Staunton, February 8 – Russia’s economic crisis is hitting many groups hard but few harder than those working in the media, and according to official data, 60,000 or even more of the country’s 300,000 full-time journalists – one in every five or 20 percent -- will lose their positions by year’s end if the crisis continues and nothing is done to help the media sector.
The actual numbers may be even worse not only because the economic situation may deteriorate even more than now projected and because there are perhaps as many as 500,000 journalist positions, with some being part-time and with many Russian journalists working in more than one, “Izvestiya” reports (izvestia.ru/news/582698).
Officials at the Communications Ministry note that cutbacks have already begun, pointing to the decision of TASS to eliminate 400 jobs last month, approximately a quarter of all its positions, and to staff reductions at “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” “Vechernyaya Moskva,” “Playboy,” “Vogue,” “Glamour,” and other outlets.
More job losses are ahead, the ministry says, because “the media sector is one of the most price-elastic parts of the economy,” directly affected by changes in overall economic performance, exchange rate shifts and advertising budgets. Many Russian journalists are leaving the field and moving, in many cases, into information technology work.
Aleksey Voldin, deputy communications minister, has suggested that the situation may be even worse for the Russian media. In remarks last month, he said that Russia currently has “twice as many” media outlets as the population of the country can support and that many of them are likely to close if economic conditions continue to deteriorate.
The communications media is not asking for subsidies. Instead, it seeks assurances that the price of paper will not continue to go up and that there will not be imposed any new restrictions on advertising, two steps the government reportedly is considering but has not acted upon so far.
The downsizing of the media sector will have two diametrically opposite although far from equal consequences for the Kremlin. On the one hand, it will give the authorities additional leverage over what journalists do with many of them perhaps becoming more willing to follow the line lest they be fired. The closure of newspapers will also make state TV more important.
But on the other, once Russian journalists do lose their jobs at least some of them are likely to turn to the Internet where they will likely adopt an even more critical stance toward the regime whose policies have led to their having lost their livelihoods, something that could make the electronic media both more interesting and a matter of more concern for the regime..