Rain, Rain, Go Away
Published: February 12, 2014 (Issue # 1797)
Theáauthorities have effectively prohibited theáDozhd television channel fromábroadcasting onácable television. Theáostensible reason foráthe ban was aásurvey that Dozhd conducted onáJan. 26 that asked: ôShould theáSoviet Union have surrendered Leningrad toásave hundreds ofáthousands ofálives?ö
That ill-conceived andáinappropriate question sparked aápublic defamation campaign similar toáthose during Stalinist purges. But theásurvey was really only aápretext. Theáauthoritiesĺ displeasure with Dozhd probably began two months ago when theáchannel aired aáprogram byáanti-corruption whistlebloweráAlexei Navalnyáregarding luxurious dachas owned byáhigh-ranking officials, including presidential administration First Deputy Chief ofáStaff Vyacheslav VolodináandáDeputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko.
Volodin was reportedly livid over theáprogram andáconvened aáspecial meeting ofáthe presidential administration toádiscuss theámatter. Even though Navalny produced theáprogram, not Dozhd, it was important toágo after theámessenger so that there would be no more ofáthese reports incriminating top officials.
Dozhd cannot survive financially without access toáthe cable networks andátheir viewership ofá17 million households.
Does this mean that private broadcasters will simply cancel commercial contracts as aámatter ofápolicy?
These operators are not as ôprivateö as you might think. Although private owners ostensibly control theácompanies that broadcast theásignal toáthe cable networks, theágovernment exerts direct control over them. Foráexample, billionaireáViktor Vekselbergáowns theáAkado cable provider andábillionaireáMikhail Fridmanáowns Beeline. Andáwhen theátruly independent ER-Telecom cable provider attempted toábuy Akado, theádeal fell through after it was nixed byásenior government officials.
Actually, theátroubles foráDozhd began during theáanti-government protests onáBolotnaya Ploshchad. Theáauthorities applied aágreat deal ofápressure onáthe channel, andámedia tycoonáAlisher Usmanovástepped ináfor theákill with aábuyout offer. But Dozhd CEO Natalya Sindeyeva andáher business partners were strong enough toáfend off theáaggressive takeover bid.
That prompted theáauthorities toáchange tactics. They understood that it was easier toádismantle theáchannel than toábuy it out. Mikhail Lesin, theáformer head ofáthe government agency overseeing theámedia who was linked toáthe state takeover ofáNTV iná2001, reportedly masterminded theáattack onáDozhd.
TheáKremlinĺs strategy toámonopolize theámedia market consists ofáseveral main decisions: appointing Lesin toáheadáGazpromáMedia ináOctober, dismantling RIA Novosti andácreating Rossia Segodnya ináits place with theáodious Dmitry Kiselyov atáits head ináDecember, pushing Pavel Durov out ofáVkontakte andánow theáattack onáDozhd. Theágoal is toáerect aáhuge media wall toáprotect theáauthorities andáisolate Russia fromáthe free world. They are building that wall slowly but steadily.
Theáfate awaiting Dozhd is clear enough. It will be bought outáŚ probably byáthe very same Usmanov who tried unsuccessfully toáseize it earlier. Only now, with Dozhd barred fromáairing onácable networks, it is practically worthless. But byápushing theáprice down toánext toánothing, it will make it easieráŚ andácheaperáŚ foráthe Kremlin andáits frontman toáeliminate theáchannel.
Yulia Latynina hosts aápolitical talk show onáEkho Moskvy radio.