Staunton, Nov. 19 – As the Putin regime has restricted discussions about sensitive topics in much of the media, Western observers are often tempted to rely on Russian television talk shows for clues about what the Kremlin is thinking and where it is headed, but, Maxim Alyukov says, that is a not especially reliable source.
In a commentary for The Moscow Times, the researcher at St. Petersburg’s Public Sociology Laboratory argues that “in fact,” these shows and the fireworks they often feature “project a distorted image of Russian political reality that obscures as much as it reveals” (themoscowtimes.com/2022/11/19/how-not-to-interpret-russian-political-talk-shows-a79399).
According to Alyukov, “Russian political talk shows are first and foremost propaganda pieces, the primary function of which is to shape domestic public opinion” and especially directed at “reaching even skeptical viewers, leading to the rise of what Vera Tolz and Yury Teper have called “’agitainment.’”
The staged controversies on such shows are most often about attracting viewers than informing, with “the dissenting voices” on them reflecting not “actual tensions within the Russian elite” but rather “creating the illusion of open political debate.” They’re thus more about ratings than conveying new points of view.
The controlled controversies these shows present are thus intended to “minimize the disconnect between propaganda and reality and therefore lessen the chances of viewers becoming suspicious of the coverage [of real world events] that they watch” or read about in newspapers or online.
The Kremlin maintains tight control over what is on these shows and thus when one guest says it might be a good idea for Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine, that is “neither an off-ramp nor a revolt against Putin.” It is simply a way of sowing confusion or keeping the attention of an increasingly distracted audience.
“Russian political talk shows should therefore be taken for what they are,” Alyukov continues, “propaganda pieces that serve to entertain, generate ratings, shape public opinion and – perhaps most significantly of all – confound viewers.” Given the war in Ukraine, they have attracted attention and from abroad, “arguably” exaggerating their significance.