Thursday, May 12, 2016

Media Coverage of Governors More about Their Management of the Media than about Anything Else, New Study Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Those who follow the media in Russia’s regions know that some governors are routinely attacked by media in their federal subjects while others are never criticized, and they often conclude that this is an important indicator of how well the governors are doing in running their oblasts, krays or republics.

            In fact, however, according to a new study by Aleksey Kudrin’s Civic Initiative Committee, the level of criticism of governors in regional media rather reflects the ability of some governors to control the media and ensure that no bad news will be reported as compared to others who do not have such success in keeping Moscow in the dark about what is happening.

            In “Vedomosti” this week, Elena Mukhametshina reports on the results of the committee’s study. It found that the governors of 15 federal subjects were never criticized in the media, including Sakhalin, Kaluga and Chelyabinsk (

            Twenty-eight others, including the leaders of Moscow, Moscow oblast, Tatarstan and Tyumen, were criticized only rarely, while in 27, including Chechnya, Pskov and Kirov oblasts, they were criticized relatively infrequently, and in 23, including Daghestan, Pena, St. Petersburg, and Leningrad oblast, they were criticized at a moderate level.

            Only seven regional leaders, those in charge of Karelia, Novosibirsk, and Buryatia were criticized regularly.

            The study found that “major [state] expenditures on regional media do not guarantee an absence of criticism but that where such spending was above average, the level of criticism as a rule was close to zero,” suggesting a connection.  And it found that governors in places rated poorly by pro-Kremlin experts or experiencing a lot of protest activity had more criticism too.

            Those are general patterns, political analyst Konstantin Kalachev says, but each region has its own specific history of relations between the media and the authorities. In some places, there are inter-elite conflicts and these are reflected in media outlets. In others, the media feels it isn’t getting enough support and uses criticism as a means of extracting more.

            The analyst continues by observing that “the federal center wants there not to be any bad news from the regions, something intelligent governors understand and organize work with the media in order to achieve” using a range of carrots and sticks to try to keep the media from criticizing them personally even if the outlets are critical of others.

            Those governors who have a lot of resources because their federal subjects are wealthier are better able to do so, Kalachev suggests; and all this means that one must be very cautious in equating the level of criticism of governors with the actual quality of their work or the situation in their domains.

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