Staunton, February 2 – Significant percentages of Russians watch political talk shows which now make up as much as 90 minutes of prime time every night, but that fact does not mean that they are entirely pleased by the structure and content of these shows or are greatly influenced in ways that help the state, according to a new survey of journalists
Because the ratings – the percentage of people who watch them – are so high, few have been inclined to consider how viewers evaluate and react to them. Now, the Platform center for Social Prognostication has taken up that issue by surveying journalists about it. (The 20-page report is at pltf.ru/2017/02/01/polit-tv/; it is discussed at ura.ru/news/1052275963.)
First of all, the study says, journalists ae convinced that “today television compromises the powers that be” because Russians rely on and TV now often fails to communicate to its audience as intended, thus making that channel less effective than it needs to be especially in times of crisis.
Second, even those who continue to watch are often alienated by what they hear and the way it is presented. According to one Russian journalist, Russian talk shows function in many ways like pornography: People view it and are affected by it for a time but say it would be better not to watch it even while asking whether there might be something even “stronger.”
One consequence of this is that viewers don’t take anything specific ideas away from watching Russian television but do react to their surroundings more emotionally than rationally, often in negative ways. And the report’s authors say that “at a minimum,” 30 percent of the audience has now decided not to watch these shows.
And third, the journalists surveyed said, “the tonality of political television is offensive” to all who “have their own consciously adopted views” and thus are put off or even turn away from such broadcasts. Given “the low quality of political television” in Russia today, the journalist experts ask why the state needs television which people are ashamed of?
The study, however, does not address the question as to how large a share of the Russian audience belong in that category, and in many ways it resembles the kind of criticism that those who rely on the mainstream media often make about alternative channels which offer a very different style of presentation.
And it does not address a related issue: Vladimir Putin may personally prefer this emotional rather than rational set of messages that his state-controlled media are delivering. Emotions are easier to manipulate than facts, and at the very least they are less likely to lead to a challenge to his regime.
The extent to which the Russian journalists surveyed represent a minority opinion also recalls another famous incident in US politics. When Adlai Stevenson was running for president in 1956, one of his aides told him that “All thinking people are for you, Governor.” To which the Democratic leader responded, “Yes, but I need a majority.”