Censorship in contemporary Russia


Essay, 2006
17 Pages, Grade: distinction (80%)

Excerpt

Table of contents

Introduction

I. Political reasons

II. Economic reasons

III. Sociological and historic reasons

Conclusion

Bibliography

Censorship in contemporary Russia

Introduction

In a crucial moment of transition in the late 1980s Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and began to liberalise the soviet political system. He allowed in the name of glasnost several newspapers, literary journals and weekly magazines greater editional licence to criticise the Soviet system. Gorbachev’s glasnost gave birth to a new generation of independent-minded journalists.[1] A law on the mass media gave the new Russian Federation a framework. The law was passed in 1991 and amended several times, and it is still one of the most democratic laws in the country.[2] It guarantees everybody the freedom of thought and speech and the right freely to seek, transfer, produce and disseminate information by any lawful means. Article 29.5 forbids censorship and guarantees the freedom of the mass media.

In 1991 Russian media celebrated this opportunity and most Russian press declared their independence from the state.[3] Freed from censorship, new quality newspapers acted as a forum for debate of public issues and they took great pride in calling themselves the “fourth estate”. Papers like Nezavisimaya Gazeta or Independent Newspaper for example gloried in the freedom to act as a forum for discussions.[4]

The liberalization of television too began in 1990, when the state-owned Russian television station RTR was founded. RTR started broadcasting in spring 1991 and started to show its programs on the Second Channel.[5] The first private television network NTV started by Vladimir Gusinsky in 1993 followed and provided a truly independent source of information that reached beyond Moscow.[6]

However, already in 1992 George Vachnadze predicted that there would be no free press in post-communist Russia because the ruling circles do not want it. According to Vachnadze the ruling circles need a tame press.[7] Indeed, despite these very democratic laws, contemporary Russia only takes the 138th rank out of 167 countries in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2005 of Reporters sans frontiers.[8] In 2003 the US democracy-rating organization Freedom house downgraded Russia’s media for the first time since 1991 from “partly free” to “not free” in its annual Press Freedom Survey.[9] A more precise description in a study of the state of media freedom within the Federation concluded that each region violates media freedom differently but each of them does so. According to this study, Moscow and St Petersburg were rated to be the most free with the ethno-federal republics at the bottom.[10] Chechnya especially remains a major “black hole” for freedom of the press in Russia.[11]

Who or what is responsible for this determination in democratic rights today is the central question of the essay. It will provide a range of reasons, which are of a sociological, economic as well as a political nature as an explanation for the miserable situation.

I. Political reasons

The political reasons for the current wretched situation of the Russian media system can be summed up as: a strict control of the ministry of press, pressure of the government and the bureaucracy on independent journalists, and the weak judicial system.

Suspicion about the judicial system araises from the circumstances surrounding the murder of several journalists possively because of their work during the last years. Paul Khlebnikov, the editor of the new Russian edition of the US business magazine Forbes, is only one example. He was hit four times by gunmen who attacked him in a Moscow street in 2004. The American journalist, who founded the Russian edition of the magazine in the same year, had recently published a list of the richest people in Russia.[12] As in similar cases the murderers were not found, The Moscow City Court acquitted three defendants.[13] This is very surprising as usually the presumption of guilt until proven otherwise in Russian courts resulst in the convictions of the accused on average 99% of cases.[14]

Three different periods of censorship in post-communist Russia

Despite the promise of the 19991 law, Zassoursky distinguishes three phases of censorship in post-communist Russia. In the first phase from 1991 – 1995 control was achieved by soft persuasion, in the second period till 2000 the manipulations got stronger. Since 2000 Zassoursky shows that censorship was implemented by strict control by the press ministry over TV licences and advertising.[15]

An examination of each period will show the concurrent political causes and examples of how the Russian government successfully eliminated the competition of ideas in Russian mass media.

“Soft persuasion” and part freedom from 1991 - 1995

The rot began early. Already in 1994 when the army sociologist, Colonel Yuri Derugin, published a very critical article about the Russian army, the ministry's press office accused the media of “provocative attempts to drag the army into political score-settling and palace intrigues."[16] These soft beginnings of pressure became stronger when Russian aircraft first began to bomb Grozny in August 1994 to topple the Chechen government and later invaded Chechnya.

In the so called first Chechnya war, the government spent much effort in making it as difficult as possible for journalists of the state owned Channel One (ORT) to report about the war. Journalists who went to the first Chechnya war had no medical insurance or flak jackets and only got an additional payment of $5 a day for going to the war zone.[17] Moreover ORT and RTR recieved less funding and consequently could not afford satellite dishes to transmit their reports.[18]

By contrast, Gusinsky’s commercial NTV was marked by its fearless reporting of the first Chechnya war.[19] So the Yeltsin government exerted strong pressure on NTV to stop its vivid and accurate reporting on that disaster.[20] NTV resisted the pressure, but was constantly aware of its vulnerability and knew that its licence could be revoked. With two or three camera crews in Chechnya at all times NTV network broadcast dramatic footage, including shots of piles of dead Russian soldiers in the centre of Grozny.[21] The effect of these images was strong: most Russians seemed to realize that the official explanation for the invasion – that it was necessary to stop Chechen gangsters and that Chechnya had to be brought back into the Russian Federation – was suspect. A poll quoted in the National Review showed most Russians recognized that the Chechens were ethnically, religiously, temperamentally, and historically different. 74% agreed that Chechnya should be granted independence.[22]

Tightening control since 1996:

The presidential elections in 1996 marked a turning point in freedom of the press in Russia. Boris Yeltsin ran again for president after his initial five-year term and was re-elected in a second round run-off against his communist opponent, Gennadii Zyuganov. First the possibility that Yeltsin might lose seemed very real but the big three TV channels ORT; RTR and even NTV produced coverage heavily supportive of Yeltsin. For example none of the big channels reported on Yeltsin’s heart attack during the campaign.[23] Furthermore, a new law limited the right of journalists to make commentaries while covering the election campaign.[24] So it is unsurprising that Yeltsin won the elections. Yeltsin’s victory had two effects: first, it created among rich businessman and big media property owners (who are collectively known as the oligarchs) the expectation that they would be in some way rewarded for their loyalty. Second the remarkable rise in public support for Yeltsin perfectly showed the power of the media.[25] In other words since the elections of 1996 it became clear to Russian politicians that gaining control over the images on TV means winning the elections. The path for future elections was predictable: an analysis of news content on ORT and NTV in the 1999 campaign found that the Communists received just 5 % of the elections news coverage on ORT and 3 % on NTV.[26]

[...]


[1] Lipman, Masha and Michael McFaul: "Managed democracy" in Russia: Putin and the press, Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 116-27, Summer 2001, 117.

[2] Skillen, Daphne, Russia, in: Bernd-Peter Lange and David Ward, The Media and Elections, 129.

[3] McKay, Betsy: Russian media showing signs of maturing Coverage of Chechnya war discards notions of censorship, The Dallas Morning News 28th January 1995.

[4] Sakwa, Richard (2002): Russian Politics and Society, 3rd Edition, London and New York, 332.

[5] Rantanen, Terhi (2002): The Global and the National, Media and Communications in Post-communist Russia, 28.

[6] Lipman, Masha and Michael McFaul: "Managed democracy" in Russia: Putin and the press, Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 116-27, Summer 2001, 117.

[7] Vanchnadze, George (1992): Secrets of Journalism in Russia, New York, 416.

[8] Reporters sans frontiers: Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2005, available at: http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=554, 9th June 2006.

[9] Bacon Edwin with Matthew Wyman (2006): Contemporary Russia, Basingstoke and New York, 115.

[10] Sakwa, Richard (2002): Russian Politics and Society, 3rd Edition, London and New York, 334.

[11] Reporters sans frontiers: North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan are the world’s “black holes” for news, available at: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=15335, 12th June 2006.

[12] Reporters sans frontiers: Russia - 2 journalist(s) killed in 2004, available at: http://www.rsf.org/killed_2004.php3?id_article=10949, 12th June 2006.

[13] Kudzoeva, Alana: Defendants on Khlebnikov murder case acquitted. ITAR-TASS World Service, 6th May 2006.

[14] Bacon Edwin with Matthew Wyman (2006): Contemporary Russia, Basingstoke and New York, 63.

[15] Zassoursky, Ivan (2004): Media and Power in Post-Soviet Russia, London and New York, 21.

[16] Meek, James: Press joins war against Russian Army, The Guardian, 25th August 1994.

[17] York, Geoffrey: Chains of censorship bind Russian television COSMETIC NEWS / Subservient to the Kremlin, a state-owned channel must muffle the horrors of war in Chechnya, The Globe and Mail, 3rd February 1995.

[18] McKay, Betsy Russian media showing signs of maturing Coverage of Chechnya war discards notions of censorship, The Dallas Morning News, 28th January 1995.

[19] Sakwa, Richard (2002): Russian Politics and Society, 3rd Edition, London and New York, 333.

[20] Mickiewicz, Ellen (2000): Institutional Incapacity, the Attentive Public and Media Pluralism in Russia, in: Gunther, Richard and Anthony Mughan (Eds.): Democracy and the Media, Cambridge, 105.

[21] McKay, Betsy Russian media showing signs of maturing Coverage of Chechnya war discards notions of censorship, The Dallas Morning News, 28th January 1995.

[22] Sikorski, Radek: A 'normal' nation? (Chechnya war's impact on Russian politics), National Review, 23rd January 1995.

[23] Oates, Sarah (2006): Media, Civil Society, and the Failure of the Fourth Estate in Russia, in: Evans, Alfred B. et al. (Eds.): Russian Civil Society. A critical Assessment, New York, 64.

[24] Zassoursky, Ivan (2004): Media and Power in Post-Soviet Russia, London and New York, 127.

[25] Bacon Edwin with Matthew Wyman (2006): Contemporary Russia, Basingstoke and New York, 118.

[26] Oates, Sarah (2006): Media, Civil Society, and the Failure of the Fourth Estate in Russia, in: Evans, Alfred B. et al. (Eds.): Russian Civil Society. A critical Assessment, New York, 63.

Excerpt out of 17 pages

Details

Title
Censorship in contemporary Russia
College
The University of Sydney  (Facultiy of Economics and Business)
Course
Media and International Politics
Grade
distinction (80%)
Author
Year
2006
Pages
17
Catalog Number
V59612
ISBN (eBook)
9783638535007
File size
538 KB
Language
English
Notes
Who or what is responsible for the determination in democratic rights in Russia today is the central question of the essay. It will provide a range of reasons, which are of a sociological, economic as well as a political nature as an explanation for the miserable situation.
Tags
Censorship, Russia, Media, International, Politics
Quote paper
M.A. Sandra Tauer (Author), 2006, Censorship in contemporary Russia, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/59612

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