President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Today we have just a single issue to deal with but it is a very important one. This is the issue of a common information space in the CIS.
The subject came up quite recently in my discussions with the new President of Ukraine. It’s good to be discussing this now because humanitarian contacts have started developing more actively in the CIS of late, along with integration processes: there is now a customs union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, and the need for exchange of information is very great. So I think that we should think about the consolidation of a common information space.
Of course, we have now lived in different countries for two decades. We have lots of problems: economic problems and sometimes political ones. Nevertheless, we do share what can be characterised as fundamental values, common or related cultures and a history, which is of course why such contacts require the appropriate information support.
What do we have to do? We need to build our relations in this area on a calm, non-ideological, pragmatic and equal basis. No one should preach any sermons on the subject, nor should people be forced into a particular system. At the same time we need to provide opportunities for information cooperation, especially because a very large number of immigrants from the CIS countries live in Russia on a temporary or permanent basis, people who have come to work with us and have thus brought their own traditions, customs and language. And of course it is also important for them to preserve their identity and their links with their native land.
That is why some time ago I gave an instruction to prepare proposals on possible distribution in Russia of other CIS countries’ national television channels. Today’s meeting is focused mainly on the progress we’ve made in this area, what we have to offer, under what conditions, in what sort of package, and the extent to which this material will be accessible and useful.
At the same time, we are just as interested in our channels being broadcast in these countries, because there is a large Russian-speaking population working and living in the CIS countries. I think that it’s very important for them to hear their native language and to educate their children not only in the values of their national culture, the culture of the country they live in, which is obviously crucial, but also to have a sense of values and traditions of our Russian culture.
How can we help them? Particularly, by transmitting corresponding signals of our national TV channels. That would be the ideal way to do it – in real life things are different. We are aware of the difficulties often faced by Russian media in a number of CIS countries. This also applies to print and electronic media as well as cable networks. I will make no secret of the fact – and you are well aware of this yourselves, as are the media – that I have repeatedly raised this issue in discussions with our partners in the CIS.
In recent years, legislative restrictions on broadcasting in Russian have been introduced. And that in itself is not a good thing, because it diminishes our common humanitarian space. At the same time, our partners have often expanded the presence of other foreign media, which of course does not exactly bespeak a spirit of good neighbourliness.
I propose to discuss this set of issues, that is, to talk about the possibility of broadcasting CIS television channels in our country, and a corresponding parity agreement concerning the presence of our information channels in the Commonwealth broadcasting system, as well as the dissemination of our print media in those countries.
I would like you to brief me on the progress that has been made in carrying out this instruction and resolving the problem that I have asked you to focus on, what technological solutions are available, what financial opportunities we have and what needs to be done now.
The Minister of Telecommunications and Mass Communications has the floor. Mr Shchegolev, please go ahead.
Minister of Telecommunications and Mass Communications Igor Shchegolev: We have looked into what can be done in response to your instruction concerning the distribution of CIS countries’ national television channels in Russia. The best solution, given the size of our country and our digitalisation plans, is to launch them through NTV-Plus satellite platform.
We examined the legal side of the subject and its technological aspects. Gazprom-Media has invested a lot of efforts in this. A crucial factor that enables us now to put this solution into practice is that the company obtained additional satellite capacity. This was previously lacking; now they have rented more capacity, and the solution is now technically possible and feasible.
We have already held preliminary talks with our partners to ascertain their level of interest: who would be willing to be included in these packages, and who would be able to take our interests into account as well. And such suggestions and solutions are already available.
There are several legal aspects that determine the distribution of television signals in our country. Mr Sitnikov, the Head of Roskomnadzor [Federal Service for Supervision of Telecommunications, Information Technology and Mass Communications], can speak to this at greater length since he is the person that potential applicants turn to in the first instance to obtain relevant permits and information as to what they need to do to get a ‘place’ on this satellite platform.
Dmitry Medvedev: Good. Mr Sitnikov, please, you have the floor.
HEAD OF THE FEDERAL SERVICE FOR SUPERVISION OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND MASS COMMUNICATIONS SERGEI SITNIKOV: Mr President, in effect the procedures that we require foreign broadcasters to observe are relatively straightforward and the legislation in this regard is not burdensome. They need to register as a media outlet in the Russian Federation and obtain a license. The procedures involved are not time consuming and, as I just mentioned, not burdensome in financial terms. Our agency is ready to implement such requests without delay.
Dmitry Medvedev: Okay. Now perhaps Mr Senkevich [Director General of Gazprom-Media] can say a few words. Please, go ahead.
Director General of Gazprom-Media Holding and chairman of NTV Board of Directors Nikolay Senkevich: Mr President, NTV-Plus, a Gazprom-Media Holding company, has been extremely active in recent years in the development of cutting edge technology, which will enable it — in the near future and when the time is right — to join the national TV digitalisation process. For this reason we decided not only to put CIS countries' channels on our platform, but also to do it at our own expense; that is, for the broadcaster this will be free.
Moreover, a potential new subscriber is not required to subscribe to any of the basic packages, but he has an opportunity to subscribe to these particular packages at deep discounts. We have worked out a system of discounts. And so all that our potential future subscribers need now is a subscription to NTV-Plus and a contract for the specific channel that they are interested in. The end user will be paying a symbolic fee only.
Dmitry Medvedev: How much is this symbolic fee?
Nikolay Senkevich: 50 rubles [$1.5] a month.
Dmitry Medvedev: That really is a small amount.
And he will have access to all the channels or only the channel that he wants?
Nikolay Senkevich: He will have access to the channel he wants. He can choose the entire package or select particular channels.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see. Once our preparedness has reached a certain level, then I think we need to proceed to specific negotiations with the relevant broadcasters, to work out agreements with them.
I have discussed this subject with a number of CIS leaders. They have indeed expressed their desire to participate, at least by giving their political consent to have a respective mass media present in our satellite feed.
You said that for the broadcaster this is going to be free. Of course that is good. But if we are entering into such an agreement as honest partners, we expect that there will be proportionality and parity on the part of other countries whose channels are going to be ‘hooked up’ to our satellite. In other words, we are counting on the fact that in this case they will at the very least maintain the broadcasting opportunities they currently have for our channels. If they wish, they can build on these opportunities or restore what existed in the past, because such relations are always built on the principle of reciprocity.
Of course the most important thing is not a bunch of diplomatic principles but to admit one incontestable fact: there is a great deal of interest in our television and channels in other countries. This is true, whatever they say, because the quality of our television is very high. And even from personal interviews and conversations, I know that our TV is of interest in these countries. I’ve talked about this not only with the leaders of the respective countries but also with ordinary people.
Therefore our duty is to ensure the appropriate parity relations. Of course I am making this appeal not to Mr Senkevich, but rather to the leadership of the Government Cabinet, the Presidential Executive Office, to those who have participated in the discussions with our CIS partners. This is our challenge for the near future.