Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian TV Promoting ‘Permanent Hysteria’ about Ukraine, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 29 – Any Russian with access to the Internet can get some idea of the dizzying and kaleidoscopic developments in Ukraine, but Russians who rely on government-controlled television are being fed a more or less constant diet of propaganda designed to promote “permanent hysteria” about that country, according to a “Novaya gazeta” commentator.

            In today’s issue, Slava Taroshchina notes that on the state channel Rossiya-24 news about Ukraine is supplied by Vadim Zavodchenko who until the end of last year broadcast the weather. But he is now concerned not with the winds in the natural world but in those defining “the political climate” (

                But he and other Moscow broadcasters face the same problems propagandists always do: they must somehow “adapt complex reality” in such a way that it fits into a “simple” and immediately understandable “picture” and paints that picture in the colors that their masters want.

            Their problem now, Taroshchina says, is that “the multiplicity of the Maidan” has to be reduced to what are now old formulas: “The Ukrainian apocalypse is the work of the hands of the West who have for a long time been preparing militants in special camps. All the Maidan participants are nationalists or in some case terrorists.” And there are always stories about Ukrainian cooperation with the Nazis.

            This “common mythology” underlies “the individual methods” of various reporters and anchors, as can be seen in the case of “the holy trinity” on Russian TV. Each of its three members, Solovyev, Mamontov, and Zabodchenkov stress one or another of the subthemes, but these are mutually supportive of the broader narrative.

            “Lies and half-truths, and the jury is still out as to which are worse, have their own smell and special aura,” the “Novaya”commentator says; but they are almost impossible not to notice when an effort is being made to subject a complex reality to the Procrustean bed of official requirements.

            Among the things viewers will certainly notice are that few of the Moscow television personalities give the same numbers for events in Ukraine, that all the Moscow outlets interview the same people in Kyiv and Moscow, and that “no one [of these broadcasters] ever forgets about PR” on behalf of whatever position the Russian government is taking.

            It may be an open question as to who is giving the orders, but clearly someone is because the coverage Russian television viewers see is too consistent and at the same time too removed from complexities on the ground. And clearly that someone is within the regime because the list of government “servants” who appear on TV is “as stable as granite.”

            But Russian TV’s Mamontov deserves the last word because he usually provides it: “I want to say these simple clear words” with regard to Ukraine, he observes. “Fascism won’t succeed.” And then stopping for just a moment, he add as if on reflection “And neither will Nazism.”

                It is of course the case, although Taroshchina does not address this directly, that some Russian viewers may want the simplified pictures of reality state television is offering.  But unlike in the past, most of them have access to the Internet and thus they are in a position to know that what is on offer on government television is not very accurate.

            More to the point, having been told by these same government television broadcasters until recently that the Ukrainian people are in fact part of a Slavic union of peoples, the Russians in the television audience are now clearly expected to see many Ukrainians as the enemy.  Dictators can turn on a dime, but whole populations seldom can.

            Moreover, and this may be the most important consequence of Russian television broadcasting about Ukrainian events: An ever larger percentage of Russians may now not want to have anything to do with Ukrainians, just as an ever larger percentage of Ukrainians clearly do not view Russians the way many used to and the way many in Moscow wanted them to.

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