Kremlin tells com­pa­nies to de­liver good news

In­struc­tions fo­cus­ing on jobs and in­fra­struc­ture pro­vided with state sup­port co­in­cide with run-up to pres­i­den­tial elec­tion


MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin wants good news.

The Rus­sian lead­er­ship has told ma­jor com­pa­nies to sup­ply it with news sto­ries that put its stew­ard­ship of the coun­try in a pos­i­tive light, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments seen by Reuters.

A seven-page doc­u­ment spelled out the kind of ar­ti­cles re­quired, with a fo­cus on new jobs, sci­en­tific achieve­ments and new in­fra­struc­ture, es­pe­cially those in­volv­ing state sup­port. It also de­tailed how the sto­ries should be pre­sented, and gave a weekly dead­line for sub­mis­sions.

The in­struc­tions were sent last month by the en­ergy min­istry to 45 com­pa­nies in Rus­sia’s en­ergy and util­i­ties sec­tor in­clud­ing Ros­neft, Lukoil and No­vatek , ac­cord­ing to a sec­ond doc­u­ment, a list of re­cip­i­ents.

The drive co­in­cides with the run-up to a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in March next year when Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin needs a strong man­date with high turnout to main­tain his firm grip on power af­ter dom­i­nat­ing Rus­sian pol­i­tics for two decades.

“Life for the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple has be­come calmer, more com­fort­able, more at­trac­tive. But many such ex­am­ples of­ten es­cape the me­dia’s at­ten­tion,” said the first doc­u­ment.

“Our task, through a cre­ative and painstak­ing ap­proach, is to se­lect such top­ics and sub­jects and of­fer them to the me­dia.”

That doc­u­ment, which did not men­tion the elec­tion, said the news items to be sup­plied were to feed a “pos­i­tive news wire” and should cor­re­spond to two themes: “Life is get­ting bet­ter” and “How things were; how they are now.”

Both doc­u­ments were at­tached to an in­vi­ta­tion, dated Oct. 9, sent by the en­ergy min­istry to se­nior ex­ec­u­tives in the pub­lic relations and gov­ern­ment relations de­part­ments of the firms, of which 17 are state-con­trolled and 28 pri­vately-held. The in­vi­ta­tion re­quested they send rep­re­sen­ta­tives to an Oct. 12 meet­ing at the min­istry in Moscow to dis­cuss how to help the gov­ern­ment’s PR ef­fort.

Reuters saw a copy of the in­vi­ta­tion and spoke to three ex­ec­u­tives who re­ceived it. Ac­cord­ing to the in­vi­ta­tion, the news ini­tia­tive was re­quested by Sergei Kiriyenko, the first deputy chief of staff in the pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A spokesman for Kiriyenko did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. The en­ergy min­istry also did not re­spond, nor did Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Reuters sent re­quests for com­ment to the big­gest five com­pa­nies out of the 45, by mar­ket value – state-owned oil ma­jor Ros­neft, state-owned gas gi­ant Gazprom, pri­vate oil com­pa­nies Lukoil and Surgut­neftegaz, and pri­vate gas firm No­vatek. No re­sponses were re­ceived. OIL AND GAS pro­vide Rus­sia’s big­gest source of rev­enue and en­ergy firms are among the most pow­er­ful com­pa­nies and big­gest em­ploy­ers. Reuters has not found ev­i­dence that sim­i­lar in­struc­tions were sent to com­pa­nies in other sec­tors.

The Oct. 12 meet­ing was chaired by Deputy En­ergy Min­is­ter An­ton Inyut­syn, and an of­fi­cial from the pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion was also present, ac­cord­ing to one of the sources who at­tended. The two of­fi­cials went through and ex­plained the in­struc­tions laid out in the seven-page doc­u­ment, said the source, who added that the elec­tion was not men­tioned.

Reuters re­ported in Fe­bru­ary that the min­istry had en­listed en­ergy com­pa­nies to give it ad­vance no­tice about de­vel­op­ments that could in­flu­ence pub­lic opin­ion.

The meet­ing last month and the guide­lines cir­cu­lated in prepa­ra­tion for it show that, since then, the ini­tia­tive has stepped up into a higher gear, with com­pa­nies be­ing handed highly spe­cific in­struc­tions on how they are ex­pected to help.

It was not clear if the com­pa­nies had acted on the in­struc­tions.

The news guide­lines doc­u­ment said the gov­ern­ment wanted to high­light “vic­to­ries and achieve­ments.”

It in­cluded a nine-point list of the kind of news that com­pa­nies should sup­ply. It asked, for ex­am­ple, for sto­ries about busi­ness units “where it’s pos­si­ble to say that state sup­port helped lift them out of cri­sis, re­stored mod­ern pro­duc­tion, and re-equipped them with new equip­ment and gave work to lo­cal res­i­dents.”

Ex­am­ples given of the kind of events of in­ter­est to the gov­ern­ment from else­where in the cor­po­rate world in­cluded state lender Sber­bank hir­ing 700 peo­ple in the Volga river city of Togli­atti, a fes­ti­val funded by a com­pany in Kalin­ingrad re­gion for young peo­ple with hear­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and a sports cen­ter be­ing opened in Cherkessk, south­ern Rus­sia.

The doc­u­ment also held up the case of Yevgeny Kos­min as an ex­am­ple of a pos­i­tive news story, a miner in western Siberia whose team ex­tracted 1.6 mil­lion tons of coal in July this year, a monthly record.

That car­ried echoes of Alexey Stakhanov, a miner who in 1935 ex­tracted al­most 15 times more coal dur­ing a shift than his quota re­quired. Com­mu­nist pro­pa­ganda held Stakhanov up as a sym­bol of Soviet in­dus­trial prow­ess.

The in­struc­tions stip­u­lated that com­pa­nies should sub­mit pos­i­tive news sto­ries ev­ery week – on the Mon­day, or Tues­day morn­ing at the lat­est.

They said the com­pa­nies should present their items in the for­mat of a ta­ble, with new ad­di­tions high­lighted in a col­ored font, and ac­com­pa­nied by a press re­lease that could be passed on to jour­nal­ists with min­i­mal edit­ing from gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

The doc­u­ment also re­quired each com­pany to pro­vide a con­tact per­son who could pro­vide extra in­for­ma­tion to jour­nal­ists, tell TV news crews how to reach the venue to re­port on an event, and or­ga­nize ac­cess for news crews to the com­pany’s sites.

Reuters was not able to es­tab­lish if the Kremlin had made sim­i­larly spe­cific de­mands of com­pa­nies in the past.

Putin has not yet de­clared his in­ten­tion to seek re-elec­tion. Most Kremlin ob­servers say he will. Opin­ion polls show he will win com­fort­ably, with many vot­ers cred­it­ing him with restor­ing na­tional pride.

The Kremlin’s big­gest headache with the elec­tion, sched­uled for next March, is en­sur­ing a strong turnout, say many po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts.

With the econ­omy weak and many peo­ple view­ing the re­sult as a fore­gone con­clu­sion, vot­ers may be tempted to stay away from polling sta­tions. A low turnout could un­der­mine Putin’s le­git­i­macy in his next term, the an­a­lysts say.


RUS­SIAN PRIME MIN­IS­TER Vladimir Putin ar­rives at the Yurkharovvskoye nat­u­ral gas field, run by the coun­try’s largest gas pro­ducer, No­vatek, in this 2010 photo. Above, No­vatek’s com­pany logo is seen at their Moscow sales of­fice

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