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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Russian Bear Eats Elections Like Candy

The Moscow Times reports on yet another nail in the coffin of Russian "democracy":

Little more than three months before the parliamentary elections, Channel One has hired a television executive linked to United Russia to oversee its election coverage.

Opposition politicians said the appointment not only dashed their slim hopes of objectivity in pre-election television coverage but also showed tacit support of nationalism in the Kremlin. They promised to complain to the Central Elections Commission.

Andrei Pisarev [pictured -- creepy, isn't he?], formerly head of small Moscow-based Channel Three television, was appointed to the newly created post of deputy director general in charge of elections coverage by Channel One chief Konstantin Ernst in late July, a Channel One spokeswoman said Wednesday. Kommersant first reported the development Wednesday. Repeated attempts to reach Pisarev for comment were unsuccessful. Pisarev told Kommersant that he was not a member of United Russia.

Pisarev, however, has been credited with advising United Russia on several initiatives, including the pro-Kremlin party's Russian Project. The project, unveiled in February, is ostensibly aimed to promote Russian culture and language in a series of conferences across the country, but it is seen by many as an attempt to steal the nationalist vote. "It is the Kremlin's approval of nationalist ideology," said Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy head of the liberal Yabloko party. He condemned Pisarev's appointment as an example of "the insolence of the authorities" and said Yabloko would ask the Central Elections Commission to investigate the "illegal" recruitment. "After all, television itself determines the election result," he said.

The Channel One spokeswoman, Larisa Krymova, said the appointment was made for "purely professional" reasons not connected to Pisarev's political sympathies. "Pisarev is a well-known, professional director who has worked with Channel One on more than one occasion," Krymova said.

Pisarev played a key role in Channel One's coverage of the funeral of former President Boris Yeltsin in April, Kommersant said. Pisarev also has covered numerous Russian Orthodox events. Before heading Channel Three, he led the Orthodox Television Information Agency. Channel Three representatives declined immediate comment, asking that questions be sent by fax. United Russia spokesman Konstantin Mikhailov said he was unaware of the appointment. Asked whether Pisarev was indeed a party adviser, he said, "Ask Mr. Pisarev yourself." United Russia dominates the State Duma, holding 305 of the 446 available seats, and follows any political course designated by President Vladimir Putin. Legislation backed by the Kremlin passes through the house unchallenged. That kind of control is what is at stake in the upcoming elections, said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. "What a nightmare," he said of Pisarev's appointment. "Now the propaganda will begin in earnest."

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