Staunton, November 23 – Alexander III famously said that Russia has only two allies, its army and its fleet; but Vladimir Putin clearly has a third – television. But he now faces problems with that ally as well: ever fewer Russians trust television and soon a large share of those who still do may not be able to view it because their analog TVs won’t resolve digital broadcasts.
According to the Public Opinion Foundation, the share of Russians who trust government television has fallen from 70 percent in 2015 to 47 percent now. Seventy-four percent of Russians say federal TV channels should feature criticism of the authorities, and the share relying on TV for news has fallen from 87 percent in 2016 to 71 percent now ( ).
Those who rely on television tend to be older, more rural, less educated and less well-off than those who don’t. Those who are younger, more urban, better educated, and better off are more likely to use the Internet and social media. And when the latter group does turn to television, it uses satellite broadcasts or cable.
But because the former group does not, its members may soon not be able to view government television at all, and that is sparking worries among some in Moscow that without television, the backing of the social groups that have been the most consistent supporters of the Putin regime may decline further ().
Beginning in February and over the following three months, Moscow will be shifting all its television broadcasts from analog to digital. Officials estimate that there are between 16 and 25 million televisions manufactured and sold more than ten years ago that can only receive analog signals.
Those who own them – and such people are concentrated among the older, more rural, less educated and less well-off social groups – after that time will not be able to watch federal television programs unless they buy new TVs, something their incomes in most cases won’t permit, or gain access to capable delivery systems.
Given that television has been the Kremlin’s basic mobilizing tool over the last decade, many of its supporters are convinced that there will be a large decline in support for the regime and its policy among precisely the groups that have been its biggest supporters if members of such groups can’t view television on a regular basis.
Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko expressed her alarm on that point, telling news agencies that “after the transition to digital TV, ‘the ranks of the pro-government electorate will get smaller.’” To avoid this, she urged that the government adopt a program to finance the purchase of new TVs or introduce adaptor boxes (newizv.ru/news/society/21-11-2018/pole-bez-chudes-otklyuchenie-analogovogo-tv-zatronet-samyh-bednyh-rossiyan).
But the government, likely because of budget stringency, refused to go along and limited its support to call on the regions to do something about this new threat to public support for the regime. The regions don’t have the money to do much and so likely will limit their activities to warning people about what is coming rather than doing anything about it.
With regard to other media, the Public Opinion Foundation Poll also reported that now only 37 percent of Russians don’t use social media, a figure that ranges from seven percent among those under 30 to 79 percent among the older generation. That means 93 percent of the young and 21 percent of the old now do, another challenge to TV (fom.ru/Obraz-zhizni/14137).