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Russian television

February 27, 2010

State-controlled television in Russia usually tries to stay away from controversial topics. But as younger viewers increasingly turn toward the internet, TV producers are doing their best to bring them back.

Televisions in Russia with Putin giving speech
Russian TV is typically a microphone for the governmentImage: AP

Channel One's "Mult Lichnosti" is a case in point. The show, whose name translates as "cartoon personalities" but is at the same time a play on the Russian for "personality cult," features satirical 3-D animations of international politicians and Russian sports- and pop stars – a stark contrast from previously crude, propaganda-like news programs.

The show's New Year's edition introduced cartoon figures of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, though they are treated lightly and with more respect compared to other international politicians.

Even so, this is a minor revolution, according to the general director of Channel One, Konstantin Ernst.

"In our country, there is just no cultural tradition of laughing at those in power," he said. "Only someone like [Soviet President] Leonid Brezhnev - who clung to power even though he was so old and sick he couldn't stand straight anymore - was the butt of jokes."

"But today's leaders do everything in their power for Russia," he added.

No sign of press freedom

Mevedev and Putin
The satirization of Medvedev and Putin on television is uncommon in RussiaImage: AP

Ernst said he didn't have to ask Putin or Medvedev for permission to portray them in the animated show. But critics say editors and producers of state TV have gotten used to self-censorship to avoid offending authorities.

That's why media expert Alexeij Muhim is skeptical about any changes state media makes to its programming.

"The new programs are definitely no sign of more press freedom," he said. "They are instruments to gain more influence on the audience. The fact that Channel One has introduced those information weapons has no relation to freedom of opinion at all."

Racy entertainment

Another example of new directions in state TV is the soap opera "Shkola," or "School." It follows the daily life of a fictional ninth-grade school class in a Moscow suburb, where life is gloomy and tough.

The provocative material, which includes bullying, teenage sex and overworked and corrupt teachers, has led the Russian parliament to debate the series. Prime Minister Putin claimed it "shows extreme cases, not an overall tendency," and warned viewers from taking it too seriously.

But 27-year-old Irina Shirkova of Moscow, who watches the soap regularly, isn't drawn to the show because she thinks it's realistic. She watches it, she says, because it's entertaining.

"I actually never watched Channel One – or TV at all," she said. "But 'Shkola' has a new and unusual approach. It's interesting that they are showing it – I hadn't expected that from Channel One at all."

Author: Mareike Aden (acb)
Editor: Toma Tasovac