Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yeltsin Move Angers Press Creation of New Information Agency Threatens Censorship, They Say

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yeltsin Move Angers Press Creation of New Information Agency Threatens Censorship, They Say

Article excerpt

WITH the stroke of a pen President Boris Yeltsin established a federal agency to oversee the Russian media. And now he's crossing swords with a wide array of politicians and journalists, who accuse him of trying to stifle press freedom.

Mr. Yeltsin's decree "On The Federal Information Center (FIC) of Russia," signed Dec. 25, says the new agency will manage "coordination of state policy in the sphere of mass media."

It also empowers the FIC with the "dissemination of precise and truthful information about reforms in Russia and explanation of state policy of the Russian Federation."

It's the clause about "information dissemination" that most worries not only Yeltsin's political and ideological opponents, but even some of his democratic supporters. Many suspect Yeltsin of trying to use the decree to control the media and thus form public opinion in a way favorable to the president.

"What we have here is the recreation of {George} Orwell's Ministry of Truth," said Viktor Linnik, deputy editor of Pravda, the former Communist Party Daily. Mr. Linnik is referring to Orwell's "1984."

"It's ironic," Linnik continued, "the current authorities are completely repeating the attitude and approaches toward the mass media of the former {Soviet communist} leadership."

Russian Parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, a bitter political enemy of Yeltsin, and other lawmakers want to abolish the FIC, saying it violates constitutional guarantees against censorship. It looks unlikely, however, that Mr. Khasbulatov and others have the political muscle to make Yeltsin back down.

The president's supporters say fears of the FIC becoming a censorship tool are overblown. "If the center tried to exert influence or introduce censorship," said Mikhail Poltoranin, the FIC's chief, at a recent press luncheon, "it would be a violation of the law ... and the mass media could turn to the courts to stop it."

According to Mr. Poltoranin, the FIC currently has about 90 full-time employees. In addition to dissemination of government information, the center has departments responsible for analysis and forecasting, fostering informational links with state bodies and political organizations in Russia, and expanding media ties with other nations in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

But the FIC's most important task, Poltoranin says, is easing the financial difficulties of newspapers and broadcast outlets. Almost all have been unable to secure enough independent financing under Russia's new economic conditions, and so they remain dependent on the government for subsidies. …

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