The President announced that he had signed an executive order on the creation of Public Television in Russia that will be launched on January 1, 2013 as part of the first multiplex (a set of free digital TV channels).
This is the fourth meeting of the working group. The previous meetings focused on the development of competition and entrepreneurship, combating corruption and human resources support for the civil service.
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Excerpts from transcript of meeting of the working group to develop the Open Government system
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon,
This is our final Open Government meeting in the current configuration.
Let me remind you that about two months ago, I signed an executive order establishing a working group to develop the Open Government system and to draft proposals on the new cabinet’s ten priority areas.
I believe a great deal of work has been done. Let me remind you of the areas we have been working on so far: human resources, combating corruption and measures to promote competition. We held three separate and very substantial meetings devoted to these issues. When I say that they were substantial, I’m not trying to flatter anyone: the number of proposals submitted at each of these meetings was simply overwhelming.
I signed lists of instructions following each of the meetings. Some of them were very bulky in size, consisting of several dozen items. All that remains to do now is to wait until these instructions are executed. Some of these tasks must be carried out now, in the current configuration, whereas the others will probably be executed by the new Government.
The instructions focused on the main themes we had discussed: the state’s presence in the economy, improvement of legislation, including criminal and criminal procedure laws, human resources policies in the civil service, and other suggestions made by the experts.
”The Open Government forms new requirements to state officials. I hope that the solutions we have arrived at over the past two months will be in demand in the future, and not only at the state level, not only at the federal level, but also in the regions and cities, because it concerns the state system as a whole.“
I would also like to note that the Open Government forms new requirements to state officials. I hope that the solutions we have arrived at over the past two months will be in demand in the future, and not only at the state level, not only at the federal level, but also in the regions and cities, because it concerns the state system as a whole.
Our meeting today is devoted to a more practical matter and one that in my opinion is equally important. Today we will discuss the mechanisms of interaction between the Open Government and the Government of the Russian Federation, and, ultimately, the mechanisms of interaction between civil society and the state apparatus. I would like to hear your opinions on this issue, as well as your proposals. I have looked through them when preparing for this meeting and they are quite extensive as usual and very interesting. So, let’s talk about this but before we start our discussion I believe it would be right to begin our meeting today with an important announcement.
I would like to inform you that today I signed an executive order on the creation of Public Television in Russia, which will be launched on January 1, 2013. The executive order stipulates a number of measures designed to ensure that it will indeed be public, and not some other form of television (that is, it will not be a state television channel, in the narrow sense of the word, but a public television channel), as well as measures to protect it from undue state influence on the activities of this public institution, because the state has an impact on everything, but this impact must not be excessive.
We will also have to set up a mechanism for financing the Public Television channel. At the start, the Government will probably have to get involved by issuing loans, but later the loans should be replaced by an endowment fund, which will finance the television channel so that it will not have to turn to the state for help, which is probably the best guarantee – the best but not the only one.
”Today I signed an executive order on the creation of Public Television in Russia, which will be launched on January 1, 2013.“
The Public Television Council will be the main administrative body to be formed through the Civic Chamber and will represent all the political forces in Russia. Incidentally, this executive order states directly that civil servants, individuals holding public offices, including senior government positions, members of the State Duma and the Federation Council, and anyone employed by the state in one form or another cannot join the Public Television Council.
So, Russia will get a new mandatory free national channel de jure. I hope that it will provide fascinating viewing, at least for everyone who has an interest in public life, because people have different tastes and different ideas about what they would like to watch on television. Nevertheless, I hope that this channel will be interesting for a discerning audience.
I have also signed another executive order on including the new public television channel in the first multiplex, that is, in the first set of digital TV channels. The digitalisation of our television is currently in progress and will be completed by 2015. The inclusion of the Public Television Channel in the first multiplex, the first set of programmes, means that it will be available free of charge across our whole country.
”The Public Television Council will be the main administrative body to be formed through the Civic Chamber and will represent all the political forces in Russia.“
Of the things said today, one thing I agree with absolutely is about the authorities explaining their actions. This is indeed the authorities’ weak point, and this goes not just for the Russian authorities. Let’s not specially single out Russia here, because in other countries governments also do not explain their actions. Governments have legitimacy – let’s not forget this — legitimacy that resides in having obtained the voters’ trust, and many people in positions of power therefore think that they are not obliged to provide explanations because the voters have already given them a legitimate mandate to act. Partly this problem comes too, from people’s failure to wake up and realise that we are living in the twenty-first century.
Fifteen-twenty years ago, I too could not really conceive of any other way of government, true, I did not have any direct connection to government at that time. But now I agree completely that government in the broad sense, as an institution and means of organising and governing people, should change in accordance with developments in the world, that is, take into account the emergence of new global communications technology and people’s demands for trust in their authorities and fairness and justice.
I do not see anything in this that tarnishes our country or any other society, after all, a sense of justice is one of the strongest human emotions, and a feeling of injustice, too. Government simply has to change and develop. At the same time, I would not underestimate the importance of what you said in this respect. You said that it would be a bad thing if we made only cosmetic changes, polished up the surface, and went no further. I agree, but let me say that the interface itself is also tremendously important. Sometimes the interface determines the actions and not the other way round, and the interface can change in such a way that the authorities, or whoever else, can no longer act within the familiar system of references. They want to close off, say, withdraw into their shells, but it turns out that this is no longer possible because the interface has changed.
”Government in the broad sense, as an institution and means of organising and governing people, should change in accordance with developments in the world, that is, take into account the emergence of new global communications technology and people’s demands for trust in their authorities and fairness and justice.“
Who could have imagined 20 years ago that the president, no matter what his name, would speak with the country in live broadcasts? It was not possible because the technology for this did not exist earlier, and such action would not have been very typical for the president. But now we all see this as something totally ordinary, nothing surprising at all, and many people do not even watch such broadcasts and say, “We’ve already heard all this before from them, why watch them now?” But once, such broadcasts were a real news explosion.
New means and forms emerge, and the authorities must accept this changing interface as the model it will use for communicating with people, and it must take part, too, as an independent player, in helping to shape this interface.
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I try not to separate the lawyer from the president in me, though this is a rather hopeless endeavour, because if I start trying to split myself into two or three, the result would be rather sad and I fear you’d have to call an ambulance. But let me answer you nevertheless. Of course people and various segments of public opinion form the impression that this or that construction might be legal, but in their minds is unfair. Why does this happen?
The first situation is when there is a real conflict between the letter of the law and changing social relations. What can we do here? We can change the law to make it fairer in accordance with today’s changing understandings.
The second situation is when there seems to be a contradiction, but what is needed is simply to explain with more clarity the sense and purpose of the law. This is a task for the authorities, lawyers, and courts. But situations in which society perceives contradictions between what it sees as unfair laws and the notion of general justice and fairness are quite common in any country. I think that in such cases we simply need to be reasonable in our approach and change the laws if necessary.
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The authorities can communicate only with people who actually want to communicate. They may not like, or even despise the authorities, but they are ready to talk. If people do not want communication, it doesn’t matter what you do, put on a show, sing and dance even, meet with different people every single day: they’ll never be happy. This position has the right to exist and merits our respect too. These people have one means of influencing the situation – to vote for a different government if they do not like the one in power. This is all perfectly normal. But with those who wish to communicate, who are ready to talk, we need to build a dialogue, realising, at the same time, that we cannot perform miracles in a space of mere weeks or months, and that everything we do is already based on certain ideas and principles.
”We need to reflect now on how to change not just the people but also our work’s technical organisation and support. This could actually be a far more complex task than finding competent people to fill various posts.“
I just signed Executive Order on Public Television, as I already said. From the moment I first proposed this idea in December, many people, respected people, said, “This has already been and gone. There’s no point in doing it now. It should have been done earlier, five years ago, but now the boat has left and there’s no need for public television. We have the internet and other communication tools. The authorities are just tossing us a specially prepared useless project so that we stop going out onto the streets to demonstrate,” and so on.
We cannot accomplish anything with this kind of mood, because if there is no confidence right from the start that this institution will work, then of course the project will fail. But at the same time, we must show through our actions and behaviour that this is not an old sweet in a new wrapping and nothing more, not an imitation. We must show and prove that this institution will really work and will have its place in the system of public communications. I do not think it will play any extraordinary role, actually.
Public Television will not replace the internet because the internet is already its own thing. But it could be a potentially useful and interesting means of receiving information for a large number of people interested in political and social life, and for the political class. Time will tell.
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Today’s discussion concerned some dry but nonetheless very important issues such as how to make the Open Government’s work technically effective, so that its efforts do not disappear into the depths of the new government cabinet, no matter how progressive, modern, and radically renewed it may be. Every bureaucratic system has its own laws after all, as you are well aware, and these laws can sometimes change the perceptions of even the most progressive-minded people. I will not name any names, but I have seen examples before my very eyes when people’s views changed from one extreme to the other within a matter of months, so that they’d come and say, “no, having thought about it now, we’re not going to change this after all, we’re not going to give anything away, I’m not going to do this.”
So, where do we go from here? This is probably the most important question, and it concerns not just the current authorities, not just the federal authorities, but government in general in our country. It might seem that it is enough to change the people to change everything else as well, but the older ones among us remember very clearly the events of the late 1980s-early 1990s. I was still very young then, and it seemed to me that all we needed to do was to get rid of the Communist Party bureaucrats that everyone was sick and tired of anyway, and everything would change overnight.
I remember very clearly the new executive authorities that emerged and what things were like then. Of course the system was less effective than its predecessor, and not because the new people were bad, but simply because, although they were new people, the decision-making system was still the old one. Many people – whether in power or among the general public – still kept their old values. The objectives the new authorities set themselves were also in large part unchanged, even if some new mechanisms were proposed.
”My colleagues and I have made an honest effort to keep ourselves open to all proposals. Those who wanted to put forward their proposals and were ready to take part, even if on their terms and conditions, in making changes to our public life, have obtained this right.“
We need to reflect now on how to change not just the people but also our work’s technical organisation and support. This could actually be a far more complex task than finding competent people to fill various posts.
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Next, we come to the expert council. I think the idea is good and interesting, and it is something I have spoken of too. My only wish is that this expert council should be not just a body of experts in the broad sense of the term, but should be divided into subgroups or categories, including extremely important groups such as the business community. After all, if the prime minister is going to meet regularly with this expert group, at least once a month, the discussions need to be about substance, and not just about general ideological concepts for reform or prospective draft laws. The expert council should thus include several subgroups, probably on a rotation basis.
We could have 150–200 experts, say, with regular rotation taking place: we’d invite new businesspeople, new members of the science, culture, and education communities. This would help us to reach new objectives and would prevent the council’s members from seeing themselves as members of some permanent privileged body. We already have various councils, presidential councils too – I know their work well. Their members include highly respected people with great achievements to their names, people who have contributed much to developing science, education and culture, but the extent of their participation in public processes is close to zero because of their age and the proposals they make. What we need therefore is a council that will not be some fossil, but an effective living body.
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The last thing today is that I want to thank all of you for your work over these two months. I thank all of the experts (both present and absent today), my colleagues from the Government and the Presidential Executive Office, everyone who shares the current political team’s views, and also those of you who do not share our views.
My colleagues and I have made an honest effort to keep ourselves open to all proposals. Those who wanted to put forward their proposals and were ready to take part, even if on their terms and conditions, in making changes to our public life, have obtained this right. Those who want to speak from the tribune and pursue political activity have not come, of course. There is nothing surprising in this, and it is nothing bad either for the authorities or for these people. It is simply their personal choice. But I want to say a sincere thanks to those who decided to take part in our work, despite political and ideological differences, because I think this work is useful for us all and ultimately useful for the country.
Thanks to all of you.