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Russians Break Soviet Monopoly on TV

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THE Russian Federation has launched its own television station, breaking the Kremlin's iron grip on information. But Russian officials say it will take time before the republic can compete on an equal basis with the tightly controlled central TV. In the Soviet Union, television is not only a form of entertainment but an important political tool. Breaking the Communist monopoly will help bolster Russia's radical government, led by Boris Yeltsin, in its battle for greater autonomy from central authorities.

"Russia is a vast republic and many people are entirely dependent on television for the information they receive," said Svyatoslav Fyodorov, a reform-minded member of the Soviet parliament. "Finally, the government of the Russian Federation will have the means to convey their views to the people."

Reformers are counting on the station to become a viable competitor to central television, which is headed by Leonid Kravchenko. But Oleg Popstov, Russian TV chief, says it won't happen overnight. "We are far from the point of winning the competition, even becoming a real competitor," he says.

For Russian TV, the toughest part is its dependence on central authorities. For example, it leases much of its equipment from the central TV and radio company.

Russian television began broadcasting May 13, with six hours and 15 minutes of programming daily. Uncensored programming is its main appeal, officials say. And so far, it appears to have lived up to Mr. Popstov's pledge to broadcast opposing points of view, particularly on controversial topics, such as the ethnic violence along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. In addition, the anchors on Vesti, the Russian station's information program, read the news in a rapid style - a refreshing alternative to the st a

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