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Speech at Opening Ceremony of the 59th World Newspaper Congress

June 5, 2006

State Kremlin Palace, Moscow

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

It gives me sincere pleasure to welcome you all here to Russia, to welcome the top people in the newspaper world and representatives of the World Association of Newspapers from more than 100 countries. 

We see your presence here as a sign of your real and sincere interest in our country. I was very pleased to hear that, despite attempts from some quarters to dissuade you and frighten you away, the press has shown its sense of responsibility and you have come here to Moscow. This makes us very happy and I thank you for it. 

Present here today are people who have a great influence on the global information agenda. You have an important range of issues to discuss. These include not only the purely professional matters facing the newspaper business, but also global trends that have an impact on the mass mediaís development in the world today. 

Everyone can see that the preferences of todayís readers have undergone radical change. Today you find yourselves having to compete not only with television but also with other electronic media that are developing so fast they are setting a new pace and are shaping a new way of life for millions of people around the planet.

Over the course of its long history the newspaper business has already overcome difficult stages in its development. But at all times the press has always kept its readers loyal and interested thanks to its capacity for new ideas and innovative approaches, strategies and business models. At the same time, it has always preserved the traditions unique to the print media.

Today, newspapers and magazines continue to explain to their readers what is taking place in the world. They offer a tribune for far-reaching comments and for the expression of a diverse range of opinions. Most importantly, they bring news about peopleís daily lives, successes, concerns and hopes right to their readersí homes.

It is perhaps for this reason that millions of your readers like to open their favourite publications every morning. The habit of reading the morning paper remains a ritual that cannot be parted with. It is a ritual for people from all social backgrounds, generations and walks of life.

* * *

Dear colleagues,

Three years ago we celebrated the 300th anniversary of the publication of Russiaís first newspaper, Vedomosti. Over the three centuries since that time, our press has lived through moments of glory, development and also some very difficult times.

You know what a significant historical turning point Russia found itself at in the beginning of the 1990s. The countryís political regime and economic system underwent radical change. I think that not everyone has yet realised the full scale of these changes.

Here we are today in this hall that used to be called the Palace of Congresses of the Communist Party. We are here discussing freedom of the press, in quite a critical manner, too, and we, the hosts, are listening to what our guests have to say. Just recently, ten, twenty, fifteen years ago, this would have been unthinkable. True, this hall still sees its share of Bolsheviks, but t  now ihey are here n a different capacity.

Peopleís views of the world and their life and career priorities have also changed. These immense transformations would not have been possible without a free press. Here in this audience I would like to underscore how the press has played not just an important but an irreplaceable role in forming the new Russia.

Our people made a conscious choice in favour of democracy. Freedom of the media remains one of the most important guarantees of this choice. This is our valued achievement and it has been fixed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation. As for our Law on Mass Media, adopted back in 1991, it is recognised as one of the most liberal in the world.

It is clear that civilised development of the mass media depends not only on the state, which sets the legislative rules. Also of great importance is the ability of journalists, editors and publishers to organise themselves. The economic organisations that finance the activities of newspapers and magazines and the commercial success of publications themselves can also have a huge impact on editorial policy. 

The 1990s was a period that saw capital from all sources arrive on the emerging Russian media market. Sometimes this capital came from sources that hardly qualify as transparent. And the owners of this capital often had their own interests to pursue, interests far removed from the publicís demands. This issue was just spoken about before. I would like to confirm the words that we just heard and say that freedom of the press at that time in Russia was indeed under threat, not from the former state ideology that once held a monopoly on expression, but from the dictates of oligarchic capital.

This was a critically difficult period for journalists and for the chief editors. It was a difficult period for all of Russian society and for Russian democracy.

The Russian press has now gathered solid experience of working in a competitive market environment. Of course, learning how to competently combine media ideals and a flourishing commercial enterprise is no easy task.

Many countries face similar problems. The search for a balance of interests between journalists, business, the state and society is going on everywhere. After all, an economically independent and socially responsible press is a condition and guarantee for the fair and progressive development of society.

Mention was also made here of low levels of trust in the media in some countries, including in Russia.

* * *

Dear colleagues, state decisions alone are not enough to raise public trust in the press. The press itself must become responsible.

From year to year increasingly favourable conditions are emerging in Russia for media development. One of these conditions is economic growth and an increase in peopleís living standards. 

In terms of gross domestic product growth, Russia has been among the world leaders for several years now. We now have the opportunity to carry out large-scale national projects and resolve urgent problems in education, healthcare, agriculture, housing construction and a number of other areas. 

The media market in Russia is also demonstrating its immense potential. It is one of the recognised world leaders in terms of growth today. Investment in the periodicals market exceeds $1 billion a year. This is a solid figure for Russia.

Of course, when competition is tough media companies change their strategies. More and more media companies are developing as multi-profile holdings. Mr OíReilly [President of the World Association of Newspapers] spoke about the increasing state presence in the media. I have different information on this point. The stateís share in the Russian press market is decreasing all the time. This is easy to verify. The number of publications, meanwhile, is constantly on the increase.

Of course, as in practically any other country in the world, here too there is a constant battle going on between the state and its interests, as understood by civil servants, the public and the press. This is the case in almost all countries, indeed, I would say in all countries, including in Russia. But I think you will agree with me that in a country that today counts 53,000 periodical publications, we could not control them all even if we wanted to. Even if the state had such a desire it would be impossible. There are more than 3,000 TV and radio companies in Russia. Of course, we do have our problems nonetheless.

What is really impressive is the diversity and quantity of the regional press, which the experts say readers tend to prefer. To give just one example, that of Russiaís Nizhny Novgorod Region, 147 new newspapers and magazines were registered there last year alone. And this is not an exception. Newspapers and magazines all around the country are undergoing rapid growth.

The community of journalists, editors and publishers is becoming better organised and more influential with every passing year. It has a leading role to play in creating a professional and socially responsible press.

And of course, as always, our country continues to value highly talent, honesty and courage on the part of journalists.

I just watched this little film now and thought about all of your colleagues who have not spared anything, not their health or time or sometimes even their lives in order to serve society, and I bow low before them. 

At the same time, I would like to note that cruelty in this world can be found in every area of life and not just in the area of your work. I am certain that if we work together in solidarity and help each other, these kinds of problems will be fewer. 

I wish you all productive and fruitful discussions, and of course I wish you plenty of bright impressions of these warm days in Moscow and Russia.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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