“The TEFI organisers could have quite openly said: ‘The award goes to the propagandist so-and-so…’”

TV critic Aleksandr Melman on the vague future of the country’s major TV award

“The TEFI organisers could have quite openly said: ‘The award goes to the propagandist so-and-so…’” Photo: stmegi.com

One of the founders of the country’s major TV award — TEFI — and member of the TV academy Vladimir Pozner has left the jury. He explained it with the disagreement with the procedure of how winners of the award are defined. He also claimed that the award became “an absolutely ordinary prize among dozens of other”. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, famous TV critic Aleksandr Melman talks about the seriousness of this news is for the TV community and if we can agree with the evaluation of the elder of Russian TV journalism.

“As a result, some channels began to completely mistrust other channels”

Mr Melman, why was TEFI in general created 25 years ago? Because people would watch almost everything on TV during those years, and the recognition of the audience and the popularity of television masters were huge, salaries were high. Nevertheless, a competition that became overgrown with new scandals was needed. Were maybe any special goals in 1994?

I don’t think there were special goals 25 years ago. Special goals appear during a process, but, as a rule, it is a human story: a firm or association is very often built with some noble goals, then everything goes down the pan for different reasons, but more often because of human imperfection. But TEFI was needed in 1994. Our television as well as large organisations in other countries united into different associations considered quite fairly that a corporate award was important in Russia, too. Yes, the audience has favourites, and it was important, without doubt. But it was important to choose the best in a corporation because it existed around the world — in national cinematography, national literature and on national television.

Then everything changes for political, corporate reasons. Yes, there is one award, but there are different corporations, that’s to say, channel. And here a “race for medals” began, and complaints about the jury started: “Why was he awarded, not I?” Then Krylov’s Swan, Pike and Crawfish began — every channel pulled the cart to each one's side, and everything created 25 years ago collapsed. Other people took on the organisation of TEFI in a forced, bureaucratic way, not the Russian Television Academy, but the Committee for Industrial Television Awards that decided to save the award whatever the costs. But in 2014, it was important to recreate TEFI in certain political and historical conditions.

What came to the surface when awarding further TEFI prizes in the same journalism. Now many statuettes are given to allegedly reporters, allegedly hosts, while they aren't reporters and hosts in fact but propagandists. In 2019, the award’s organisers could have quite openly said: “The award goes to the propagandist so-and-so…” but don’t say, and I say about it. The organisers get offended because of it, but it’s their problem.

Photo: gazprom-media.com
TEFI was needed in 1994. Our television as well as large organisations in other countries united into different associations considered quite fairly that a corporate award was important in Russia, too

Why did these scandals and offence begin among TV academicians? Smart and experienced people are gathered in this community — Pozner, Lysenko, Shvydkoy, Sagalayev, other authoritative people, right?

You know, same Vladimir Pozner was fairly accused of being associated with Channel One, because everything turned on his vote in the most debatable moments of voting, and Pozner gave it to Channel One. I don’t doubt Pozner’s decency, but it is how it was.

Then the same academicians who represented different channels began to fight for statuettes like a champion’s medals because TEFI award suddenly became important and prestigious for channels, especially for their officials. Officials of channels began to be very proud of statuettes they won, but they were especially proud of their number because it was also in the collection, not only rankings. Officials of channels gradually began to interfere in the voting process, while academicians who represented channels had to vote corporately, for theirs.

With such an approach, academicians’ choice stopped being objective, and I perfectly understood why NTV and then the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company left the TV academy in the middle of the noughties. Why did they have to dig a hole with a bad game? Yes, the rules changed, but they had their own oddities, and they didn’t manage to achieve an ideal principle of voting approach. As a result, some channels mistrusted others, and I would say it is complete mistrust, while winners’ smiles were artificial and unnatural.

TV channels with academicians made the award so seriously that they began to take it too seriously. Academicians and officials of channels should have taken a step back and stayed aside, looked at themselves with self-irony, but this didn’t happen. There was ferocious seriousness, as Aksyonov wrote, and this shouldn’t be allowed anywhere.

Photo: tefitv.ru
Then the same academicians who represented different channels began to fight for statuettes like a champion’s medals because TEFI award suddenly became important and prestigious for channels, especially for their officials

“Oligarchic television of the 90s and current state television is it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other”

What’s the reason for such seriousness?

The parallel reality was needed. The rankings are one reality, they are important from a perspective of advertising, incomes. TEFI is the other reality. If we lose in the rankings, we certainly have to win in TEFI. TEFI had been killed before 2014 with the seriousness.

Has the seriousness remained? Has that ferocious and serious approach of channels to victory remained?

Look at the face of those who receive TEFI now and those who don’t but sit in the hall. These faces are very serious, these people want to win very much and are very satisfied when they get something. And they are offended when they are criticised, and they are offended seriously, and I understand them — there must be such an award anyway, but as I already said, journalism in political nominations died out a long time ago and became propaganda. And those who receive TEFI in political nominations betrayed the profession. However, these people “rule” the country and “rule” very smartly hammering what comes from the Kremlin into people’s heads.

While I have nothing on entertainment nominations — I am always glad when Maksim Galkin or Ivan Urgant get TEFI. Neither do I have nothing on series, educational and children’s programmes. It is very sad that Interview nomination was cancelled. I don’t understand it because there are a lot of deserving interviewers on television, a new people appear thanks to Yury Dud.

Doesn’t political broadcasting have any deserving TV worker to note?

It does, of course. For instance, Russia channel. Yes, the channel is state-owned, the channel where political broadcasting became propaganda, but at the same time when war correspondent of the channel Yevgeny Poddubny gets the award, and he is a reporter who has already been to all modern-day wars, it is correct, and I am personally glad for him. It is a brave, professional reporter, there is no room for propaganda in his field, he works just like a hero. And I will never say that if a person works on Russia channel, he doesn’t deserve TEFI. And I am also glad for Nailya Asker-zade — the genre layout of her programme with interviews Dramatis Personae is very correct.

Doesn’t it seem to you that we will see the same winners in key nominations in the next 5-7 years, for instance, Urgant, Galkin, Solovyov, Skabeyev with Popov and Norkin? Is it normal?

Yes, some nominations just have a short queue: you haven’t got the statuette now, you will get it in a year” (laughing). But TEFI must be like sport: if Spartak Moscow managed to annually win the country’s football championship in the 90s, the football players deservingly got these medals. If Urgant is the best, might he get TEFI. If Galkin is the best, might he get it. By the way, Galkin has improved in the last years and is already ahead of Urgant as both a host and a citizen.

The academicians, by the way, often “offended” Solovyov and granted him TEFI for the first time only a year ago. He was very satisfied. But I will repeat that I don’t have any complaints about him and his colleagues as propagandists. Might they propagate, but might they get the statuettes For Propaganda. Though I have to say to you that the programme of Russia channel Moscow. Kremlin. Putin is very deserving and good, its host notes many things in the air and hosts it correctly, accurately and suitable for touch conditions. But all journalists shouldn’t sing the same song and advertise the position and the government no matter what even on a state channel.

Photo: metronews.ru
The academicians, by the way, often “offended” Solovyov and granted him TEFI for the first time only a year ago. He was very satisfied. But I will repeat that I don’t have any complaints about him and his colleagues as propagandists. Might they propagate, but might they get the statuettes For Propaganda

Do you continue to believe in the academicians' objective choice?

The academicians understand everything, many of them began working the 90s and 2000s, and they knew about the freedom of journalists to a large extent. And though oligarchic television of the 90s and current state television is it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. But there was some competition and an alternative point of view there.

“Academicians become professional people and change for the better in regions”

So Pozner “got it” and left the jury of the award. Why?

Pozner said he understood everything like he got it only now when he saw the Russian television academy didn’t represent television as such. It is good he got it.

Is it correct to say it about all television in the country?

With due respect for Pozner, I have to say Mr Pozner isn’t a fighter. Everyone knows his mastery of compromise that at times takes us back to “good” times of International Broadcasting where Pozner worked after which he apologised and justified his position about the same sending in the troops to Czechoslovakia and so on.

But Pozner’s current actions don’t mean anything any more, it is a storm in the cup, and his departure from the TEFI jury isn’t even news. He should have left it four years ago when the situation with TEFI required it.

Can we say that now TEFI is very important for regional broadcasters like it used to be in the 90s?

We can. I have been often invited to TEFI Region’s jury, I have been here in Kazan, in other cities and seen a completely different attitude to TEFI among regional TV journalists, which made me glad. Despite the seriousness of the attitude of TEFI and Moscow TV workers, there is a real fight for the award in regions — even if authorities control television there stricter than in Moscow. TV workers’ serious attitude to creativity, professionalism is seen in regions, which I and my colleagues like.

Photo: nationmagazine.ru
Pozner’s current actions don’t mean anything any more, it is a storm in the cup, and his departure from the TEFI jury isn’t even news. He should have left it four years ago when the situation with TEFI required it

Do the TV academicians probably remain in the jury for the sake of regional TV?

Maybe, they go to regions with pleasure. And I see that they see their mission right there. Moscow gatherings of academicians when they evaluate works of federal television is a kind of bead throwing, and this all looks very superficially, and academicians in regions become serious and evaluate all works objectively and professionally. Academicians become professional people and change for the better in regions (laughing).

What are the prospects of TEFI?

The corporate award is needed, but it is a big question how much time it will take academicians to start voting correctly. 25 years have passed, and nothing has changed. This is why they won’t be able to do anything here.

Doesn’t the academicians’ intelligence have anything to do here?

The TEFI jury has had smart people from the very beginning, but smart people headed the country in February 1917 too. But they lost it within several months, figuratively speaking. Smart is a relative concept, and, as deceased General Lebed used to say, stupidity is also a kind of intelligence. Not only intelligence but also human nature is the case. Take America — rules of television awards haven’t changed for long, there are several thousands of TV academicians (Pozner thinks we should have the same number of academicians) and there is no row like “is it correct that I got the award, not you”, everything is objective. In Russia, human factor influences everything at the moment, and this affects TEFI, too.

Here TV academicians should learn from propagandists. They see all the deficiencies in the same American, Ukrainian and European politics and noticeably detect them, and they are right. And TV academicians would need such an approach.

By Sergey Kochnev