The scandal surrounding election campaign “agitation” on Russia’s major television channels took a new turn today. Two days ago, the Central Election Commission (CEC) filed a complaint against ORT anchor Sergei Dorenko for allegedly violating Russia’s election laws by “agitating” against former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov during his October 24 program. Mikhail Lesin, Russia’s press minister, was quoted yesterday as saying that his ministry, which is to rule on the CEC’s complaint this week, had found no “concrete” evidence that ORT had violated existing election laws (see the Monitor, November 2).
The newspaper Segodnya reported today that while Lesin does not intend to take measures against ORT, he held a meeting yesterday with Konstantin Likutov, president of TVTs, the Moscow city government-controlled company which runs the Center-TV television channel. According to the paper, Lesin warned Likutov to take Secret Material, the new program on Center-TV hosted by Moskovsky komsomolets investigative reporter Aleksandr Khinshtein, off the air. Lesin suggested that if Secret Material were not canceled, he would “find the means to influence the fate of the channel” (Segodnya, November 3).
Khinshtein has for some time been conducting a campaign in the pages of Moskovsky komsomolets against tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, who is generally assumed to control both ORT and Dorenko. Most of Secret Material’s airtime has also been devoted to digging up dirt on Berezovsky. Khinshtein is widely regarded as having good sources in Russia’s special services, particularly among those who oppose Berezovsky’s influence. TV-Center is controlled by another of Berezovsky’s key foes, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, while Segodnya, which ran the allegation concerning Secret Material and Lesin as its lead story today, is part of the media empire of Vladimir Gusinsky, a key Luzhkov ally. Press Minister Lesin, for his part, is a long-time associate of President Boris Yeltsin and regarded as a key member of the Kremlin inner circle.
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