Tag: 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).

TV-industry of Russia
Contemporary state and development prospects

The Russian broadcasting sector: structure, economic models and interference

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

Important TV owners are Gazprom-Media, CTC Media, NTV and the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company VGTRK. An analysis of the ownership structure of the Russian broadcasting sector shows that the national media outlets with the highest audience reach are controlled by the state (directly by subsidies or ownership of the state or indirectly by close relationships of media owners with politicians). Channel 1, for instance, is partly owned by Yuri Kovalchuk – chairmen of the Board of the Rossiya Bank and Putin’s personal friend. According to Makeenko, NTV is the only independent owner, since it does not show any direct or indirect ties to financial groups that control the other channels. It is considered one of the most objective and professional television networks in Russia.

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”).

Current developments
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.

To my surprise, he also compared the Russian media system to Sweden, which is very liberal despite state subsidizing. Makeenko emphasized that Russian broadcasters are free to say what they want, they receive the funding in any case.
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.