Second, their coverage of Russian politics, especially concerning Ukraine, is heavy-handed and overtly biased. By peppering their repertoire with established western journalists and commentators, who in turn invite reputable voices onto their shows, RT America is a sleek, postmodern amalgamation of the best and worst of journalism, competing with the likes of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. On one level, according to digital media expert Vlad Strukov, global media are required to express and support geopolitical interests.
Because debate is constrained to this narrow spectrum, the framework of state-sanctioned media competition ultimately supports the Putin regime. For example, Simonyan recirculates articles that reinforce narratives of the West as corrupt, inefficient, and undemocratic. She will re-tweet particularly abusive comments by American or European journalists to undermine their credibility, and bring to attention events she believes are unfairly being ignored in international media.
Strukov argues that the purpose of RT is not to provide clarifying information on events, but to reinforce claims of a western conspiracy against the Russian Federation. At a forum of media experts, he explained that neutrality has disappeared from journalism. Unlike in China, the average Russian Internet user can access virtually every site he or she desires.
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As such, instead of blocking content, the Russian government seeks an Internet flooded with conflicting opinions frustrating the search for verifiable information. In post-Crimea Russia, there is a tertiary element: Internet memes as a form of participatory political activism.
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In his research into the power of Internet memes in framing political discourse during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the scholar Bradley E. Facebook and its European analogue VKontakte are central spaces where hyper-partisan groups proliferate these memes to spread misinformation, conspiracy theories, and evocative political memes. The image below illustrates such a meme. In reality, a brigade in the 4 th Infantry Division of only 87 tanks, had been deployed from Germany to Poland.
Psychological aspects of the content strategies of the Russian media.
This bit of disinformation went viral, shared over 28, times on Facebook, and spawned numerous posts on pro-Kremlin blogs such as therussophile. Considering the risks journalists in Russia face in reporting unfavorable or unmentionable stories, it is unsurprising that some have decided to move operations abroad. After the Kremlin fired and replaced the editor-in-chief of lenta. Currently, Meduza remains the most authoritative and respected voice for Russian- and English-language news in Russia and the former Soviet Union and is the go-to source for New York Times journalists for a sober voice on Russian affairs.
From a domestic angle, two media platforms stand out. The privately-owned TV Rain is an independent, subscription-based news website known for its consistent objectivity. Born in Ukraine, he was a successful businessman before deciding to pursue a career as a journalist. In , he established an independent media organisation in the city of Chekhov, called Chekhov-VID. Initially it was just an internet news portal. Then Strekalov added a weekly newspaper and, after a few years, a TV news channel. At its peak, Chekhov had a staff of about 50 including a well-known investigative journalist, Sergei Kanev, as Editor-in-Chief.
For years Kanev had investigated police corruption and other misbehavior, risking his life in the process. It was at the height of the Maidan revolutionary demonstrations in Kyiv. On his return, he spoke to Russian friends about his observations.
At a time when the Russian media was reporting the Russian government line that Ukraine was being taken over by anti-Russian fascists, Strekalov expressed a contrary view that Ukrainians took to the streets not against Russia, but against poverty and general corruption in Ukraine. The FSB soon came calling, and questioned him about his pro-Ukrainian sympathies.
It was a friendly enough initial conversation at the local FSB office, but they then started questioning his friends and family members, and looking into his financial activities. Strekalov fled to Germany, and the investigations then took on a darker complexion.
Eventually Strekalov was charged, in absentia, and a Russia-wide warrant was issued for his arrest. Now members of his family, both in Russia and in Ukraine, are receiving threatening phone calls. The role of the state in the Russian media system has been and remains dominant.
After the new Law on Mass Media was adopted in , thus effectively establishing guarantees for independence of the media and the freedom of speech, the first stage of privatization of the media market followed. In the early s, as the country was going through an acute financial crisis, state funding of the media was cut manifold, which, in its turn, led to drastic cuts in circulation numbers and staff. As some scholars note, a whole generation of Soviet journalists were forced to change profession. At the same time, numerous private media companies were created driven by the forces of the free market; many old media outlets were privatized, reformatted and re-purposed.
Despite the fact that Russian political and social institutions underwent major formal changes during the transition period, there was no systemic change in the informal practices. Creation of formal procedures of interactions between the media and the state did not destroy traditional informal relations between journalists and officials. During this period the media enjoyed relative freedom and independence from the state, however, the new owners and managers of the media enterprises used them quite instrumentally—to manufacture favorable public opinion.
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Both political and business elites saw the media as weapons to gain political capital. On various occasions, business elites would barter the loyalty of their privatized media for economic and political perks. The elites seemed to recognize the advantages of the media in this struggle and aspired for converting these advantages into concrete benefits and moves in the power play. But the media could provide even more leverage for political purposes. Election campaigns—national, regional and local—would be impossible to win without the support of the media.
The struggle for political power culminated in presidential elections, in which the incumbent President Yeltsin went to the runoff with the leader of the Russian Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov. In this historical standoff, Yeltsin managed to win by a small margin.
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Much of the credit for this victory is attributed to the new liberal Russian media outlets that actively endorsed the incumbent president, despite his health problems and a much publicized alcohol addiction. Thus, the media played a crucial role in the drive of the public opinion in favor of Yeltsin and in his eventual victory.
In early s various state agencies took financial or managerial control over 70 percent of electronic media outlets, 80 percent of the regional press, and 20 percent of the national press [Vartanova]. Overall, during this period the political discourse in Russia deteriorated, and the public debate in the media was either substituted by the imitative forms 1 or squeezed out from the popular media outlets, such as television and dailies with large circulation, to the publications with much smaller readership, like Novaya Gazeta , or to the internet.
At the same time, during this period, Russian media became an integral part of the global media community following the process of global convergence and homogenization. This hierarchy helped the President to achieve his goal—to establish control over the entire political process, eliminate possible risks of competition, and restructure the system of checks and balances. By silencing a group of powerful non-conforming businessmen 2 , Vladimir Putin sent a clear message to the business community to distance themselves from politics and thus established control over corporate Russia.
From now on, only those who complied with his political line and demonstrated loyalty and support were allowed to continue their business as usual. The state learned to utilize a wide selection of political, economic and legal tools to put pressure on and intimidate the media [Vartanova]. Some of them are:. Application of these techniques transformed Russian media system into a restricted homogenous field, where only state-controlled media outlets were allowed to operate on the national scale.
The regime allowed for limited operations of the independent media the press and the internet media to absorb the protest mood 3. The period of the relative freedom of press ended with Vladimir Putin ascension to power, it was too short for the Russian media to become a strong democratic institution and a watchdog. Therefore, by choosing to serve as propaganda tools to receive benefits from the state, by abandoning their public duty to report the truth, the majority of the media voluntarily chose to engage in corrupt practices.
Deterioration of the public political discourse is a direct result of the lack of political pluralism and competition. As a result, the content of political discourse became flat and dull.
Considering general disillusionment of the Russian citizens in politics and in their own abilities to influence political process or bring about change, public interest shifted from politics to the entertainment segment, which drives the expansion of the entertainment segment. Another reason for this expansion is commercialization of the global media market driven by advertising industry and aimed at stimulating consumption.
As mentioned above, the diminishing political discourse created an information vacuum in Russia that, with lack of other alternatives, had been filled with entertainment content. Eventually, this process led to tabloidization of the media and the prevail of the popular media formats that appeal primarily to the mass audience. The outlook of the Russian media market provides an insight into the type of information Russian media produce and the public consumes.
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- 2. Politicised content reborn as entertainment.
It shows that entertainment content has filled the empty niche of the political programming.
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