One cannot say that “journalism didn’t exist at all in Soviet times,” Gulbinsky says. “It did and in a number of cases, it was quite influential. Journalists were allowed to uncover ‘individual shortcomings,’ and these un-maskings as a rule entailed real consequences.” But “and this is the main thing -- Soviet journalists couldn’t openly criticize” the most important issues.
That had an unintended and unwanted consequence: “even those who because of their positions created the official ideology ceased to believe in it.”
A Soviet Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep in 1985 and awoke now, would think that “journalism in Russia has achieved an unprecedented flowering.” Journalists can no criticize everything and they do. He would not see, however, that “political journalism as a socially significant profession has died in Russia.”
There are several reasons for this, Gulbinsky says. First, after Gorbachev, while criticism flourished, the consequences of journalism became far more limited. If the media reported something was wrong, the authorities and after them the population generally ignore such criticism and ultimately came to ignore the critics.
Second, journalists sold out. Big business and the government invested enormous sums to ensure that their messages went out and that those of others did not. Russians recognized this and so came to view journalism not as a source of information but as a public relations exercise they could and should ignore.
And third, the whole notion of post-truth infected not only consumers of journalism but the producers of it, leading the former to dismiss what journalists are telling them much of the time and many of the latter to be indifferent to what they are doing and shamelessly pushing claims that they themselves know not to be true.
There was one brief shining moment when Russian journalism had its day, when journalists did good work and when the authorities responded to their reports. That was between 1985 and 1988; but it did not last. As a result, while many could learn about their country from the media, they choose not to because amidst the cacophony, the task is harder.
And so both the powers that be and the rising generation are tuning out, Gulbinsky says; and Russian journalism in which so many once placed so many hopes is dying, thus depriving both of what is needed to overcome the current stagnation and put the country on track for stable development.