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Russia: Media's AIDS Awareness Campaign Off To Slow Start

Aleksandr Zhukov (file photo) Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov created something of a media sensation on 30 March when he appeared at a Moscow conference and acknowledged that the spread of HIV/AIDS in Russia has become a threat to the country's security and development. The theme of the conference was public-private initiatives to combat the epidemic and one of the main projects discussed was a $200 million, three-year, public-service campaign by Russian media to raise HIV/AIDS awareness.

Gazprom-Media Chairman Aleksandr Dybal told the conference on 30 March that his company and other media outlets, including REN-TV, Muz-TV, MTV, and the radio stations of Russian Media Group are donating $200 million in cash, airtime, and print space to the effort.

Gazprom-Media controls NTV, NTV-Plus, TNT, Ekho Moskvy, and other media properties and is wholly owned by the state-controlled natural-gas giant Gazprom. Gazprom played key roles in the de facto nationalization of the empires of former oligarchs Vladimir Gusinskii and Mikhail Khodorkovskii.

Russian Media Group is controlled and headed by Kremlin-connected businessman Sergei Arkhipov. He told "The Moscow Times" on 18 March, "I do have friends in the Kremlin," although he denied that he discusses his business with them. In 2004, the company staged a free concert for people who could prove that they had voted in the presidential election, a move that was viewed as part of the Kremlin's effort to boost turnout in an election in which President Vladimir Putin faced minimal competition. The company's plans to turn its flagship station, Russkoye Radio II, to a largely news and information format has been viewed by analysts as part of a Kremlin effort to consolidate its control over the information sphere in the run-up to the 2007 and 2008 Duma and presidential elections, respectively.

Just Getting Started

Despite Dybal's "announcement" of the public-service effort on the heels of Zhukov's speech, the campaign was actually launched at a 29 November press conference at state-owned RIA-Novosti, to considerable media fanfare in connection with the 1 December World AIDS Day event. At that time, RIA-Novosti was also named as a participant, "Vechernyaya Moskva" reported on 9 December. Interfax reported on 29 November that the newspapers "Komsomolskaya pravda," "Izvestiya," and "Vedomosti" would also participate, but Dybal did not mention them in March.

At that press conference, participants also announced that the "Stop AIDS" campaign would mostly include a new, locally produced series featuring people living with HIV. Dybal did not mention this project at the 30 March conference.

In November, it was announced that "technical and financial" support would be provided by a number of Western foundations, including the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, Dybal said at that time that he expected the state media to join the effort. "You might say that we consider this our patriotic, humanitarian duty," Dybal said, according to "Vechernyaya Moskva." "We have already signed up nearly 30 large companies and, of course, we certainly expect ORT and RTR to join our ranks -- [and we] hope that they will join our project. We are also talking to regional companies, whose support is very important to us." Dybal added that he expected the "active participation" of American actor Richard Gere in the campaign.

The online newspaper reported on 2 December that the "Stop AIDS" campaign will include not only public-service announcements, but also the development of information resources and briefings for journalists.

Zhukov's appearance at the AIDS conference and recent calls by President Putin and other administration officials for businesses to do more to help the country give some reason to believe that "Stop AIDS" might gain some traction now.