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Monday, 13 December, 1999, 14:40 GMT
Dirty tricks in Duma campaign

Mr Primakov (left) and Mr Luzhkov: Support for their grouping has dropped Mr Primakov (left) and Mr Luzhkov: Support for their grouping has dropped


By Paul Anderson in Moscow

Nobody ever said the fight for seats in the elections for Russia's lower house of parliament, or Duma, was going to be squeaky clean, but nobody expected it to be as dirty as it has become.

Russia at the Polls
What's at stake
Who's who
Russia's regions
In the words of one commentator, it is all-out propaganda warfare. At the centre of it are the institutions which President Boris Yeltsin is most proud to have freed from the yoke of Soviet control: the country's newspapers, television and radio stations.

The state-run Channel One news programme strikes fear into the hearts of Boris Yeltsin's opponents, particularly the Fatherland-All Russia party.

The programme has embarked on a campaign that most people say is orchestrated by the Kremlin to destroy the election chances of the party set up by Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, and later joined by former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Smear campaign?



"This campaign will be remembered as the dirtiest in the history of our young parliament."
Sergei Yastrzhembsky
Former presidential spokesman
Politically, the Fatherland-All Russia party stands in the centre and is a direct threat to Boris Yeltsin. But daily news reports accuse Mr Luzhkov of everything from involvement in murder and corruption to having ties with religious sects.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a former presidential spokesman who has joined the Luzhkov camp, believes there is a deliberate smear campaign.

"This campaign will be remembered as the dirtiest in the history of our young parliament," he said. "There have been too many violations by the presidential administration and government to list.

"Blackmail, false information, bribes, everything. It's all targeted at our bloc."



"The election campaign is like an illness."
Yury Luzhkov
Moscow Mayor
And it seems to be working. The popularity ratings for Fatherland-All Russia have dropped from the strong support enjoyed by the party just two months ago. But it is not that Mr Luzhkov cannot and does not answer back.

He has his own backers who use Russia's main independent television station NTV to defend the mayor and remind the country's voters of corruption allegations swirling around President Yeltsin and his entourage. In the propaganda war no one is entirely innocent.

"I don't think anyone has the right to believe they are wearing white gloves in this campaign," said Mr Luzhkov. "The election campaign is like an illness, it's a kind of measles from the Russia media."

Journalistic ethics

Levkov Lerkov, head of news programmes at state-controlled Russian television and radio, has received many complaints that his coverage of the election campaign is openly biased in favour of the Kremlin. But he says the problems in the media are universal and run much deeper.


NTV logo NTV backs Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov
"Journalists are not immune to all kinds of seductions," he said "We still have to accept that ethics are very poor among journalists and (media) companies.

"We have to clean up our political picture ... mostly in journalistic ethics among the Russian television companies."

This is easier said than done. People with big money control Russia's media - and in the post-communist era big money buys big political power and the ability to manipulate the news.

President Yeltsin's supporters may well argue that one of his greatest democratic legacies is a free press. But events have shown that all he has done is to replace one restrictive order with another.

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See also:
03 Dec 99 |  Media reports
Russia election quotes: Nationalism
19 Nov 99 |  Monitoring
Russia's media war over Chechnya
26 Nov 99 |  Europe
Russia's elections: Do the voters care?
09 Dec 99 |  Europe
Russia prepares for polls, as war continues

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