender for explosive ordnance disposal.

The Defense Ministry is tasked with finding a firm to dispose of munitions by recycling them – an alternative to detonation, which releases harmful chemicals into the environment and requires recultivation of the land on which munitions have been detonated. Both military and defense industry experts say that given the environmental situation, it is difficult to find an optimal solution.

There are two parallel munitions disposal processes currently taking place in Russia: the elimination of chemical weapons and the disposal of conventional munitions. The first process is very complex technologically and extremely hazardous, but it is running smoothly so far. The second is fraught with constant delays, accidents, financial and material losses and even loss of human life.

The problem may be due to the fact that while chemical weapons disposal in Russia is federally regulated, disposal of conventional munitions is not. There is no independent organization that is responsible for it. The military is responsible by default, and they outsource this task through tenders, the winners of which are allocated sizable funding.

At the recent International Research-to-Practice Conference on Industrial Disposal of Armament, First Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Sukhorukov said that conventional munitions disposal “is a complex governmental and even intergovernmental issue, and the efforts of government and industry need to be consolidated in order to resolve it.”

Colonel Sergei Vasiliev, who is directly engaged in the destruction of ammunition, urged a comprehensive approach.
“We must actively engage the scientific community, introduce advanced recycling technology and engage private logistics firms for munitions transport,” he said.

Both Defense Ministry officials and industrialists agree that conventional munitions disposal needs governmental control, perhaps in the form of a separate body under the Defense Ministry. The entire process is not sufficiently well-managed, with the involvement of profit-taking middlemen which has driven prices up, encouraging the Defense Ministry to continue disposing of munitions by detonation.

Nevertheless, there is a serious obstacle to running munitions disposal as an efficient business. All recyclable materials must be sold at the lowest prices, and the money returned to the federal budget. There are trace quantities of precious and rare earth metals in conventional munitions that can be recycled and sold, but the government does not allow companies to capitalize on this. This sort of approach is not likely to stimulate business interest.

Moskovskiye Novosti

Voters’ rights group slams election fraud
Lilia Shibanova, executive director of Golos, a non-profit voters’ rights group, explains how the Russian online community is fighting election fraud involving the ruling party and how many cases have been exposed to date.

Has the fraud rate increased or decreased this year compared with the 2007 parliamentary campaign?
Our hotline has received 671 reports of various procedural violations during this election campaign, which is a huge increase from 2007. Most report the illegal involvement of state and local officials in the campaign. The authorities break the law in two ways – either by exercising powers that, by law, belong to election commissions, or by providing resources to support specific candidates.

Your organization seems to believe that the authorities are even more determined to support “specific” candidates than last time. Why?
They make no attempt to hide their intentions, issuing instructions to inflate United Russia’s results all the way down the “power vertical.” It seems like the government is not entirely confident that they will get the desired result. Right now, they are trying to bribe voters, disguising their true actions as tea parties for war veterans, aid packages for victims of the Leningrad siege and discounts on agricultural produce. Even street cleaning vehicles bear United Russia slogans. They are drawing every resource available to the government into this campaign.

Your hotline receives audio and video footage of violations in addition to verbal complaints. Has the internet changed the public attitude to elections?
We have been working in this field for over a decade. In the past, the online community was indifferent to elections. But two years ago, they got into it; there were active debates on blogs and forums. People have had enough, it is normal civic engagement. This online activity might not make much of a difference because internet use is limited to young people in big cities while the group most inclined to vote includes senior residents of rural areas. But in any case this marks a change of attitude.

Can public discontent put a brake on this rising administrative pressure?
There is no direct link between the one and the other. Elections are the government’s immediate objective, while growing discontent with the system is a larger social trend. I think everybody understands that election results are falsified. Discontent is growing. The internet has simply made this more apparent. There have been protests – such as the Blue Buckets or the Protect Khimki Forest rallies. Any protest in Russia gains a political aspect. This is what I mean by growing discontent with the political system.

RIA Novosti is not responsible for the content of outside sources.

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