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Russian media criticized for favoring Yeltsin

woman reading newspaper

Journalists say they did it to assure a free press

July 5, 1996
Web posted at: 10:15 p.m. EDT (0215 GMT)

From Correspondent Eileen O'Connor

MOSCOW (CNN) -- With the Russian runoff over, free market reformer Boris Yeltsin is back in the presidential saddle looking for a new cabinet and ways to pay for all those extravagant campaign promises he made.

But his re-election this week seems to have compromised a fundamental tenet of democracy -- the development of a free and fair press.

The mainstream media apparently decided early on to help Yeltsin win a second term, often openly favoring Yeltsin over Communist rival Gennady Zyuganov.

"We all wanted to support Yeltsin, because we understood that if he lost and (Gennady) Zyuganov took over, this would be the end of my magazine, my TV show and of many others," Russian journalist Artyom Borovik said.

tv station control room

Even the so-called independent television station NTV had its general manager advising the Yeltsin campaign. They say it was for the greater good of Russia, but some believe it was merely an act of survival.

Critics ask whether this is really the way to build a democratic press.

"No, but you can't say that it's a democratic country right now," Borovik said. "We were really locked in a situation, we had no choice . . . because, I repeat, if Zyuganov won, that would have been the end of a free press."

Journalists are 'liars'

But when the people can no longer depend on the media to be objective, it has lost the most essential ingredient in any enduring relationship -- trust.

For years, the press was considered an arm of the government, including Russia's most famous newspaper, Pravda (truth). Now Pravda readers complain that other papers are no different.

man buying magazine

"All mass media now are a bunch of liars," one woman said angrily. "They just restrict any access of the opposition to radio and TV. Is that democracy? Is that right?"

People like Vyacheslav Vasilyevich say there is a danger of the press putting itself out of business.

Now that many outside publications are available and very much in vogue in Russia, he says the national media will have to be aware that with the introduction of free market reforms comes choice -- and possible bankruptcy.

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