In Russian fashion President Boris Yeltsin decreed the new Ministry for Press, Television, Radio Broadcasting, and Mass Communication into existence on July 6. “I would not say,” said Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, “that we want to create a propaganda ministry. But we are starting to create a federal strategy which would consolidate all of the state’s capabilities in–pardon the old-fashioned word–ideological work.” Apparently fearing that Stepashin’s words might be misconstrued, Aleksandr Mikhailov, head of the government’s information department, later said that the creation of the Press Ministry “does not mean the introduction of censorship in Russia.”

The ministry will register all Russian mass-media organizations, regulate “production and distribution of audio and video products, develop state policy on advertising and organize national tenders for various licenses which will be required to carry out mass-media and communications activities.”

The first minister is Mikhail Lesin, who until last Tuesday was first deputy chairman of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), the parent organization for state-owned RTR television and Radio Russia, among other outlets. He came to VGTRK from Video International, an advertising firm heavily involved in Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election campaign. Lesin is widely considered responsible for RTR’s decision to air the videotape that purports to show suspended Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov in bed with two prostitutes. A handy fellow and a handy ministry to have around with elections coming.