Reporters Without Borders today voiced concern after presidential election monitoring by the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) showed outgoing President Vladimir Putin and his chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev strongly benefitting from broadcast media coverage in their favour.

“The results of the monitoring show that candidates to the presidential elections are not getting an equal share of coverage in the last weeks of campaigning,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said in a press-release, forwarded to UNIAN.

Putin and Medvedev were getting both more and better quality coverage. “Russians gets most of their news from TV, so one can reasonably ask if the people can form an unbiased opinion on the candidates and vote in an informed manner”, it said.

“The lack of pluralism in the broadcast sector appears to be more than ever an inescapable obstacle to democratisation of the country. The next president must act urgently to put this right”, it added.

The CJES today released results of its monitoring of media coverage of candidates for the 2 March presidential election as well as of the outgoing president on prime time television (from 6pm to midnight) on five TV stations for the period 2-25 February.

It also analysed the attitude of the programmes (positive, neutral or negative). Three of the monitored channels - Pervy Kanal, Rossia and Tv Tsentr are state-controlled and two, NTV and Ren TV are privately-owned.

The study concluded that Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev were overwhelming visible on Russian TV screens. On four out of the five monitored channels, their joint coverage was never lower than 85.5% and even reached 97.5 % on NTV.

The only channel to have achieved a more balanced coverage, Ren Tv, gave 51. 6% of its coverage to the two. With the exception of Democratic Party candidate Andrei Bogdanov (6.3 %), the three other candidates had 20 and 21% of airtime. The channel also marked itself out in terms of the content of issues broadcast, which were sometimes negative for Vladimir Jirinovski of the Liberal Democrat Party (LDPR) and Vladimir Putin. In addition, Ren Tv demonstrated the highest level of neutrality, completely at odds with the other four.

Putin and Medvedev were very largely linked to positive programmes on Pervy Kanal for example (3 hours 15 minutes for Putin out of about three hours 45 minutes programming and one hour 45 minutes out of a little over two hours for Medvedev).

In another example, NTV devoted a massive share of relevant programmes to the pair (97.5%, with 1 hour 30 minutes of programmes for Putin and nearly 1 hour 15 minutes for his probable successor), but it was chiefly neutral in terms of issues broadcast.

Four candidates are standing for president in the 2 March poll: Dmitry Medvedev (United Russia, backed by Vladimir Putin), Gennady Zyuganov (Communist Party), Vladimir Jirinovski (Liberal Democratic Party, nationalist) and Andrei Bogdanov (Democratic Party - pro-European). Polls put Medvedev, current first deputy prime minister and chairman of the gas monopoly Gazprom in a strong lead.