Standing Behind The Russian Press
The Nov. 6 article, "How Russia Runs Without Yeltsin," presents a concise summary of the current situation in Russia that I find clear and on the mark, except, that is, for the last section on Russian press coverage of Boris Yeltsin's health.
In describing Russian TV as "closely controlled by the government for the most part," the article gives a distorted picture of the quasi-independent status of Russian networks. In reality, ORT, NTV, and RTR, the three networks with the widest national distribution, are each owned and controlled by varying combinations of government and business organizations. What these groups have in common is an interest in political and economic stability - not a return to power by communist or nationalist parties that might renationalize the media. This explains their support for Mr. Yeltsin's reelection and their recent character assassination of Alexander Lebed.
But these interests did not prompt Russian TV to refrain from "speculation on the president's health" and the political ramifications thereof. True, such wild reports as that of Yeltsin's death were not widely trumpeted, but the Russian analytical programs comparable to PBS's "Newshour" and weeklies such as "Face the Nation" repeatedly dealt in detail with questions of Yeltsin's health.
If, as the article states, "all most Russians know is that the president was said to need heart surgery," it has not been for a lack of TV coverage of the issue. Instead, it may be indicative of the average Russian's focus on problems closer to home, such as receiving wages that are often months overdue.