Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 165

A new controversy concerning the issue of press freedom in Russia is gathering steam in the wake of the news that the government’s draft federal budget for next year includes an article marked “top secret” for funding the mass media. The scandal broke late last week, when Leonid Maevesky, a Communist deputy in the State Duma, claimed in a radio interview the existence of a secret item in the draft 2001 budget concerning media funding. The only other secret budget items involve national defense. Press freedom advocacy groups immediately denounced the existence of secret government media funding. Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said it was of a piece with the authorities’ initial response to the sinking of the submarine Kursk, their actions against Media-Most and the detention earlier this year of Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky. He claimed that it showed that government of President Vladimir Putin is bent on making the media “as secret an institution as the army and special services.”

This latest plan for secretly funding the media reportedly grew out of the “Information Security Doctrine” developed under Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, in 1997. That doctrine was revived at the beginning of this year and discussed during a meeting of the Kremlin’s Security Council in July. Panfilov suggested that this doctrine will include steps against foreign radio stations broadcasting in Russian (if true, Radio Liberty would obviously be a key target). Segodnya, Media-Most’s daily newspaper, asked whether the secret budget item could involve funds for jamming foreign radio stations, “propaganda or counter-propaganda, or “special loans” for Russian Public Television and RTR state television to fund “informational wars” (Segodnya, September 2). An anonymous high-placed government official told another newspaper that there is a classified budget item involving the funding of “special propaganda operations,” particularly those concerning Chechnya, and that the money allocated for the secret media-funding budget items will be used to fund a Security Council “propaganda commission” (Moscow Times, September 6).

Deputy Finance Minister Tatyana Golikova confirmed to journalists yesterday that a “small” sum of money was the budget item covering the mass media which had been made secret, but refused to identify who in the government had given the order to classify the expenditures. It also remained unclear exactly what was to be secretly funded: One newspaper, not altogether helpfully, said the classified expenditures were earmarked for “mobilization goals” and “informational confrontation” (Kommersant, September 6). Meanwhile, the government’s press minister, Mikhail Lesin, did little to clear things up, telling a news conference that the classified budget items were connected to “special propaganda measures,” which would be targeted against Chechen terrorists but not be used against the non-state Russian media. Lesin also said that there had been secret funding for the media in past budgets, but that it had been part of the funding earmarked for the Defense Ministry, among others (Russian agencies, Kommersant, September 7).