Internet Media in Russia
Internet Media in Russia
by Nadine Wallnöfer
During our study trip to Moscow we were given a very interesting presentation about internet media in Russia, by Dr Diana Kulchitskaya from the Faculty of Journalism at the Moscow State University (MSU).
She told us that the internet penetration only reaches approximately 68 per cent. About 53 million of Russia’s 148 million inhabitants are daily internet users – but the number is still rising. Russians mostly use the internet for private communication and only every fourth Russian internet user goes online for news.
Internet was started in Russia in 1990, by the NGO Glasnet, which was funded by the US. Today there are three different domain names in Russia: “.SU” (for Soviet Union, still used by communists), “.RU” (which is the most popular one) and “.РФ” (only established in 2010 and mainly used by government bodies). One of the first Russian internet projects was Mashkov´s Library, an online library which is still used for texts from Russian writers. Since Google is not an ideal search engine for the Cyrillic language, two Russian search engines emerged in the late 1990ies: Rambler.ru and Yandex.ru. Yandex is now the biggest Russian internet company and it´s also called the “Russian Google”. The first online media projects also started during the 90ies. The first newspaper to go online was the newspaper Uchitelskaya Gazeta (Teacher´s Newspaper) in 1995, the first wire agency that went online was RosBusinessConsulting (RBC) and in 1996 the first Russian online radio, Radio 101 was created.
Today Kommersant.ru (rather political, free content) and Vedomosti.ru (partial paywall: full versions can be obtained for a fee) are the most popular newspapers online. They are both very respected and are said to use many different sources. All in all, Dr Kulchitskaya said that the number of online news in Russia is growing. Some new trends on the internet are for example multimedia stories and multimedia longform journalism, explanatory journalism and citizen journalism.
Since Russia is a “TV nation”, except for the young digital natives, according to Kulchitskaya there is a cultural gap between the generations. That is because (since it´s so popular) TV is the most controlled medium in Russia which displays the political agenda and worldview. Online on the contrary, there is room for a very different, sometimes oppositional agenda and worldview. The young generation tends to rather search for information online, whereas the older “TV generation” keeps on watching the news on TV. Due to this digital divide in society, there exist two different world(view)s and cultural patterns in Russia.
Dr Kulchitskaya also told us about different general and special interest internet projects and about the very successful and independent programme TV Rain, that presents a new type of online TV. It was founded in 2010 by the Russian media manager Natalia Sindeeva, who was sponsored by her husband. In 2014, TV Rain was drawn into a huge scandal after they ran an online poll, asking whether the Soviets should have surrendered Leningrad during the Second World War, in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives. The scandal caused a big loss of contracts and TV Rain had to start a crowdfunding campaign to raise money again but the channel survived and is still popular among liberal people.
A very interesting but also unsettling information Dr Kuchitskaya gave us was that since a new law was introduced in 2014, Bloggers with more than 3,000 visitors per day have to register in Russia. They are regarded as mass media and have to publish their contact information, all credentials and they have to restrain from using swear words. According to Kuchitskaya, political blogging is very popular in Russia. She told us that this law is sharply criticised: Critics say that Bloggers are not comparable to journalists because their purpose is to express their opinion and this new law is a way to suppress opinion.
Dr Kuchitskaya told us that there are no studies about the effects of this law but some cases of trials are known in this context. Some Russian bloggers have also been attacked for things they posted. Furthermore, she explained, that in Russia operators of a website are even liable for comments that others write on their site. For that reason, some are just blocking the commentary function on their websites or blogs, to reduce the risk of being prosecuted.
The last topic on Dr Kuchitskaya´s presentation was Social Media in Russia: she told us that Facebook is only number two on the popularity scale and that it is mostly used for business contacts in Russia – comparable to LinkedIn which is not popular in Russia. The most popular Social network in Russia to connect with friends is the Russian platform Vkontakte (VK). The fastest growing Social Network at the moment is Instagram. Twitter is mostly used by news outlets and less by private persons.
Recommended Citation Form
Nadine Wallnöfer: Internet Media in Russia. In: Michael Meyen (ed.): Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich 2016. http://mappingmediafreedom.de/internet-media-in-russia (access date).
The Media in Transitional Democracies
Katrin Voltmer: The Media in Transitional Democracies.
Cambridge, UK: Polity Press 2013.
Reviewed by Michael Meyen
This book is a must-read for everyone who is interested in both mass media systems and comparative communication research. Katrin Voltmer, senior lecturer at the University of Leeds, “provides a synopsis of a large range of regional and case-specific research on media in transitional democracies” (p. 7). Focusing on regime changes of the third wave of democratization, the content is basically twofold. On the one hand, Voltmer “explores whether the media act as a force that promotes or inhibits transitions to democracy”. On the other hand, she „turns to the question of how the media themselves are affected by the transition process and how their institutions and practices are transformed in the course of rebuilding the political regime” (p. 8).
World of Russian Journalism
Lecture by Dr. Maria Anikina (MSU)
Dr. Maria Anikina gave us a lecture about the professional culture of Russian journalists. Anikina belongs to the Department of Sociology of Mass Communication which is chaired by Prof. Victor Kolomiets.
Redefining the research category journalist
During her speech Anikina described her project redefining the traditional research category journalist as it is confronted and mixed up with entities such as media activist or bloggers. She gave a brief overview how the subject of research journalist has been examined since the 1920’s. Further she emphasised the need of a scientific concept of post-journalism which also looks at the set of duties or the changing status of modern “information producers”.
Anikina is part of the World of Journalism Study by Prof. Hanitzsch (LMU Munich) and responsible for generating a Russian data base. The general approach of the study is to analyse different journalistic cultures on a societal, organizational and individual level. In Russia the researchers face a particular challenge as Anikina stated: since there is no official number of working journalists in Russia, no valid representative study was possible. However, according to estimates there should be between 150.000 and 250.000 Journalist working in Russia.
Anikina’s results show that the Russian journalist is often more interested in conveying a positive image and to set the political agenda rather than acting as watchdog, detached observer or to motivate people to participate.
Thus the journalist’s institutional role Russia is positioned rather close to those in Indonesia, China, Chile or Israel. In the dimension journalistic epistemology Russia is located between “making clear a better position” and “provide analysis”. This is quite the opposite of e.g. the US journalists who aim to “depict reality as it is”. Also in regard to the dimension ethical ideology Russia is far away from most of the western countries.
Generally the ethical standards are lower. Russia’s way seems to be more relativistic she said. Journalists would confirm that harm is always wrong (similar to Bulgaria, Pakistan and Chile) but they would not be in line with Austria, Switzerland, Germany, USA and Brazil, where journalists state that they “follow ethical principals” and “avoid questionable methods of reporting”.
Nevertheless 66 percent of polled Russian journalists are proud of calling themselves journalists and see themselves mostly as “neutral reporters”. Despite this, according to the study the social role of Russian journalists is the “dissemination of values” (85 per cent). As a factor in their carreer choice they see the profession as a good opportunity to develop and to collect symbolic capital in order to benefit from in other areas.
Only 25 per cent of polled Russian journalists say that they can trust the Russian people. On the other side the picture is not very different Anikina said:
Within society media, church and trade unions are not considered as very trustworthy, whereas the president and the military are kindly regarded and most trusted.
So according to Anikina, credibility is not only a problem in media but also in large parts of society.
How the era of “post-journalism” will develop and how research can keep up are questions Anikina and her Department will continue to look into.
TV-industry of Russia
TV-industry of Russia
Contemporary state and development prospects
Written by Katharina Dorn
Dr. Mikhail Makeenko, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Journalism of Lomonosov Moscow State University gave us a lecture on the Russian broadcasting system. TV is the most popular medium in Russia. 73% of the Russian population watch TV daily – 93% at least once a week. Television is the leading source of information. The TV industry of Russia consists of more than 20 federal broadcast networks, about 900 regional TV stations, approximately 350 cable and satellite TV channels and an unspecified number of local cable channels.
The three channels with nationwide outreach are Channel 1 (Первый канал), Rossija 1 (Россия 1) and NTV (НТВ) which own 39% of the market share and about 50% of the advertising market share of the broadcasting sector.
However, the huge size of the country (9 hour zones from Kalingrad to Magadan including about 200 nationalities) and its great cultural, economic and ethnic diversity also lead to the development of regional and local self-programming broadcast television. Thus, the Russian broadcasting system is largely decentralized with local TV stations working as affiliates (similar to the German ARD). This network system is very important with about two dozen networks which help disseminate information all over the country (in comparison: the number of networks is 3-4 times higher than in Germany or Italy).
Makeenko could isolate three typical economic models of modern self-programming broadcasters:
- Budget needle (most common): broadcasters which are state owned or state subsidized with low or negative profitability
- Unstable balance: private broadcasters with low net profit (<10%) and a significant share of local government investments
- Profit generator: broadcasters with high net profit (10-30%), small dependence on local authorities and an orientation towards commercial revenue sources
Despite its financing by advertising or sponsorship, state subsidies play a crucial role for the continuing existence of the broadcasting system. Nearly half of the TV market is subsidized by state (about 16-17 billion rubles annually). ”Losses are compensated by state subsidies. The role of the economic regulator has been carried out by the state, which makes it a rather unprofitable system”, Makeenko states. Some private TV owners even report that their revenue isn’t high enough in order to receive subsidies. This state funding has a long tradition since it existed since the times of the Soviet Union.
Special types of broadcasting
Pay TV is very cheap in Russia in comparison to the USA. A basic package with 60 channels costs about 2€ per month, due to missing translations of contents and the fact that the broadcasts are produced for the main market (US, EU) in any case.
Regarding the online video sector there exist a lot of private sites, like Ivi, Megogo, TV Zavr and Tvigle which were surprisingly not replaced by the streaming giant Netflix (no “Netflix effect”).
Russia is still in transition from analog to digital TV (the digital switch has been postponed to 2018).
State subsidies: He who pays the piper calls the tune?
After the presentation, we asked Dr. Makeenko if the high rate of state subsidies negatively influences the media freedom of broadcasters. Astonishingly the scholar negated this question due to several reasons:
- Promotion of media freedom through subsidies: since the local advertising market is very weak, subsidies can also guarantee diversity, for example of local cultures. According to the scholar, “cultural diversity is more important than ideological diversity”.
- Shift in donors, shift in influence: during the times of the Soviet Union, the state was the main donor of the broadcasting sector. Today, private founders (e.g. from other economic fields, like the gas company Gazprom) play a crucial role in financing. Consequently, the interests of several businessmen are strongly involved. Therefore, personal relationships seem bigger limits to criticism than state funding.
- Liberal legal situation: there’s no law which states that criticism of the government is prohibited when a media outlet receives state funding. Furthermore, the Russian Law on Mass Media (1991) outlines the unacceptability of censorship.
- Sanctity of power: media outlets are obedient to the state, which guarantees stability of the system. According to Makeenko, there’s no need to criticize it.
In my opinion, this fact is highly questionable. Even though there’s a strong significance of private men financing the broadcasting sector, it is apparent that there exist close ties between these donors and the government (as shown above) and therefore an indirect influence of the state on media freedom. Moreover, it is debatable if the liberal legal situation really reflects the reality. Perhaps there are unwritten rules that do limit criticism of the state. Furthermore, there seems to exist a clear discrepancy between old scholars and the younger population regarding their opinion of Russian media autonomy, as discussions with students at the university have shown to me. Astonishingly, the faculty of journalism is not located in the main complex of the Lomonosov University, but close to the Kremlin – the centre of power. Honi soit qui mal y pense?
I was somehow confused after the presentation, because it was hard to understand Makeenko’s point of view. “Russians are aliens”, he finally concludes – almost as if this could be taken as a justification for everything. Perhaps we aren’t able understand the Russian media system when comparing it with our personal experiences and our Western view. I, nevertheless assume, that this sentence was rather used to prevent external criticism and further discussion.
Public politics in Russia
Public politics in Russia
Trends and prospects
Dr. Ekaterina Sivyakova, assistant professor of the Faculty of Journalism of Lomonosov Moscow State University, gave us our first lecture in Moscow. She is working on public politics and mass communication and her presentation was about “Public politics in Russia: trends and prospects”
Press: the mirror of regime?
First Ekaterina Sivyakova presented some impact factors.
- The type of political regime and the media systems organizational structure
- The law practice and its transparency and importance
- The Communication between media owners and journalist – whether it is cooperation or manipulation
- and the role of Social media as a platform and source for ground communication and networking.
Following she gave us some short but informative background information on press in Russia from the 80s-2010s.
Press in the 1980s-2010s
In the 1980s press in Russia was an agent of change. Public trust and therefore the circulation rates of newspapers were quite high. The agenda was critics of communist past and other main topics summarized in the name Glasnost, all connected to a new political system and foresight.
In 1993 Russia adopted a new Constitution and became a “presidential” republic. Media business development and instrumental manipulation came back for two reasons: First, the 1996 presidential elections, where Boris Jelzin ran again. In the 2nd term he had strong competitors but won the 2nd wave because of the support of main media or rather: the support of main media owners. Second, in the end of the 1990s an “information war” started. Several business groups (including media owner) used media as an instrument for their interests.
In 2000 Russia, formerly a nation of readers, became a nation of TV viewers. By this press lost its position as driver of change, but became a “chronicler”. Ekaterina Sivyakova pointed out that this transformation had also a strong impact on the media agenda. It turned to adapt the new medium. This means more infotainment, more emotional and visual and good looking politicians became present in media, instead of rational discussions on the country’s social problems. She called it “political theatre without discussion.” Furthermore, TV was far more state controlled than the press has been.
Press in 2010 was marked by a wave of dismissions of top journalists and editors (e.g. Kommersant, Esquire, Bol’shoy Gorod). State power focused on media which wrote about political problems, leading to a series of media conception changes. Those changes lead to an increase of positive issue rather than negative ones. For Ekaterina real problems are not properly covered nor analyzed in current Russian media (e.g. economical and social crisis, immigration crisis, HIV epidemic).
Media issues in 2010: polarized society
Russian society is ideological polarized. The most famous case is the discussion about LGTB rights. Another one is the “performance” of Pussy Riots which divided society in a pro and a contra group. Both cases are religious and political. Politically the Russian media system is divided into opposition vs. official “stakeholders”. During big events the Russian agenda, or as some might say propaganda, becomes more accurate (e.g. Sochi). In total there is a main difference between the internal (more aggressive) and external agenda and the official and independent media.
Crimea as a turning point – followed by Syrian war
The events around Crimea in 2014 were presented as a possible turning point. Whether people were happy or not about the annexation they could choose between media which support their very own point of view on this topic. Official agenda was the supporting approach and alternative media, in contrary, had a critical approach. In other words: “Which frame do you want your information to consist of depends on how your feelings are about the issue.” Later the Syrian war replaced the Ukrainian agenda. The attention from Russian society went from internal social and political problems to more external and imperial problems.
After this historical and present background information on the press system Sivyakova named some future trends:
- Investigative journalism comes back and reveals a new way: open data investigations
- “Explanatory” texts answer the questions people ask (see https://meduza.io/cards)
- new forms of information (see picture above, which shows in three figures the price of Ruble for 1 $, for 1 € and for 1 barrel – the background picture and music can be chosen but it is said that this shows “everything essential in one page” http://zenrus.ru/)
- Russian politics as the sphere of myths and stereotypes
- Lack of publicity: elections in the US as the most popular and discussed event in Russian politics
- Russian civic agenda represented in independent and international media
- Personalization of Russian politics: the policy of state leader Vladimir Putin
- Russia vs. US and Europe in “Ukrainian question” (sanctions and anti-sanctions)
The lecture by Ekaterina Sivyakova was a good overview of current and past situation and how structures have changed.
Recommended Citation Form:
Julia Traunspurger: Public politics in Russia. In: Michael Meyen (ed.): Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich 2016. http://mappingmediafreedom.de/public-politics-in-russia (access date).
Media in Post Soviet Russia: An introductory lesson by Professor Elena Vartanova
Media in Post Soviet Russia: An introductory lesson by Professor Elena Vartanova
Written by Moritz Schweiger
What defines the media system in Post-Soviet Russia? During our excursion to participate in the International Moscow Readings conference at Lomonossow University, we were privileged to get this question answered by dean Professor Elena Vartanova. In a 60 minute introductory lesson, she outlined the characteristics of the present Russian media system and its development during Post-Soviet-era.
The present Russian media system has been shaped by its transition from an all-embracing state suppression during Soviet times to unregulated liberalism during the 90ies. On December 26th 1991, the Soviet press law was readapted to a Russian press law, encompassing press freedom and the legalization of private ownership. Despite this first approach to Westernized systems, the Post-Soviet media, its directors and journalists, struggled in adapting a genuine Western media system due to several attacking questions. First of all, what is the typical Western media model? Is the PBS-focussed Nordic model more characteristic than the liberalized US model? Second, was adapting another established media system really the only way to go? According to Professor Vartanova, the political and media elites’ dull orientation on Westernizing the Russian media system masked a poor understanding of the complexity and dissimilarities of the post-Soviet society, which hindered a duplication of a Western model. What followed in the 90ies was a mixture of top-down imposed Western model characteristics (like liberalization, a press freedom widely respected by authorities and pluralism of opinions) on the one side and a lack of understanding and valuation for these principles among the Russian people/journalists on the other. The result that we see today is a media system, which eludes traditional classifications like Western or Eastern model, but rather symbolizes a particular Russian path: It is both centralized (e.g. on the level of national TV) and de-centralized (e.g. in the newspaper market), highly commercialized (with no PBS-balance to private media) and highly politicized (with media being divided into System Opposition and Government Media).
Besides general characteristics of the current Russian media system, Professor Vartanova also outlined four universal and Russian specific forces that drove the change of its media system: politics, the economy (market shifts and the globalization of media), digitalization and a distinctive Russian culture (determined by state paternalism and a general obedience to authorities). The result of this change was an extensive transformation of the Russian media: First, the transformation of media structures from vertical to horizontal concentration, from print to electronic media and from analogue to digital (with the Russian government postponing the switch from analogue to digital TV for already three years). Second, the transformation of media content from mainly positive news during USSR and a focus on negativity as a central news value (conflict, problems) during the 90ies back to a call for positive news since the 2000s. And third, the transformation of news practices like ethical values and an understanding of responsibility, which is still lacking among part of the Russian journalists.
What remained after an intense 60 minute overview was the impression that the modern Russian media system has always followed its own distinctive path and eludes existing classifications. It is in a mode of constant transformation, triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union, shaped by premature liberalizations and adoptions of Western models and finally on a turning point to a Neo-Authoritarian model since the reign of president Wladimir Putin.
Moritz Schweiger: Media in Post-Soviet Russia: An introductory lesson by Professor Elena Vartanova. In: Michael Meyen (ed.): Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich 2016. http://mappingmediafreedom.de/media-in-post-soviet-russia (access date).