Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Regional Governments in Russia Control TV, Radio and Print Outlets but Not Yet the Internet

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 2 – Approximately 90 percent of mass media outlets in Russia’s regions are fully or partially under the control of Moscow or the regional governments, according to a report being prepared by a group of journalists. But up to now, it says, these governments do not exercise nearly as much control over the Internet.

            The report, which Aleksey Gorbachev of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says is to be released in January, is being prepared as part of a joint project of the EU-Russia Civic Forum. It focuses on the differing level of state influence in different segments of the Russian media marketplace (ng.ru/politics/2016-08-02/3_smi.html).

            There are a few more than 10,000 regional newspapers. Of these, 62 percent belong to government agencies.  Others belong to individuals who are closely connected to the authorities. Only six percent are owned by completely non-governmental groups. A similar pattern can be seen in television.

            Of the roughly 200 regional channels, “more than 100” are branches of federal television stations.  Many of the others belong to regional governments or regionally-based oligarchs with close ties to those in power.  Only a handful can be described as being in any way independent of the state.

            The Internet remains “relatively” balanced as to ownership and control. Of the approximately 4,000 Russian information sites now registered as media outlets, governments own only 15 percent.  Private persons hold about 30 percent, public organizations ten percent, and the remainder legal persons.

            For all kinds of media, ownership and control are not one and the same thing. Both the central government and regional ones have a variety of means, including grants, control of advertising, and the like, to force those outlets the regime doesn’t own nonetheless to perform as the powers that be want.

            Anna Shtorm, one of the experts who is preparing this report, says that “if one analyzes all the data, then the conclusion follows that directly or indirectly, up to 90 percent of regional media are controlled by the powers that be.”

            Vladimir Putin, like Dmitry Medvedev, have talked about the need for regional governments to divest themselves of their media holdings given the cost involved.  But there is little prospect that they will do so, not only because many of them profit from these enterprises but also because they depend on them to maintain the existing system of power.

            According to Nikolay Mironov, the director of the Moscow Center for Economic and Political Reforms, “propaganda and PR are one of the keystones in the relationship between the powers and the people: ‘Public opinion must be constantly worked over, especially in a crisis,’” so that disputes don’t call into question support for the system as such.

            Mironov is “certain,” Gorbachev writes, that “the authorities will only increase their media positions, objectively shifting from cooperation with the media to control over the content of their programs, news, publications, and of course, the Internet. And then, he does not exclude, it isn’t far to move to direct censorship.”

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