DATE=8/24/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA SUB / MEDIA ROLE NUMBER=5-46907 BYLINE=LAURIE KASSMAN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: The Kursk nuclear submarine disaster may have highlighted the dangerous deterioration of Russia's military machinery. But it has also widened the gap between the government's reliance on secrecy and society's push for openness. What role has the Russian media played? V-O-A Correspondent Laurie Kassman explores the Russian media's battle for ratings and responsibility in its coverage of the Kursk disaster. TEXT: Most official information about the Kursk nuclear submarine accident has been confused and contradictory. Not surprising, says journalist Masha Lipman of the independent magazine, Itogi. From the start, she says the government tried to control and manipulate coverage to protect the military's pride and to hide its inadequacies. Only state T-V had access to the accident site and President Vladimir Putin's stormy session with angry relatives of the Kursk crew, which was carefully edited to play down the hostility. Still, Miss Lipman says the independent media managed to break through the barriers. /// LIPMAN ACT ONE /// The coverage was quite professional, with many publications. There was reporting, analysis, opinion, everything. When the authorities would not give the list of those who were on the Kursk submarine, one of the Russian papers procured the list. /// END ACT /// Editor Mikhail Berger of the newspaper Segodnya insists the media's rage over the government's handling of the disaster was not aimed at President Vladimir Putin but at what he represents. /// BERGER ACT ONE /// It's more than a conflict between Putin and the media. It's conflict between Soviet style of relations between power and the people and the new feeling and new construction of a semi-open society, which Russia is now. /// END ACT /// Media analyst Alexei Pankin is more skeptical about the motivation and impact of the media coverage. He calls it the battle between ratings and responsibility. /// PANKIN ACT /// It's like the press is primarily working for their ratings and I expect that a lot of the public simply switched off television after reading the first or hearing that nobody was rescued. /// END ACT /// All the reports and criticism about the inept handling of the disaster still have not seriously damaged President Vladimir Putin's popularity. Journalist Masha Lipman says that has a lot to do with the public's access to information. She compares the impact of a mostly state-controlled television that reaches into the Russian heartland with a handful of liberal newspapers based in Moscow. /// LIPMAN ACT TWO /// We're talking about press runs of most newspapers of under 100-thousand copies, which means the impact on public opinion is very limited. And I think one should not be misled to think that because the press is so unanimously bitter, the public also is /// END ACT /// Still, some journalists like Mikhail Berger suggest a feisty media forces Russia's new leaders to react in ways their predecessors would not contemplate. /// OPT // BERGER ACT TWO /// The media now is trying to play a role representing society and they're trying to force the government to uncover all secrets connected with this tragedy. /// END OPT ACT /// In 1986, Russian leaders tightly controlled information and misled the public about the health risks of the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion. They offered no explanations, no apologies. In an action more commonly seen in Western democracies, President Putin has publicly accepted responsibility for the Kursk tragedy and promised a full investigation. Mr. Putin's interview on state T- V -- although carefully orchestrated -- did sharply contrast with his earlier silence. Political analysts say it could reflect Mr. Putin's growing awareness of the power of public opinion and an unshackled press. But independent journalists fear Mr. Putin's government will most probably move to curb the media and its criticism rather than respond to it. (Signed) NEB/LMK/JWH/JP 24-Aug-2000 12:53 PM LOC (24-Aug-2000 1653 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .