The Use of Rhetoric and the Mass Media in Russia's War on Terror

By Simons, Greg | Demokratizatsiya, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview
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The Use of Rhetoric and the Mass Media in Russia's War on Terror

Simons, Greg, Demokratizatsiya

Abstract: The mass media are an essential element, from the perspective of both sides in the war on terrorism. This article deals specifically with the case of the Russian war on terrorism. It is intended to introduce the reader to some of the current lines of rhetoric, and why such rhetoric is employed in the first place. At times, it can be intended for the consumption of the domestic audience, but other times it is employed more as a tool with which to influence the actions of other countries. The material is drawn from various Russian mass media sources, both state and privately owned outlets, to try and find diversity (if it exists) in the message.

Key words: mass media, Putin, rhetoric, terrorism, war on terrorism


Russian President Vladimir Putin has built his political career on fighting terrorism in Russia. The apparent early "successes" of the 1999 conventional military campaign in Chechnya have been replaced by drawn-out guerrilla warfare, which has become a terror campaign aimed at striking civilian targets in Russia. The mass media are an important instrument for both sides of this conflict, which are fighting for the hearts, minds, and sympathies of their audiences. The focus of this article is to examine how the Russian mass media present the key political actors' messages. This article focuses on matters such as the rhetoric used and the significance of the time and place that the statements were made.

The issues and rhetoric that surround terrorism in Russia can be most confusing. In the run-up to the second Chechen War, in 1999, domestic terrorism, perpetrated by Chechens, was considered to be a Russian problem. For their prosecution of "antiterrorist actions" in Chechnya, and alleged human rights violations, the international community criticized Russia. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, provided the Russian authorities with the opportunity to link Chechen terrorism with the global war on terror, which is being led by the United States. In doing this, the Russian authorities hope to reduce criticism of the Chechnya campaign, a calculation that seems to be working.

Rhetoric, and its use through the conduit of the mass media, is an important aspect of society, especially when society is stressed by conflict, which can have a cultural/ideological component to it. It is a war over hearts and minds--that is being waged in the public information space. This is a war that is being fought over the perception of reality, rather than "hard facts." In this information/ideology war, there is a struggle to maintain acceptance and legitimacy for policies and actions. This article is divided into a number of sections that deal with a small section of the broader questions of how and why the mass media issues certain statements. It begins with a brief description of rhetoric and its use, starting with a historical perspective and the use of rhetoric in a more contemporary sense. By doing so, the foundations of analysis for how the various extracts from the mass media are given. Another important aspect that needs to be explained early is the definition of the media's role in the war on terrorism. This section starts with the Western "good practice" definition. However, another definition is also given, the definition of how the Russian authorities view the mass media's role.

Some basic facts and figures on Russia's casualties as a result of terrorist acts are given. Then terrorism and terrorists are defined. Because of the emotions and politics that surround this issue, it is particularly contentious and has a tendency to cloud our understanding and judgment. It starts with the Russian authorities definition of terrorists and terrorism, before finishing with an academic definition.

The article then analyzes various rhetorical frames that are being used by key Russian actors. The first of these looks at the issue of "normalizing" the Russian war on terror in the international arena.

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The Use of Rhetoric and the Mass Media in Russia's War on Terror


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