Vladimir Putin: Good morning.
First of all, I would like to congratulate all of you on your professional holiday. On this day in 1703 Peter the Great signed a decree to establish the first newspaper.
This provides a good occasion for discussing the problems you have to face in your daily work. We had no opportunity to assemble before the New Year, so I would like to wish you a happy New Year, and to you and your teams and all those who have cast in their lot with the press in Russia I wish all the best, happiness, prosperity and excellent professional results because the morale of society depends heavily on how you do your work. We know this only too well.
There are many problems in this sphere. I suggest that we discuss all the issues that are of concern to you. My colleagues, I mean representatives of the Presidential Executive Office, and myself will try to be totally frank and discuss all the questions that you will raise, I repeat, any questions that are of concern to you. We have a lot of debates on the freedom of the press, so let us talk about that too.
Perhaps you would agree with me that in spite of everything, one can say, paraphrasing Mark Twain, that the report on the death of the free press has been grossly exaggerated, if only because many of you have different opinions about everything that is happening inside the country and different opinions about our foreign policy initiatives and moves. And you sometimes, indeed rather often, express these opinions in a very sharp and critical manner. The authorities swallow it. Moreover, I have to tell you that it is good for the authorities at any level, because it forces one to react to the mistakes that authorities sometimes make. We are ready to discuss that topic as well and look at it from every angle.
We talk a lot about the single economic space and the single legal space. Perhaps we should remember that in the beginning was the word. I think when we talk about the unity of the Russian state it would be no exaggeration to say that its unity begins with a clear formulation of the goals and tasks of society, the goals and tasks of the state. The common information space is of paramount importance in uniting the state and creating an integral and single state. I invite you to express your opinions on that topic too.
The only area where discussion is impossible is the dissemination of unlawful or extremist ideas. It is perhaps the only ban that the state can impose on the media.
I suppose I must say something about the regional press. And I must begin by saying that the national media outlets, unfortunately, devote little space to covering the life of the regions. The life of the regions is only mentioned when there are scandals, especially in catering to political interests during election campaigns. For the rest the central press hardly has anything to say about the life of the provinces. And the provincial media, unfortunately, is not in a position to cover impartially, fully and professionally the key aspects in the activities of the state and the problems of the federal centre. It is not their fault.
So there is a regional aspect in the activities of the national media outlets and the national aspect in the regional press. I suggest that we address that problem too.
And finally, an important body of questions has to do with the economic and legal foundations of the activities of the mass media: here we can discuss the customs problems, the levying of VAT on advertising, the responsibility of the founders and owners of media outlets and the rights of media professionals in this context.
Apparently, insufficient regulation in that sphere accounts for the fact that some periodicals in Moscow today cost three or even five times less than in other Russian regions, in other cities of the Russian Federation, even some large cities.
That is the range of issues I propose for discussion. Of course, if you think there are other problems that are vital, my colleagues and I will be ready to discuss the topics that you will raise.
That is all I wanted to say for starters. And I suggest that we go round the table, as it has happened more than once at our meetings. We will then summarise everything and respond to everything you say.