Saturday, January 26, 2019

Russian Journalism No Longer of Interest to Either the Authorities or Society, Gulbinsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – Two observations, one by CPSU leader Yury Andropov and a second by dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, are essential to the understanding of the trajectory of journalism in Russia over the last 50 years and of why today Russian journalism is no longer of interest to either the authorities or society, Nikolay Gulbinsky says. 

            Andropov famously said that “we do not know the society in which we live,” a reflection of the fact that the Soviet media did not report accurately or honestly about the most important problems of the country. And Solzhenitsyn almost as famously declared “a single word of truth can overturn the whole world,” an expression of faith that a free media will create a free society.

            In fact, the Russian publicist says, the Soviet media did contain within certain limits good journalism that had an effect on society and the government, and the rise of media freedom did for a time promote a freer society but that that rise faltered because after glasnost media did not have the impact on the government it briefly did (

                One cannot say that “journalism didn’t exist at all in Soviet times,” Gulbinsky says. “It did and in a number of cases, it was quite influential.  Journalists were allowed to uncover ‘individual shortcomings,’ and these un-maskings as a rule entailed real consequences.” But “and this is the main thing -- Soviet journalists couldn’t openly criticize” the most important issues.

             That had an unintended and unwanted consequence: “even those who because of their positions created the official ideology ceased to believe in it.” 

            A Soviet Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep in 1985 and awoke now, would think that “journalism in Russia has achieved an unprecedented flowering.” Journalists can no criticize everything and they do. He would not see, however, that “political journalism as a socially significant profession has died in Russia.”

            There are several reasons for this, Gulbinsky says. First, after Gorbachev, while criticism flourished, the consequences of journalism became far more limited. If the media reported something was wrong, the authorities and after them the population generally ignore such criticism and ultimately came to ignore the critics.

            Second, journalists sold out. Big business and the government invested enormous sums to ensure that their messages went out and that those of others did not.  Russians recognized this and so came to view journalism not as a source of information but as a public relations exercise they could and should ignore.

            And third, the whole notion of post-truth infected not only consumers of journalism but the producers of it, leading the former to dismiss what journalists are telling them much of the time and many of the latter to be indifferent to what they are doing and shamelessly pushing claims that they themselves know not to be true.

            There was one brief shining moment when Russian journalism had its day, when journalists did good work and when the authorities responded to their reports. That was between 1985 and 1988; but it did not last. As a result, while many could learn about their country from the media, they choose not to because amidst the cacophony, the task is harder.

                And so both the powers that be and the rising generation are tuning out, Gulbinsky says; and Russian journalism in which so many once placed so many hopes is dying, thus depriving both of what is needed to overcome the current stagnation and put the country on track for stable development. 

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