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  • Russia’s Muzzled Media: Confronting Economic Crisis in the Age of Authoritarianism

    On Thursday, April 30, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty held an event “Muzzled Media: Coverage in Russia of the Financial Crisis.” The panel focused on the freedom of the media in Russia during the financial crisis.

    According to Kommersant Washington Bureau Chief Dmitry Sidorov, “the media in Russia is free only when the Kremlin allows it to be free.” Sidorov pointed out that the radio station “Echo of Moscow,” which is often considered a beacon of free speech and democracy, is only given limited autonomy to counter the argument that there is no media freedom in Russia.

    Other panelists included; Andrei Sitov, Washington Bureau Chief from ITAR-TASS; Brian Whitmore Senior Correspondent from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; and David Satter, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, as moderator. The two Russian journalists provided a Moscow perspective to the subject matter.

    For a Russian journalist reporting on the financial crisis, it is extremely difficult to judge what is acceptable to publish. It is hard to know what will “enrage the Kremlin,” Sidorov said. For example, the press was told specifically by the Russian leadership “not to cause a panic.” Is reporting on a 10 percent drop in the Moscow stop market “causing panic”?

    Kimmage spoke about the “information manipulation strategy of the Kremlin,” characteristic of authoritarianism, as distinguished from totalitarian state’s total control over the information space. He observed that Russian television is under “very strong control” and there is an “official message.” It is similar to the Arab press—“there is a line.” Concerning the financial crisis, while the TV stations are not ignoring the crisis, they are “spinning” the facts.

    He noted that if one watches television regularly, the viewer can hear the official message as pronounced by the Russian leadership—the US is the root cause of the financial crisis and the government is working overtime to protect Russia. On a more subtle level, the official subtext as pronounced by approved commentators is that the crisis is a “vast defeat” for the US and a “potential victory” for Russia. This subtext is rather conspiratorial.

    The print press is subject to a weaker control. The Internet has the smallest audience and is the freest — but is also subject to the greatest manipulation. Kimmage noted that there has been a proliferation of conspiratorial articles about the US’ role in the financial crisis on the Internet—with some on the ruling party United Russia’s website as well as on the youth wing of United Russia’s.

    According to Sitov, the roots of the financial crisis are not in Russia but in America; the Russian resent this fact. He observed that after listening to the critical views of Sidorov, a Russian journalist, one can only conclude that the Russian media is free. He believes that, he said that domestic coverage of the financial crisis is adequate but that the foreign affairs coverage by American media is stuck largely in an “an echo chamber, taking the patriotic line.” The one exception is Helen Thomas who he described as a “courageous” reporter.

    Whitmore observed that while the Russian television media has sought to portray the government as “united and battling the crisis successfully” during the financial crisis, this is far from reality. There is a lot of political sparring going on behind the scenes. For example, Igor Shuvalov, First Deputy Prime Minister, and Alexei Kudrin, Minister of Finance, apparently see the crisis as “an opportunity to diversify the economy” and deepen reform. To them, the crisis has exposed the vulnerabilities of a state too dependent on commodity exports. Powerful Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, on the other hand, wants to keep the same system but make it more effective.

    To Whitmore, Sechin and other “siloviki” (law enforcement and security honchos) are disinclined towards diversification because they recognize that “when you decentralize economic power, you decentralize political power.” This is why they have launched a series of attacks on Kudrin. While this debate behind the scenes is not readily apparent from watching TV, one can connect the dots by reading various media.

    Satter concluded by stating that a free press is an “important safety valve under conditions of economic hardship.” Russia could potentially be facing political and social unrest because the crisis comes after a long period of strong economic growth, including rising living standards. Citizens may find the reversal of this trend unacceptable. Panelists foresee potential problems ahead if the gap between reality and media reporting continues to grow.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Russia’s Muzzled Media: Confronting Economic Crisis in the Age of Authoritarianism

    1. Leon, Durango, CO says:

      Golly! Where is Joe McCarthy now that we need him? I'm angry with the Republicans who let the Left get away with it. These issues need investigation and prosecution, how the USSR set the current events in motion one hundred years ago. Our "free press" is completely controlled by the Progressives. The Republicans allowed the Pseudo Democratic Plutocracy to take hold of us, a big thanks to McCain for McCain-Finegold. So here's our choice: Socialist or Communist. Believe it or not the People voted in the Communists! Get your news on the comedy channel and drink yourself into oblivion. I expected this article to express the American repression of the Media. Irony of all ironies, the Russians brought down America just in time to hurt themselves!

    2. Marsha, Wheeling WV says:

      Obviously, they don't have a First Amendment. We must continue to be vigilant and not allow this to happen here. Never silence speech no matter how hurtful or helpful. I feel sorry for them.

    3. Spiritof76, New Hamp says:

      Russians rulers can learn a thing or two about how compliant our media is to the wishes of our rulers in Washington without any need for any censorship. We have equivalent of Pravda here in NY Times and NBC. So much for the First Amendment. How about the pending censorship of Talk Radio in the US? We do such a clean surgical incision on the First Amendment that Russians can learn from us.

      There isn't much difference between the ruling elites in the two countries!

    4. Lynn B. DeSpain says:

      The History of any Nation has always predicted its future. Russia has always been a land of peasants, much like Mexico and a lot of Third World Nations, This is not said to belittle them, but rather to explain their mentality. The people themselves do not feel comfort in fuling themselves, but would rather be ruled, within boundaries. Go beyound the boundaries, get a new rular. Mexico went so far as to hire a new rular from France to replace Santa Anna, who later was hired to replace the one from France.

      Russia and others are unlike America, a Republic, where the Laws govern the Government, and it takes not a mob to rule, to lynch,(a Democracy), but a Juries 100% vote to convict ( a Republic.)

      We are a Nation of peoples who settled an unknow land and created a New Experiment a Republic of Nations, (States), because we all were fed up with what we had lived through before.

      We are not a land of peasants but rather a land born of Rebels, those who Rebel agaist Tyrany, Monarchy, etc. So inspite of what our liberal media, and our President may say we must do, in our heart of hearts, with our forefathers blood in our veins, we know what is right and will follow that path.


    5. David VanNorman Wi says:

      We will be in the same way if we don't get this stopped we will lose all our freedoms also.

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