The Media

Russia Table of Contents

For most of the Soviet era, the news media were under full state control. The major newspapers, such as Pravda , Izvestiya , Krasnaya zvezda , and Komsomol'skaya pravda , were the official organs of party or government agencies, and radio and television were state monopolies. In the late 1980s, these monopolies began to weaken as stories such as the Chernobyl' disaster reached the public in detail, an occurrence that would not have been possible before glasnost . Then, after seventy-five years of state control, the media began an era of significantly less restricted activity in 1992.

In the post-Soviet era, the news media have played a central role in forming public opinion toward critical national concerns, including the Chechnya conflict, the economic crisis, and government policies and personalities. In the environment of freewheeling expression of opinion, public figures such as Boris Yeltsin and government actions such as the Chechnya campaign have received ruthless criticism, and the deterioration of Russia's environment, public health, national defense, and national economy has been exposed thoroughly, if not always accurately. However, the national and local governments have exerted heavy pressure on the print and broadcast media to alter coverage of certain issues. Because most media enterprises continue to depend on government support, such pressure often has been effective.

The Print Media

In the first post-Soviet years, major newspapers presented varied approaches to critical issues. Among the most influential titles were Izvestiya (in Soviet times, the organ of the Politburo, but after 1991 an independent periodical owned by its employees, with a daily circulation in 1995 of about 604,765); Nezavisimaya gazeta , 1995 daily circulation about 50,400; and the weekly Argumenty i fakty (1995 circulation about 3.2 million) (see table 27, Appendix). But by the mid-1990s, a new atmosphere of intense competition was bringing rapid change to the print media. In 1995 an estimated 10,000 newspapers and periodicals were registered, including more than twenty daily newspapers published in Moscow. The thousands of small regional newspapers that appeared after 1991 were plagued by low advertising revenue, high production costs, an increasingly apathetic public, and intense pressure from local authorities to slant content. But in the mid-1990s, local newspapers gained readers because of increased regional independence; they also benefited from the competition that television gave to national newspapers in providing the regions with news from Moscow and the rest of the world.

In 1995 the Moscow daily Nezavisimaya gazeta , which for five years remained true to its name (the independent newspaper) by refusing advertising and state subsidies, was forced to close because circulation had dropped to about 35,000 and many top journalists had left for more lucrative positions. The paper subsequently resumed publication under the ownership of a large bank consortium (the Unified Bank) with close ties to the Government. Pravda , formerly the main organ of the CPSU and still representing antireform positions, underwent numerous crises in the early and mid-1990s. Purchased by a Greek publishing firm in 1992, its circulation dropped from about 10 million in the 1980s to around 165,000 in 1995. After changing its name to Pravda 5 in mid-1996, the newspaper broadened its procommunist position somewhat. The decline of Pravda left Sovetskaya Rossiya and Zavtra as the chief organs of the antireform faction of the legislature.

Official organs still have a place in the media, however; Rossiyskaya gazeta , the heavily subsidized organ of the Government, publishes most of that body's official documents, including laws and decrees. Rossiyskiye vesti , organ of the office of the president, reaches about 150,000 Russians daily. Both newspapers feature strongly pro-Government positions. The third official national newspaper, Krasnaya zvezda , representing the Ministry of Defense, acquired a reputation in the 1990s as strongly pro-Yeltsin.

Although Russia's newspapers offer readers diverse opinions on most issues, the quality of Russian journalism remains relatively low, and objectivity is random. Journalists generally do not verify their sources fully or are denied access to relevant individuals. A 1995 official report on press freedom indicated that reporters without special connections have no better access to state officials than their counterparts did in the Soviet era. Most newspapers make no clear distinction between objective reports and editorials, and, according to a 1995 report by the trade magazine Zhurnalist , most have some connection to a political party or faction.

The Broadcast Media

In 1992 some 48.5 million radios were in use in Russia. Domestic radio programming is provided by two state communications companies, the Federal Television and Radio Service of Russia and the All-Russian Television and Radio Company. The Voice of Russia (Golos Rossii) is the main foreign-language broadcast service, providing programs in thirty languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English, Japanese, Farsi, and Spanish.

In the 1990s, television reached an increasing number of Russians with increasingly diversified programming. In 1992 about 55 million televisions were in use. For most Russians, television is the chief source of news. Television channels and transmission facilities gradually have been privatized, although in 1996 the most prominent "private" stockholders were entrepreneurs with strong ties to the Yeltsin administration. The largest of the four major networks, Russian Public Television (Obshchestvennoye rossiyskoye televideniye--ORT, formerly Ostankino), which reaches an estimated 200 million people, remained 51 percent state-owned after partial privatization in 1994. However, ORT has offered regular programs, such as one hosted by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that are critical of the Government. ORT's news broadcasts tend to favor Government policies.

The second-largest network, the All-Russian Television and Radio Company (Vserossiyskaya gosudarstvennaya teleradiokompaniya, commonly called Russia Television--RTV), was fully state-owned in 1996 and reaches about 140 million viewers with relatively balanced news coverage. The largest private network is Independent Television (Nezavisimoye televideniye--NTV), which reaches about 100 million people. NTV has received praise in the West for unbiased news reporting. Its Chechnya coverage forced other networks to abandon pro-Government reporting of the conflict. The TV-6 commercial network brings its estimated 70 million viewers in European Russia mainly entertainment programs. Its founder, Eduard Sagalayev, was strongly influenced by an earlier partnership with United States communications magnate Ted Turner.

Besides the four networks, state-run channels are offered in every region, and an estimated 400 private television stations were in operation in 1995. More than half of such stations produce their own news broadcasts, providing mainly local rather than national or international coverage. The Independent Broadcasting System was established in 1994 to link some fifty stations with shared programming.

By 1995 the administration of state television had become heavily politicized. After the 1995 legislative elections, Yeltsin dismissed Oleg Poptsov, the head of RTV, for having aired what the president considered unfairly negative coverage of his administration. In exerting such overt political pressure, Yeltsin likely had in mind the prominent role television would play in the 1996 presidential election. In fact, all candidates in that election were represented in an unprecedented wave of televised campaign advertising, some of which was quite similar to that in the United States and little of which provided useful information to voters. Convinced that their independence would be jeopardized if KPRF candidate Gennadiy Zyuganov won, television broadcasters provided virtually no coverage of his main campaign events, and even the independent NTV aided Yeltsin by muting its criticism during the election. Critical coverage of the Chechen conflict and other issues resumed once Yeltsin's reelection seemed assured, however.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress