Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 143

Novye Izvestia reported last week that President Vladimir Putin’s “retinue”–above all the Security Council, the powerful Kremlin advisory body headed by Sergei Ivanov, a long-time Putin associate and fellow KGB veteran–has drawn up a plan to establish “total control” over Russian’s media. According to the paper, the plan, compiled from suggestions from various state agencies, including the special services, was approved several weeks ago. Implementation of the plan will begin in late August. It is to be completed by next spring. It’s goal is to impose a strict order on the “information field” in order to create the “propaganda background” necessary to support actions by the country’s political leadership. Among its specific measures are various legislative measures (including a law on the press), the introduction of licenses for the print media and the creation of “supervisory councils with extended censorship functions in large politically oriented media, including television channels and print media.” The plan putatively also includes various “secret measures,” including planting “loyal people” in key editorial posts in leading media and the creation of a special presidential information policies’ fund, to be funded by unnamed “oligarchs.” According to the paper, those involved in the project may use the private lives of journalists as a lever with which to pressure them (Novye Izvestia, July 19).

It is, of course, impossible to assess the accuracy of this report that the Kremlin is poised to impose total control over the media, especially given that Novye Izvestia is one of the daily newspapers controlled by Boris Berezovsky, who has been in a very public battle with Putin over limiting the powers of Russia’s regions. It is also worth noting that the Novye Izvestia report is very similar to one which appeared last May in Kommersant, another Berezovsky newspaper, just before Putin’s inauguration.

Kommersant had laid out the details of what it said was a plan to give the Kremlin administration virtually authoritarian powers and the Federal Security Services (FSB) and other special services a key role in the administration’s activities. Novye Izvestia reported that the plan would involve the use of “influence” or even “pressure” on various persons and entities, including politicians, political parities and journalists, and “spetzinformatsia”–special information–aimed at supporting the president and discrediting his opponents (see the Monitor, May 5). At the time, the Kremlin denied having anything to do with the plan.

Likewise, after Novye Izvestia last week published details of the alleged plan, Security Council Press Secretary Vladimir Nikanorov categorically denied that the council was involved in any project aimed at limiting press freedom. He added, however, that legal limitations on the gathering and publication of information on citizens’ private lives needed to be enforced, and that laws concerning the media needed to be “perfected.” Sergei Markov, head of the Institute for Political Research, suggested that the plan showed the growing influence within Putin’s inner circle of special services which wanted to impose total control over the media. Markov added, however, that it was possible that a possible result might be the re-imposition of state control over television with the print media remaining independent. A newspaper speculated that the “Family,” the group of Kremlin insiders which includes presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, may have leaked the “retrograde” plan as a way to discredit their rivals, the “Chekists,” in Putin’s eyes (Segodnya, July 20).