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Russian Military Launches New TV Channel

  • Bill Gasperini

Russian television viewers will soon have another choice on their TV dial: a channel set up by the defense ministry. Backers of the new station say it will offer a more positive view of Russia.

Russian military officials say the new channel aims to promote "patriotic values" and programs that focus on military issues and history.

Known as "Zvyozda," or Star TV, the station's programming will include movies, concerts and even cartoons taken from a vast archive of material dating back to the Soviet era.

The channel is a special project of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who has long criticized Russia's existing TV channels as being too negative, even though all major networks are under state control.

The military says it wants to counter the negative trend in television by offering programs that promote a "positive image" of the country. The defense ministry hopes the station will appeal to young people and encourage them to consider joining the armed forces.

Morale in Russia's military ranks has long been low due to chronic underfunding. And young conscripts are often the victims of brutal hazing, further tarnishing the military's image.

But the general director of Zvyozda TV, Sergei Savushkin says he hopes to change that by giving Russians a reason to be proud of their country and its military.

He says the channel should be native, patriotic Russian. He says he has a five-year-old son, and he wants him to be proud of Russia, just as he was proud of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Savushkin says that, at first, the channel will broadcast only in Moscow and its surrounding region, but there are plans to expand it to the rest of the country.

He says that, even though the station will be run by the military, start-up funding comes from private sources and eventually the channel will become a commercial enterprise.

Critics say the channel is likely to serve as a propaganda tool for the defense ministry.

Valentina Melnikova heads a group known as the Soldiers' Mothers' Committee, which has called attention to abuses in the military. She doubts the station will be able to boost military morale.

Patriotism cannot be promoted in this way, she says. Love for one's homeland is an intimate feeling that has nothing to do with the slavery of Russia's military service.

The military isn't the only institution in Russia seeking a new broadcast outlet.

The Orthodox Church recently announced it would also like to form a TV channel because of what officials say is the need to promote proper morality, especially among the country's youth.

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