Where Do most of the Russians Get Their News From in 21st Century?
And why Russians don’t read printed press?
Are there independent news agencies in Russia?
The recent polls say that 88% of Russians get their news from television. In the country of 140 million people, the state and its allies hold monopoly over the entire country’s media. The most watched channels, particularly, are owned either by the government enterprises or by allied government oligarchs. And as you can guess, the coverage of world news of these channels serves the interests not of ordinary citizens, but those who own them.
In Britain or United States, you can see people reading daily newspapers or weekly magazine in public transport or cafes — it’s a part of a culture, but in Russia it’s not like that. What surprised people from Britain or U.S., who lived in Russia is that Russians don’t read newspapers or magazines. Neither in printed nor digital form.
I, personally, every working day buy the latest magazines and newspapers on the way to work. I read columns written by experts on the situation in Syria or Eastern Europe. Their opinions vary from publication to publication. I buy them because they help me understand who are the bad guys in Syrian conflict and who are the good guys in Syrian conflict. They help me understand which government policy is right and which is wrong.
In Russia, however, you know exactly who is the bad guy. Knowing who’s the good guy is easier — Russia is always a good guy.
It hasn’t always been like that. There was a brief moment in the recent Russian history, when people were buying newspapers. It was in 1990’s, when Soviet Union’s collapse led to expansion of different types of information sources in Russia. Including — printed press.
Why is printed press important?
“To read news on Internet, there should be journalists who would get those news to the internet” said a prominent Russian investigative journalist, Andrei Soldatov, in one of his talks with journalists.
“People rely on internet a lot today. They forget that internet itself doesn’t produce news. You can discuss or spread news on the internet but you should get the information from somewhere.”
The question where the information appears on internet is crucial. If you surf Russian web, you notice that the information people discuss is solely based on information given to them by the government.
Russian internet, rarely gets information from investigative independent reporters. The reason is that there is a catastrophic lack of investigative journalists. They just disappeared.
It didn’t happen overnight. The printing press that appeared in 1990’s sparked a true discussion among Russian public. People were getting information from different news agencies, comparing them and finding the truth somewhere between the lines of what they have read . The journalists employed by the newspapers knew that they should do a good investigation to get published and earn respect. Briefly, newspapers were working as vehicles of information production.
The reason why people stopped buying newspapers was simple. While some journalists were focusing on finding the truth and earn respect, others focused on making money from businessmen who were paying journalists, to discredit their business opponents.
Russian newspapers were discredited by journalists paid by oligarchs.
This escalated into a battle of blackmailing and lies, which people began to feel, when they were reading fresh morning newspapers.
Newspapers such as Moskovskie Novosti or Segodnia had no relation to these blackmailing games. Instead they were publishing critical articles condemning government’s inefficient policies and exposing corruption among the officials. However, the overall decline of interest in printing press among citizens, combined with the desire of powerful groups to shut down the voices of independent journalists forced the publications to close down.
Moskovskie Novosti and Segodnia along with the several other newspapers were the vehicles of information production. Their closure meant that Russian citizens will get less investigations on what their government really does, less revelations on how much their corrupt officials really spend , and therefore less transparency overall.
By eliminating the news agencies that produced information or what I called ‘vehicles of information production’ , the government has earned a monopoly on what information citizens are possessing. Authorities now can regulate what piece of information evening news can broadcast and what they cannot. They can show the side of the story that will serve their interests.
In order to stop inhaling the information that is given to Russian people by their government, public should start willing to pay for what they inhale. They should be ready to pay a journalist so he or she would do his job, which is to investigate and deliver to public.
In this case journalist will know that if he or she will lose the trust of the reader, his or her reader is going to lose the trust and stop buying the newspapers that he or her was published in.
‘Books and Cigarettes’, a short essay by George Orwell, tells about the price of pleasures people can get for their money. Orwell shows that books as a pleasure are cheaper in comparison to pleasures such as cigarettes or alcohol. The same way are the newspapers. Russian people should understand that by willing to pay only two dollars for newspapers, they will grant themselves freedom that they need so much.
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