Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Coercion or Conformism? Censorship and Self-Censorship among Russian Media Personalities and Reporters in the 2010s

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Coercion or Conformism? Censorship and Self-Censorship among Russian Media Personalities and Reporters in the 2010s

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article examines questions of censorship, self-censorship and conformism on Russia's federal television networks during Putin's third presidential term. It challenges the idea that the political views and images broadcast by federal television are imposed coercively upon reporters, presenters and anchors. Based on an analysis of interviews with famous media personalities as well as rank-and-file reporters, this article argues that media governance in contemporary Russia does not need to resort to coercive methods, or the exertion of self-censorship among its staff, to support government views. Quite the contrary: reporters enjoy relatively large leeway to develop their creativity, which is crucial for state-aligned television networks to keep audience ratings up. Those pundits, anchors and reporters who are involved in the direct promotion of Kremlin positions usually have consciously and deliberately chosen to do so. The more famous they are, the more they partake in the production of political discourses.

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Television is the primary, and most effective, tool employed by the political regime to influence its people, and the federal television networks are critical elements of the political system in Putin's Russia. (1) Eighty-eight percent of the Russian population use television news as their prime source of information, 65 percent regard the news reporting as objective, and 51 percent trust television as an information source. (2) What the Russian viewers see on state-aligned television is strongly shaped by the Kremlin. Particularly during Putin's third presidential term, news reporting has become more propagandistic. (3) Often without being told what to do, journalists, reporters and television hosts are usually keen to get it right and do what they think that the authorities want them to do. Yet at the same time they are also individuals with their own characters and ideas.

This article will explore processes around media governance on federal television networks during Putin's third presidential term, in particular the question of self-censorship among presenters, reporters and media personalities. It will discuss the ways in which the media adapt how news is made and framed to the expectations of the authorities. It will make comparisons between renowned media personalities and less or little known "rank-and-file" reporters.

Questions around censorship and self-censorship are familiar to Russian reporters (4) and have attracted a fair degree of academic attention, especially from social scientists working on Ukraine and Central Asia. (5) As Sarah Oates concluded from the study of the television coverage of Russian elections, reporters chose to adjust the message their reports deliver to the position of their political masters. (6) Censorship, the outright prohibition, alteration or suppression of thoughts in media outlets or other forms of public expression, is usually linked to coercive tactics imposed upon those not complying. Self-censorship implies a self-inflicted restriction of free expression, also arising from subordination to the political interests as well as fear of superiors. (7) We argue that many reporters act out of conformism. "Conformism" is a difficult notion, as it can mean both opportunism and routinized willingness to accept unquestioningly the usual practices or standards, which were originally imposed through coercion. The latter case was typical for the Soviet Union; first, coercion forced reporters and public activists to suppress their thoughts, which, later, became the silently accepted norm of behavior to get by without trouble. The term "adekvatnostwhich was used by a number of the reporters who agreed to speak to us, but without attribution, appeared to combine the two differing concepts of conformism.

The issue of conformism in news making was studied by Olessia Koltsova. Among other things, she analyzed the role of censorship and self-censorship in the day-to-day practices of Russian journalists, as well as how they conformed to their superiors' wishes. …

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