March 2, 2012; Source: Chicago Tribune (Variety)

The Soviet Union—whoops, we mean Russia—just had a nicely rigged election to install Vladimir Putin back into his old job as president, replacing stand-in Dmitry Medvedev, who had kept the seat warm for Putin to return after having been termed out. Like many of the former Eastern bloc countries, Russia seems to be heading toward more of a totalitarian style of government, with Putin as the new almost president-for-life, but there are efforts to craft some of the trappings of a more democratic, open society.

One is the recent announcement by Medvedev of the creation of a new “fully independent public television channel.” The channel would be funded by tax-exempt donations plus, according to Variety, “a levy on advertising from other networks.” Add in memberships and subscriptions and substitute tax revenues for a levy on other stations and it sounds a little like the Public Broadcasting System—a little.

The plan for this Russian PBS, purportedly designed by representatives of the film and television industry serving on the Presidential Council on Human Rights, is a bit different than PBS, given the Kremlin’s control of nominally independent media outlets. Medvedev said that the new channel “would be wholly independent of both government and private interests,” but that is hard to believe, given how Putin ensured that his campaign and his party monopolized coverage of the elections on television.

Due to the mass protests that occurred in Russia late last year and early this year, there was some loosening of media restrictions in Moscow, though the vote totals in Moscow were as tightly rigged as anyplace in the country, but Putin’s attitude toward the media does not encourage vigorous dissent. According to Variety, “(c)ritics of Putin’s earlier two terms as president claim that investigative reporting on political and business issues have been effectively banned from the airwaves over the past decade.”

With Putin’s history, it is hard to imagine that the new donation-supported channel will be independent of the Kremlin, but maybe it might. Imagine how Medvedev must feel to be a potted plant, waiting to be moved to a new clay pot to make room for Putin. Maybe the tweeting Medvedev, armed with his iPad, is trying to carve out an identity just a little more liberal and perhaps a little more democratic than his ex-KGB predecessor and successor.—Rick Cohen