DATE=3/15/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA ELECT / MEDIA NUMBER=5-45648 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=BELAYA KALITVA, RUSSIA CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia's presidential race is shaping up as an almost certain victory for Acting President Vladimir Putin. Even though the former K-G-B spy has announced he will not campaign, he still dominates the state-run television channels that most Russians depend on for news. On a trip through the rural southern Russian countryside, Correspondent Peter Heinlein found voters ready to support Mr. Putin, even though they know little about him. TEXT: /// SFX OF TELEVISION IN BACKGROUND /// Televisions are turned on in Russia's small towns and villages. T-V is one of the few ways of keeping in touch with the outside world. Newspapers are rare in these far-flung regions. Invariably, the T-V sets are tuned to one of the two state-run channels. For most people, it is all they can receive. Russia's main independent station, N-T- V, is only available in about half the country. Journalist Alexander Yevreinov covers events in southern Russia for the Moscow newspaper "Vremya M-N". He says government-controlled television stations have a near monopoly on news about this month's presidential election. /// YEVREINOV ACT /// People get their information about the candidates not from local media, but from the national T-V channels. And in this sense, Mr. Putin gets an unfair advantage. /// END ACT // SFX OF PUTIN ON T-V, THEN FADE./// Vladimir Putin was practically unknown to Russians seven-months ago when he was appointed Prime Minister. Today, he is a regular presence on television. His 11-opponents for the presidency, by contrast, must depend almost entirely on the few minutes of free airtime granted by the state to get their message to potential voters. The publicity mismatch is so one-sided that Mr. Putin can afford the luxury of refusing the free T-V time. Mr. Putin went a step further, saying he would not have any campaign ads at all. /// PUTIN ACT IN RUSSIAN, THEN FADE.// OPT /// Commercials are the worst. They are just advertisements. I believe that during the election campaign, it is inappropriate to be engaged in finding out which one is more important, feminine hygiene products or chocolate bars. So, I will not do it. /// END VOICEOVER // END OPT /// Rather than irritating potential voters, Mr. Putin's anti-publicity stand has proven highly popular. Anatoly Andreevich, a retired military pilot living in Belaya Kalitva nearly one-thousand-kilometers south of Moscow, brushed aside suggestions Mr. Putin's position gives him an unfair advantage. /// ANDREEVICH ACT IN RUSSIAN, THEN FADE. /// One thing I like about Mr. Putin is that he refused to advertise himself before the elections. He said `I do not need it. I need to work.' /// END ACT /// // OPT // Thirty-seven year old Valery Vyborov is an automobile mechanic in Belaya Kalitva. He, too, admits that everything he knows about Vladimir Putin he has learned from the state-run T-V. And he says he likes what he sees. // VYBOROV ACT IN RUSSIAN, THEN FADE...// I can only judge by his actions. He is a former K-G-B man, and they do not hire just anyone. He has a strong will, and he seems fair and honest. Russia needs someone like that at the moment. /// END ACT // END OPT /// But there are others who see danger signs in the media's one-sided coverage. Department store manager Lyudmilla Sudarkina is one. She says what is happening now, when the state media builds up one candidate and ridicules others, brings back disturbing memories of the tactics used in the old days to discredit people, such as Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. /// SUDARKINA ACT IN RUSSIAN, THEN./// I remember everyone was laughing at Sakharov. Everyone thought he was crazy. But later we were told he was great. When we finally found out Sakharov was right, my husband and I were horrified. We could not believe it. Now it is happening again. We are confused and we do not know which line is correct. /// END ACT /// /// OPT /// In Belaya Kalitva, and all through the Russian heartland where state-T-V dominates, Vladimir Putin's non-campaign is catching on. In a nation once skeptical, even cynical, of the state-run media, there is a willingness to believe Mr. Putin can lead them out of their misery, and re-establish Russia's greatness. /// END OPT /// Journalist Alexander Yevreinov says he finds it ironic that people who fought hard for the principle of press freedom now stand idly by while it seems to slip away. /// 2nd YEVREINOV ACT /// The time of Gorbachev was a golden age for the Soviet mass media, the Glasnost era. Of course, there is much less freedom now. /// END ACT // SFX OF TV IN BACKGROUND, THEN UNDER TO./// Mr. Yevreinov says he only hopes there is not a further tightening of media controls after Mr. Putin is elected. But the candidate has revealed little about his plans. When asked recently if he would make drastic changes after the election, Mr. Putin bluntly replied - I will not tell you. (SIGNED) NEB/PFH/GE/RAE 15-Mar-2000 09:48 AM EDT (15-Mar-2000 1448 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .