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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 17:20 GMT
The power of publicity
BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg
By Steve Rosenberg
BBC correspondent in Moscow

Just imagine if a presidential candidate in France or the United States disappeared off the face of the earth for five days.

He then reappeared looking dazed and drawn - and then fled the country, dismissing the whole election as foul play and claiming to have been kidnapped and drugged.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
A Russian TV channel broadcast live Mr Putin's first campaign speech

Probably, the media in France or the US would have a field day.

Such drama - such intrigue - would dominate the television news for days. There would be loud calls for an inquiry.

Russia, though, is not France or the US.

The afternoon bulletin on Russian state television made no mention at all of Ivan Rybkin's sensational claims. Instead, it showed Russian President Vladimir Putin busy running the country.

Then again, Russian television is controlled by the Kremlin.

'Glaring imbalance'

Anyone who switched on Russian State television on Thursday might have thought there was only one candidate in the race: Mr Putin.

On paper, at least, Russia's election law looks extremely fair.

It states that each presidential candidate should have equal access to state television during the campaign.

But Mr Putin's opening campaign speech was broadcast live by one channel and dominated news bulletins for the rest of the day on the main networks.

You had to search hard to find any trace of the other candidates.

Their only chance to hit the air waves was collectively, in a televised debate which Mr Putin had kept well away from.

Two of those contenders, Irina Khakamada and Nikolai Kharitonov, have complained to the Central Election Commission, infuriated that while each candidate is supposed to be equal, one appears more equal than the rest.

Even Russia's chief election official admitted the state-controlled media may have gone a little overboard with its wall-to-wall coverage of the president's rally: he has promised an investigation.

But that is unlikely to redress the glaring imbalance.

Campaigning aside, Mr Putin is on television far more than his rivals.

Every day he is shown meeting ministers and foreign leaders: in short, getting on with the job of running Russia.

Publicity like that makes him hard to beat.




SEE ALSO:
Russian press ribs Rybkin
12 Feb 04  |  Europe
Putin dominates election debate
05 Dec 03  |  Europe
Media fails to stir debate
05 Dec 03  |  Europe



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