Tag: Medienfreiheit

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).

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).