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Monday, October 30, 2006

Annals of Managed Democracy

The Moscow Times fills us in on the details of a Neo-Soviet "press conference":

"After the words 'his citizens' -- uproarious applause.

"After the words 'Ask a question to the president of Russia' -- hands should go up.

"First question -- from a veteran. Then -- from the plant."

These were just some of the instructions doled out to Irina Yashina shortly before watching President Vladimir Putin in a live, televised Q&A session Wednesday.

Yashina, an editor at the Zavodskaya Pravda newspaper, run by the Dagdizel heavy machinery plant in Kaspiysk, Dagestan, was assigned the "plant" question.

The question, as it turned out, was a plea for the president to press the Defense Ministry to order more torpedoes and other military hardware made in Kaspiysk.

The city in the North Caucasus was one of 10 locales specially selected for television uplinks during the three-hour session with the president, which was broadcast on state-run Channel One and Rossia.

Within hours following the afternoon call-in show, reports surfaced of officials' behind-the-scenes efforts to make sure the president's PR offensive came off without a hitch.

Natalya Krainova, a Dagestani journalist, said in an interview Thursday that when she asked Yashina how the uplink with Putin had gone, Yashina gave her the piece of paper with the instructions on it.

Krainova said Yashina insisted she had written the instructions herself last week and learned them by heart.

"This sounds strange, given that the instructions on the paper included how to behave during the uplink," Krainova noted.

Orders not to drink, smoke or chew during the broadcast were issued to a crowd in Irkutsk that had gathered for the uplink there, Regnum News Agency reported.

Regional authorities and Rossia television crews carefully managed everything that respondents in Bryansk, Baltiisk and Nakhodka said and did during their exchange with Putin, reported.

A Kremlin official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said preparation for the uplinks was handled by television reporters, who traveled to the uplink sites well in advance of the seemingly informal show. The official added that no one in the presidential administration told questioners which questions to ask.

Spokespersons for the All-Russia Television and Radio Broadcast Company, which runs Rossia, declined to comment.

Yashina could not be reached in her office Thursday.

On multiple occasions, a call was put through to her phone, and each time someone on the other end picked up and immediately hung up the phone.

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