Communists decry Yeltsin's media circus

PHIL REEVES

Moscow

His critics say he bends with the wind, that he has no real convictions. But there is one issue about which Gennady Zyuganov, Russia's Communist leader, is consistent as he campaigns across the huge country that he would so love to rule: he thinks that much of the Russian media is out to get him.

With just over two months to go before the presidential election, Mr Zyuganov has seen his once commanding lead in the polls shrink to single figures. There is, he claimed yesterday, "a powerful machinery" opposing him. It has even produced a pile of official documents outlining the best way of crushing his presidential challenge, he said.

And he believes one of the main weapons against him is the Kremlin's ability to manipulate the press. This week he spelt out this grievance in an attack on the state-controlled Rossiskaya Gazeta after it refused to publish his party's pre-election programme. "Here we are, electing a president," he complained, "and yet the government newspaper does not familiarise its readers with all the materials."

Mr Zyuganov, it must be said, has a case. One reason for Boris Yeltsin's improving fortunes - polls place him between four and nine points behind the Communist leader - is the extensive television coverage of the President's activities.

This is hardly surprising. Russia's two top television stations, ORT and Russian Television (RTR), are state-controlled. In February, their executives were given a harsh object lesson about the perils of displeasing the Kremlin, when Mr Yeltsin sacked the head of RTR, Oleg Poptsov, accusing him of misreporting the war in Chechnya.

A third big network, NTV, has long had a reputation for challenging the Yeltsin administration, an independence of spirit that resulted in several angry clashes with the authorities. Last year, for example, the Procurator General launched a criminal investigation into a NTV reporter who interviewed the Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev. There was a row over a widely ridiculed attempt by prosecutors to bring a case against Kukly, an irreverent Spitting Image-type programme - an ill-judged plan that was eventually abandoned. Yet these days, NTV's coverage of Mr Yeltsin has softened markedly.

Critics have attributed this to the fact that NTV's president, Igor Malashenko, has not only declared support for the President but also heads the information department for his re-election campaign. Mr Malashenko is reportedly being advised by Sir Tim Bell, Baroness Thatcher's former spin-doctor, though Sir Tim has refused to comment. Sir Tim is said to have been the inspiration behind a recent appearance on NTV of Mr Yeltsin's wife, Naina. In a glowing prime-time interview, she extolled her husband's qualities, which included being a dab hand at cooking Siberian dumplings.

While the television companies are on the President's side, so too are many of the newspapers - not least because many of them rely on government subsidies to survive. Although the Communists can rely on support from three opposition papers (Pravda, Sovietskaya Rossiya and Zavtra), they are under fire from the majority of the other major players, including the mass-circulation Argumenti i Fakty, and Izvestia.

However, Mr Zyuganov's complaints about unfair reporting would carry more weight among non-Communist voters if his own views on press freedom were more liberal. He recently said he did not believe criticism of the Soviet Union should necessarily be protected as free speech. "We are for full freedom of expression but we want the journalists to be guided by law. I do not think that it is an instance of freedom of expression when those who call themselves democrats ... lay the red Soviet flag out like a door mat, and wipe their feet on it."

Fears about his views were emphasised yesterday by the Fund for Protection of Glasnost, a civil-rights group set up to protect press freedom. If Mr Zyuganov wins power, it would close within six months, said its chairman, Alexei Simonov: "The idea of Communist heaven cannot be combined with the freedom of the press."

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?