In what way is the Spas public Orthodox TV channel unique? Who are its real viewers? These and other questions are answered by the general director of the channel, Alexander Batanov, in an interview to Alexey Sosedov of Interfax-Religion.
- How did the idea to create a separate Orthodox TV channel emerge and what tasks did you set yourselves?
- The idea emerged a little over a year ago and initially it was my friend Ivan Demidov who gave birth to it. I shared his concern and joined the efforts to realize this idea early this year.
Spas is a public Orthodox channel. It is worthwhile to underscore here that when His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II blessed our endeavour, one of his wish was that we should not be too keen on showing the formal aspects of religion. It concurred with our expectations. Most of the Spas presenters speak on behalf of the Orthodox people without accentuating that they are Orthodox. Our programs do not begin with prayers or sprinkling the studio with holy water. But at the same time it would be wrong to believe that we do not put our hearts and souls in Spas. The Patriarchal blessing was an important act of trust in us.
To be Orthodox a show does not have to have a clergyman in it; it does not have to show church services. The point is how events taking place in the country and the world are interpreted. We seek to monitor the whole range of political events. We devote fairly much time to talk shows, which are absent from the federal channels today, and this is our advantage from the point of view of business. Long and interesting talks in which ideas are generated and which is something the viewer is accustomed to see are almost absent from the television. For the most part the channels sublimate ideas, while people would like to understand the logic and meaning of an event.
What we are seeking to achieve is meaning. This is our mission. There are shows in which sexual relations are presented to entertain not to find meaning, that is, to have a serious talk, not a didactic one, but a heart-to-heart talk, doing it from the perspective of Orthodox traditions. For me it was interesting and instructive when Father Maxim gave simple and clear answers to very complicated questions. There are no such answers anywhere on today’s television.
When TV channels retransmit the president’s ideas of the need to double the GNP and decrease the inflation, it does not mean anything for ordinary people. The authorities do not explain, they just do without saying what will happen in a year’s time, etc. What the president did some time ago when he declared the state’s move to a socially-oriented policy was a very important fact, but nobody tries to explain to people what it means.
We proceed from the fact that we are a small channel for a great people who call themselves Russians. During the Soviet times the word ‘Russian’ was carefully avoided. Today the time has come that most of the people living in our country are ready to call themselves Russians, and there is no nationalism or chauvinism in this. We do not urge anybody that one nation should dominate over another. This is what we are doing. We help those who live in Russia and call themselves Russians to call themselves such and to be such. To this end we say that we have a history, we have a culture and it is such and such, and we have a language and it is such and such, and we have a future, which can be predicted together with our guests and experts. We have created several formats, day and night, in which we can have long talks with experts and guests. For instance, Sergey Mironov, chairman of the Federation Council, once a guest of one of our talk shows, has agreed to comment on events taking place today both in Russia and other countries.
To deviate a little bit from the main point, what is important for the Russians living in our great country? It is sincerity and motivation that compels us to do something. For Americans it is always the result that is important, while our people would like to get at the heart of things to find justice. If a person erred and then sincerely repented, he would be forgiven. In 1996, I participated in Boris Yeltsin’s presidential election campaign and was responsible for his schedule. Together with his daughter I flew to regions to plan his visits. And it was my absolute conviction that he should appear on television and repent. Was it a pre-election move? Yes, but also something greater. If his health had been better at that time, he would have certainly done it. When Vladimir Putin met with the mothers of those who were killed in Beslan, I was moved humanly. The president found the proper words to admit partially his own guilt of what had happened. This was a serious act. And it is exactly an opportunity for saying the words of repentance that we would like to offer on our channel not only to clergy and public figures but also to state officials.
- As is known, Muslim leaders spoke about a project for setting up separate TV channels. What advice would you give them?
- I think the creation of TV channels speaking on behalf of those who confess one of the four religions is a way towards mutual understanding and dialogue. I believe many problems have arisen in our country because of the failure of some politicians to make compromises, to negotiate, to hear their interlocutors. The more talks and dialogues the fewer conflicts, bloodsheds and sufferings of people. And television is one of the platforms which enable not to divide people, but to bring their positions to one common denominator.
We have been asked why we have created an Orthodox channel, while there are three more confessions in Russia. Well, I can say that it is our private choice. We have created a channel for the religion to which we belong. We are Russian Orthodox people, and we would like to speak about it. We respect all religions and nationalities which inhabit Russia. Various phobias are often imposed on us, but they are simply absent on the level of everyday life. We do not choose friends or those, say, with whom to have bear on the grounds of ethnicity or religion. This does not happen at all. What happens beyond this is the politics in which prejudice, phobias, etc. are imposed.
- Is there religious censorship on the channel?
- We have the so-called short meetings to analyze the contents of the programs shown and to try to formulate themes for new items. We consider the event we cannot pass by. Then we define the meanings we see in them and want to show to viewers. There is no censorship on the part of the Church. As for the state, for it we are not a resource at all, since it operates with federal channels. When society and the authorities pay attention to us, it will be the moment of the channel’s self-fulfilment. Any channel is created to be viewed, to have some influence on people.
Today we are living in a situation where somebody is trying to reconsider the outcome of World War II, where attempts are made to emasculate the most important historical facts from people’s consciousness. It is necessary to defend our attitudes to history underlying the very foundations of the state. It does not require any depreservation of the stabilization fund, it does not require any money at all. What it requires, as always in Russia, is will and brains.