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Russia: New International Channel Ready To Begin Broadcasting

Will Russia Today succeed in presenting a more positive image of Russia? (AFP) Russia begins broadcasting a new 24-hour English-language satellite TV news channel on Saturday, aimed at presenting a more positive image of Russia abroad. The channel, which is called Russia Today, can be seen throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States. According to its directors, the channel will aim to reflect Russia's position on the main international issues of the day and seek to inform viewers about Russian life.

Prague, 9 December, 2005 (RFE/RL) -- After months of preparation and not a few false starts, Russia Today is set to join the world of international television broadcasters.

The idea -- to present a more positive image of Russia around the world.

The new team of 300 plus -- which includes 72 foreign journalists, many of them with experience in major British and American networks -- will have to work with a comparatively modest budget by the standards of its international rivals like CNN and the BBC.

The channel says it has raised its $30 million start-up capital with loans secured from commercial banks.

The news director -- 25-year-old Margarita Simonyan -- said the channel aims to be a foreign news broadcaster with a Russian slant.

"Of course we understand that it is difficult to compete with the big companies in the world that exist on this market. But we have some things they don't have," Simonyan said. "I would like to show my country the way I see it, the way my editorial team and the people with whom I work."

She portrayed Russia Today as a sort of Russian BBC, complete with its own board of governors and independent broadcasting standards. Doubters suspect that it's more likely to become just another mouthpiece of the state -- slicker certainly than the ponderous, heavily accented English-language service of Radio Moscow in Soviet times -- but state propaganda nevertheless.

But the head of the Russian Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency, Mikhail Seslavinskii, brushes such doubts aside.

"I just can't image a special department somewhere in the corridors of power where people would sit and read the news in English, and cross things out with a red pen -- 'We say this, we don't say that, there is a grammatical mistake here and two commas missing there,'" Seslavinskii said. "The company will work on its own as an independent editorial office."

And Seslavinskii is not alone in defending the new channel's standards of integrity. Its foreign journalists say they have been under no more pressure than in Britain or the United States to conform.

Anna Kachkaeva of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who is based in Moscow and also teaches at Moscow University's Faculty of Journalism, is another who thinks the new channel will maintain its independence from the state.

"If there is major interference from the Kremlin, then what's the point of having such a channel? We've got enough channels like that within Russia," Kachkaeva said. "So, if there is any interference, it will probably be more precise, more considered and more sensible, because the main newsmakers and stars are, as a rule, people with a democratic outlook who also speak English."

Russia Today is the brainchild of former Information Minister Mikhail Lesin and Putin's press spokesman, Aleksei Gromov. They say they've grown tired of watching foreign journalists present a distorted and one-sided portrayal of Russia to the outside world. Lesin admits, too, that Russia needs to do more to polish up is image abroad. Otherwise, he said, "We'll always end up looking like bears." Russia Today will attempt to set the record straight.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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