Wednesday, January 11, 2017

'Real Life Doesn't Interest Anyone in Russia,' Zapolsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 11 – Only microscopically small portions of Russians turn to regional television or regional Internet outlets for news, a reflection of their lack of trust in the media in general and their lack of interest in things like education, health care, and roads in particular, which these outlets unlike Moscow actually cover, according to Dmitry Zapolsky.

            The St. Petersburg journalist, who was forced to emigrate in 2012, points to his native city as evidence. There, the government TV channel claims to attract less than two percent of the total population, and the actual figure is somewhere between 0.7 to 0.9 percent, well within the margin of error (

            He suggests that this is the case across Russia. There are currently about 300 TV channels based outside of Moscow, which divide among themselves about 20 percent of the audience; even as the federal channels, which seldom cover local affairs, attract 80 percent of the Russian audience.

            The problem, Zapolsky says, is that “real life in Russia doesn’t interest anyone.”  Something that seems incredible but is true, and something that should lead Russians to consider why this is so.

            The “first” hypothesis,” he says, is that “everyone has turned to the Internet and reads the news on information sites.”  But the available evidence doesn’t support that., the most professional news site for St. Petersburg, is visited by about 260,000 people a day, more but not much more than those who watch the city’s television channel.

            Where are St. Petersburgers going on line? To entertainment sites of various kinds and to “’federal news.’”  The population is simply “deeply indifferent” to local issues. Unfortunately, there are good reasons for that. Russians don’t trust the media with the exception of media as a show of the kind the central channels offer.

            And they have good reason not to trust or believe what is one regional television – or even regional Internet outlets.  They can “feel the falseness … the kowtowing to the bosses, self-censorship in the worst sense,” and so on. And they know just how many “prohibited themes” there now are.

            “One must not touch Putin, his family, scandals involving his friends, the theme of offshore accounts One must not touch governors and mayors unless the bosses call for that. Not in any circumstance must one cast doubt on the territorial integrity” of the country or display any “irony” about anything, the journalist says.

            Further, viewers and surfers can see that journalists “must not discuss ethnic issues, even correctly and within the limit of the law. One must no raise questions about Chechnya nd Kadyrov about Ukraine in a tone different from that set by ‘federal’ media. One mustn’t discuss Gazprom,” or criticize the military, talk about war, homosexuals, or even the future.

            Regional Internet coverage isn’t much better. Most of its participants have to “play by local rules” because “the power of the governor is worse than that of a tsar.” Say something really unwelcome and it is impossible to function. Bloggers and others understand that. Consequently, Zapolsky says “there is no journalism in Russia. The profession is dead.”

            The second problem of the media crisis in Russia, he says, is the all-too-obvious impotence of the media and thus their inability to attract and retain real talent.” In Russia media today, “there is no place for talented people: they are difficult to manage” because they “answer to eternity not to the vice governor for the media and culture or the deputy head of the Presidential Administration for domestic policy.”

            “There is an opposition, there are foreign resources, there is Western support, all kinds of NGOs, foundations and George Soros … “But they are just as disgusting in the main as the pathetic publications inside Russia.” There are several reasons for this: they lack feedback loops and they rapidly “lose a sense of reality” as a result.

            All too often, Zapolsky argues, “counterpropaganda against the Kremlin is conducted” in much the same alienating manner and style as pro-Kremlin propaganda.  It does manage to win “its three percent of the audience which needs this emotional support. But this is absurd: a group of opponents of Putin convince opponents of Putin that Putin is a bad ruler and even a criminal.”
            There are exceptions to all this, he concludes, but they lack the opportunities and the kind of audience they need to make a different. “This is a dead end, a general, absolute and total crisis of Russian media” and one that is unlikely to be overcome anytime soon.

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