Staunton, July 26 – Most of the revivals of Soviet practices in the Russian Federation can only be regretted, but one pattern that was true in Soviet times that appears to be returning at least in some places – greater freedom in smaller regional media markets than in larger central ones – could have a positive side.
And it is this: those who follow regional or even local media, something now far easier because of the Internet than it was in Soviet times, can often learn things about Russian life and even Russian politics that are not reported in the Moscow media and especially not on central Russian television which the Kremlin has been most interested in controlling.
Obviously, just as in Soviet times, that pattern is not a universal one. There are some regions and republics where the authorities exercise even tighter control over the media than do their superiors in Moscow. But in others, where the authorities are not as much concerned, there are still opportunities for the publication of things they might not be able to at the center.
The author of these lines explored this pattern more than 25 years ago in “Readers, Writers and Republics: The Structural Basis of Non-Russian Literary Politics,” in Mark Beissinger and Lyubomyr Hajda, eds., The Nationalities Factor in Soviet Politics and Society (Boulder, 1990), pp. 131-147.
That article found a consistent pattern in which the larger the republic, the more Moscow insisted on tight censorship, while the smaller the republic, the less the center was worried about doing do. Moreover, this pattern was reinforced by the fact that the larger the republic, the more differentiated were its journalistic and political elites and thus the more willing the latter were to sacrifice the former, while the smaller the republic, the reverse was true.
That this pattern may be re-emerging is suggested not only by the daily offerings of regional aggregator sites like 7x7-journal.ru/ but also by Russian journalists who say they often find things of great value in the regional media that they do not see in Moscow outlets (stoletie.ru/russkiiy_proekt/prosvetit__znachit_vooruzhit_372.htm).
How widespread this pattern is and how long it will last even where it is present remains to be seen, but it is a phenomenon well worth watching because it may be possible to say more about where Russia is heading on the basis of regional or local media than on increasingly controlled Moscow outlets.