Saturday, June 21, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Despite Internet, Moscow TV Sets Agenda for Russians, Levada Center Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Despite increasing use of the Internet, Moscow television has “a practically unlimited monopoly on the formation of the social-political agenda” for Russians, according to a “Novaya gazeta” commentary on the findings of the latest investigation of media use by the independent Levada Center.

            Many commentators have suggested or perhaps more accurately expressed the hope that rising rates of Internet use among Russians would break television’s dominance, but that is not the case generally and, what is more important, is not the case during times of crises in which their country is involved, Diana Khachatryan says (

            The “Novaya gazeta” journalist summarizes the report on “The Russian Media Landscape” prepared by sociologists Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov that was released earlier in the week on the basis of surveys conducted between 2009 and 2014 (

            The Levada report demonstrated, Khachatryan says, that “the Internet as a source of information cannot replace traditional media,” even in the Russian capital where Internet use is the highest.  Instead, 90 percent of Russians rely on television for news, with only 24 percent using the Internet, and 19 percent relying on newspapers.

            Volkov and Goncharov say that their surveys show that “in Russia almost everyone regardless of social status, level of education or place of residence watches television.” In fact, they reported, a higher percentage of Muscovites watch TV than do people in other regions, and a higher share of them – 65 percent against 50 percent – trust what is said on television.

            And Russian views turn overwhelmingly to the First Channel (8 percent), Russia-1 (71 percent), and NTV (48 percent) rather than to the independent Dozhd, which only two percent of all citizens and only three percent of Muscovites watch regularly. 

            Another important finding from the Levada study, Khachatryan says, is that despite having access via the Internet to multiple sources of news, few Russians make comparisons.  Half rely exclusively on one source, a fifth on two, 17 percent on three, and only 12 percent use three or more at any one time.

            Among those who use only one source, television predominates with 85 percent of such people saying they rely on it.  Only five percent – or one in 20 – say they use the Internet exclusively.  But those using multiple sources, the sociologists found, were no more critical than those who used only one.

            Still worse for those who have put their faith in the Internet, the Levada Center scholars say, are the following two realities. On the one hand, a large share of those using the Internet does not turn to it for news.  And on the other, their numbers are boosted only by aggregator sites which are themselves highly selective and not necessarily objective either.

            During the current crisis in Ukraine, 70 percent of Russians say that federal media, that is, television, are treating the events there objectively.  One reason for that, the Levada experts suggest, is that television works like propaganda: the longer people are exposed, the more likely they are to accept it as true. 

            Appended to Khachatryan’s article are two comments by experts.  Andry Vyrkovsky, a specialist on journalist at Moscow State University, says that the Internet will only become predominant as a result of generational change and a shift away from the current pattern of declining Internet use as people get older.

            And sociologist Boris Dubin suggests that when one talks about Russians’ trust of the media, one must keep in mind that this “does not mean that people are prepared to fully take everything on faith.”  Rather it reflects in many cases simply a desire not to “subject to criticism” what television says.

            As far as Moscow is concerned, Dubin says, there are many misconceptions.  “We think that the larger the city, the higher level of education and critical thinking and so on there will be.” But “this is not entirely so.”  The Russian capital has a large fraction of people who have recently arrived there and who are not “included in civic life” and a large number of disappointed people as well.

            Muscovites as such are not “critical,” he adds. It is only “young Muscovites with a good education and adequate incomes.  And that is a much smaller group” than many think despite the attention its members routinely get.
            Dubin does not say so but he could have: Many of these people young Muscovites are English speakers, and all too often visitors from the West draw conclusions about Russia as a whole from that small subset of the population, forgetting just how tiny it is and assuming that it reflects the media consumption patterns and attitudes of the country as a whole.

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