Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Unreality TV

What are television journalists to do if the news they identify isn't the news they can report? Or, to paraphrase (update?) Orwell, if you don't have firm control of the past, perhaps you can control reporting of the present.


Russian TV veers back to familiar ground
As thousands of protesters pushed toward Bolotnaya Square, crews from mainstream Russian television fanned out. Satellite trucks were ranged curbside, their engines running.

For six days after the Duma elections last month, TV had ignored the street protests that were starting to shake the nation. Now the reporters and cameramen were ready. But still, not a peep.

Finally, at 3 p.m. on Dec. 10, say those who know, the word came down: You can put this on the air.

The news reports that followed were neutral, and factual, and it seemed that TV, a central instrument of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s hold on power, was at last giving way under the strain. But the dalliance with straight reporting was short-lived. In January, the leash was pulled up tight again.

Putin has an election to win — he’s running for president, and the vote is in March — and after weeks of ambivalence and uncertainty, the state-controlled TV has returned to its old and familiar ways…

The men who run television got their start in Soviet TV in the late 1980s, and they understood… that they had “to open the pipe” to some extent, or else protesters — and their own journalist employees — would be dangerously provoked.

There was a fever in the body politic, said Roman Badanin, the online editor-in-chief for Forbes here, and the coverage was like an aspirin.

But Putin expects to be elected, and since mid-January there’s been little aspirin. The main news programs now don’t ignore the opposition, as they did for a decade, but hammer away at it…

In Putin’s Russia, where few things are clear-cut, Kremlin strategists don’t, as a rule, dictate stories. They have “discussions” with media managers, said Maxim Kovalsky, who in December was fired as the editor of Kommersant Vlast magazine. The prevailing mode is self-censorship…

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