Reaction to Structure of the Mass Media Lecture (Frank Arthofer)

April 12, 2007

The Monday, April 2nd, conference lecture titled the “Structure of the Mass Media in Russia” is important to understanding the scope of media suppression in Russia. It seems common that our understanding of Russian media is that television is far more restricted than print media. The history of oligarch controlled TV – such as Berezovsky’s ownership of Russian News Channel 1 in the 90’s – has fostered that belief.

This lecture supported this conception. Indeed, 90% of people in modern Russia watch one of two major television stations. With centralization of the media, the state is able to manipulate these two major stations and their content. Especially telling was the bar graph displaying the amount of coverage given to Putin supported candidates and non-Putin supported candidates in recent elections. Of course, the coverage was highly skewed, with Putin backed candidates receiving far more publicity on the two main stations.

Furthermore, the panel members also provided information regarding positive and negative comments directed at Putin supported candidates vs. non-Putin supported candidates. Again, the skew was wide, with the major television stations praising Putin supported candidates in almost exclusively. Upon seeing this disparity, it is almost banal to declare that any semblance of fair elections is impossible to achieve under these circumstances. (I would also like to note that this skew in media coverage blatantly disobeys a Constitutional Court ruling for equal media coverage in 2004).

What I found most interesting from this panel was that newspapers statistics echo the television findings. This is important because it suggests that the often held belief that TV is more suppressed that newspaper is a misconception. According to the panel members, there is only one true national newspaper, and it is under government control. Only one newspaper capable of reaching the all of the people.

Moreover, even the independent newspapers in Russia do not give coverage to opposing political parties. Due to the prominence of the presidential administration in the Russian political system, newspapers are forced to focus on Putin in order to maintain viewer-ship, in the process often ignoring other important issues.

According to Andrei Zolotov, the only media structures with no link to the state are owned by international countries and institutions. Essentially, Zolotov is stating that there is no unbiased media source with ownership in Russia.

It seems the scope of media suppression is greater than yet imagined.

Thoughts on the Conference and corruption

April 12, 2007

In the only panel I was able to attend, the most striking and uniform response from the speakers was how pessimistic they felt about their situation. Obviously we can sympathize with them for the extreme hardships they are facing in trying to go about their jobs. I was grateful to hear how they have experienced difficulties in attempting to get their message across, but I would have benefited more if we could hear a more focused response on concrete actions that can improve the conditions.

They also tied the success of their enterprises with that of the political climate. Many commented on how politics plays a pivotal role in how the press is operated. It seems so strange that one must be so careful as to what they can say openly; some things which are permitted, like ad hominem attacks on Putin, seem strange when compared to the things which are off limits, like his conducting of the war against Chechnya. One thing I had wished for (in this the final panel) was a more concentrated discussion on what can be done to improve the situation of journalists. This seems almost unfathomable when one ponders how people’s very lives are at stake when they commit certain words to paper.

Before attending the conference, I admit that I held the assumption that most, if not all of the speakers, were vocal and outspoken opponents of Putin’s administration. But another important lesson I learned on the realities of Russian journalism is that there is only so much you can say in the public press compared to private circles of conversation. Not knowing exactly what their respective enterprises stood for also clouded my understanding of their political stances. This ignorance on my part contributed to my confusion, yet this was largely cleared up afterwards and hearing Zevlev and Simonov speak to us in a smaller setting. The fact that these men and women are generally operating with a hand tied behind their back is a telling feature and evidence of how they must conduct themselves in the context of the many deaths that have occurred since Putin came to power.

Another subject which I had hoped would be touched on was that of corruption. Naturally, I had hoped this due to my research on the topic and wanted to hear first-hand accounts of how this facet of life affected real people in everyday situations. Alas, I did not get much from them on this topic, however I did want to comment on the current situation and perhaps what can be done in order to lessen its occurrence. In presenting my poster after the last panel, I had a chance to speak with Dr. Zevlev on the topic and gain his perspective on the issue. He brought up a topic which I did not touch deeply on in my final work, yet he brought up an important point. In my research, I did find Putin has fought a largely superficial and cynical war on corruption. Despite making it a main issue in his campaign and subsequent election, he has done little to actually combat it. What is striking is that his attitude is largely that of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. What Dr. Zevlev reinforced is that corruption is only dealt with on a subjective basis – that is it is only taken seriously by the government when there is something to be gained from prosecuting it, i.e. tough enforcement against political opponents and giving a pass to political allies.

The most difficult task in my research was finding viable solutions to this ever-increasing problem. There are certainly actions, such as greater transparency, restructuring old anti-corruption laws, and asymmetrical punishment, but these cannot very well address the problem of corruption’s roots. These seem to lie in the political and economic conditions that exist in Russia today. A lackluster economy encourages people to cheat the system whenever possible and quasi-democratic institutions make it possible for the problems Dr. Zevlev described to occur. With the track that Putin has taken Russia on and a perceived shift towards authoritarianism, it is difficult to see in the near future a Russian state that will begin to pull itself out of this pit in comparison to the rest of the world, as opposed to sinking deeper, which is the current trend it is unfortunately on.

Classroom Conversations Help to Expand on the Issues

April 12, 2007

by E Ackels


Listening to the panel of experts while at the conference, and in a more intimate setting with Zevlev and Simonov has helped to greatly improve my understanding of the current situation in
Russia. Listening to each of the panelists’ opinions helped one gain a well-rounded perspective on the perilous situation currently facing not only Russian journalists, but
Russia’s stability as a whole. While the panel focused heavily on journalism and the political influence pertaining to journalism, in the classroom with Zevlev and Simonov, other topics were expanded on.

            Zevlev and Simonov often disagreed on topics that they spoke about. Simonov often referred to his personal experiences. His views were closely related to his experiences with the Glasnost Fund. He wasn’t afraid to voice his sentiments, which were often laced with sarcasm and cynicism. Zevlev’s opinions, on the other hand, often derived from his background in academics and his experiences with people that he met there. This often caused differing views between the two.

            These differences of opinion ranged from issues concerning the military to the stability of the Russian government. Zevlev, for instance, spoke of the Russian military officers that he met while teaching at a university/institute in
Europe. He spoke of the admiration that he had for the officers that he met and praised them for their morals and values. Unlike Zevlev, Simonov spoke with open disdain for the military. He cited hazing and other mistreatment as his reasons for disliking the current state of the Russian military. He also spoke about the group of Russian mothers who spoke out against the practices of hazing that appear to be prevalent within the Russian military. Zevlev and Simonov also butted heads on many other issues.

            Simonov also tackled difficult issues such as xenophobia amongst youth and current alcohol issues within
Russia. Pertaining to xenophobia, Simonov admitted that there was a definite problem with xenophobia among the Russian youth. He also admitted that there was no easy solution. Simonov cited government support of these movements as a major problem that needed to be addressed. He noted that many government entities either agreed ideologically with the xenophobic groups while others provided these groups with financial support. Education is an obvious choice for helping to reduce the numbers of xenophobic youth within

            Alcohol and the abuse of alcohol was another topic brought forth for Simonov to discuss. The alcohol problems within
Russia are widely known. Simonov discussed alcoholism but also the manufacturing of unsafe alcohol. The manufacturing of unsafe alcohol has caused many deaths within
Russia. Like battling xenophobia, educational programs are often cited as a way to curb alcohol related problems within

            Numerous lectures outside of the Journalism Conference by Zevlev and Simonov helped to expand on many of the current problems within Russian politics and Russian society.

How to combat the growing Russian xenophobic youth

April 12, 2007

By Anne Bodycombe

The increasing number of youth xenophobes is potentially threatening the national interest of Russia.  Xenophobic groups especially the skin heads have multiplied throughout the past 13 year and continue to grow.  There are many possible contributing factors, to Russia’s past ethnic conflicts to the startling collapse of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union pushed people quickly from a central economy to a market economy leaving many poor and unsettled contributing to the increase in hate groups. 

            Russian youths are a top contributor to these groups which are located all over the county which produce underground literature and are constantly committing hate crimes.  But the question remains how to combat this problem before it does spiral out of control and it does threaten Russia’s national identity as a whole.

            I think the main two areas that are vital to addressing and improving this problem are legal enforcement and education.  The legal enforcement against these various xenophobic groups is consistently lacking.  The problem cannot be sustained or even improved when legal enforcement officers often refer too many of these crimes committed by groups as acts of hooliganism and they aren’t taken seriously.    The government needs to enforce the punishment brought by the police force and that they are monitoring and working to shut down many of the hate groups.  The State Duma did adopt a law in 2002 counteracting extremism where in one year they did have 60 open criminal cases and they had over 400 different xenophobic groups under surveillance.  But they continue to operate and 60 cases are miniscule in the big picture.

            If the government allotted more funding to the legal enforcement they would be able to deploy stronger forces to combat this problem at the roots as opposed to making a few arrests a year. 

            The second area that needs to be addressed that could prevent individuals from even becoming involved in such groups is, education.  Poor education provides for the perfect breeding for xenophobia but with an improvement of education it can lead to increased tolerance.  This problem directly effects the government and economy even if their not worried about hate groups because without a good education the country cannot continue to grow and prosper, it’s the most important aspect of Russia’s future.

            Education of other cultures, religions and their own past to can help instill tolerance within the youth, therefore lessening the chances of them joining these hate groups.  International forces namely NGO’s have tried to step in and work to improve this growing problem in Russia.  But as they cross paths with the Russian government and Putin they are continuously restricted or even shut down.  Many NGO’s are working to raise public awareness.  With the privatization many schools and clubs that offered education and a place for children have been shut down which only further pushes them to join these hate groups.

            With the absence of enforcement from the police the threat of punishment doesn’t weigh as a consequence for committing a hate crime.  And the lack of education on awareness or the inability for other organizations to step in and make a difference, Russia is sliding deeper into a cultural dilemma that could affect Russia’s future.

U.S./Russian Relations: Vital for International Stability.

April 12, 2007

by Matthew Young

Although U.S./Russian relations are on the decline, a world in which they improved would have tremendous advantage.

Strong United States-Russian relations help the world in numerous areas, both internally to Russia and externally on the world stage. U.S.-Russian relations have effectively dealt with numerous continuing conflicts and struggles throughout the world. The six party talks and the disarmament of North Korea were saved by the United States’ and Russian diplomats collaborating to salvage an agreement. U.S. and Russian cooperation could effectively bring North and South Korea to the bargaining table again and help diffuse potential conflicts.

Iranian proliferation also presents a strategic opportunity were the U.S. and Russia can work together. If the United States and Russia cooperated more effectively, it could possibly avert the impending crisis over Iran, because it seems that the United States is adamant about preventing Iran from developing a nuclear program. The key to the creation of this program is Russian supplied nuclear fuels. Hypothetically, if America held more clout in Russia, it could persuade the Russians to stop shipment of fuel to Iran.

An increase in U.S./Russian create potential for space cooperation, because when the two countries are more amicable, they aim higher in the scope of their projects and use the technological and scientific bases of the two countries to maximize the utility of the projects they are working on.

Relations are also important in terms of securing nuclear and fissile material. Programs such as Nunn-Lugar allow for material left at hundreds of sites by the USSR to be secured and not be into the hands of rogue organizations, including countries and terrorist organizations. Future programs could build upon the success of what has already been done, and much work still needs to be done, to prevent the proliferation of fissile material to terrorist organizations, with catastrophic effect. Strong relations would make the Kremlin more receptive to future deals which protect fissile material.

Cooperation has the potential to fuel the economies of both Russia and the United States, through a more stable oil supply, Russia’s use of American technology and skilled labor, as well as Russia’s extremely well educated population, which already has been quite promising at work with American corporations. The technology transfers which could occur, could be extremely valuable to the Russian military, because the new hardware they can purchase can provide a check on the potential for accidental launches of nuclear weapons. During the cold war, on multiple occasions, the world was perilously close to ending, due to computer errors in Russian mainframes and radar sites. New technology could greatly decrease the probability of errors and have leaders of the world breathing easier.

The final reason for stronger U.S./Russian relations is the aversion of an inevitable arms race. Right now, in response to the United State’s calls for a limited nuclear missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, Putin has spoken of retaliation through the creation of new missiles and warheads that could counter the missile defense system. If the United States and Russia became more trusting, the need for missile defense as well as the retaliatory new missile system, which would most likely escalate to the U.S. countering with a newer and more advanced system, would lead the world down a dark path which we thought we walked away from with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Putin criticized heavily in Politkovskaya’s diaries

March 24, 2007

In Anna Politkovskaya’s recently published diaries, she criticizes democratic development in Russia saying, “Were we seeing a crisis of Russian parliamentary democracy in the Putin era? No, we were witnessing its death.” She blames President Vladimir Putin for a silencing of opposition and blamed those in power for failing to address the gap in wealth in Russia.

Politkovskaya’s sister also indicated that she would complete a book on Chechnya began by Politkovskaya in 2006.

[Above: Anna Politkovskaya]

Other Russia barred from marching in Nizhny Novgorod; Kasparov fears for his life

March 24, 2007

The opposition party of Other Russia were dealt a setback when the district court ruled Thursday that their proposed march through the center of the city of Nizhny Novgorod could not go forward. The mayor had earlier denied Other Russia’s request to hold a demonstration and had suggested an alternative route not through the city center. Other Russia refused, noting that they could not get the word out to their demonstrators in time. Other Russia’s funds have been drained in constant struggles with the government, especially when police recently seized 60,000 copies of a newsletter devoted to publicizing the march. The Dissenters’ March will be held today, Saturday March 24.

Also, one of the allies of Other Russia, chess champion Gary Kasparov fears he will be killed by the Kremlin because of his support for the opposition party. Kasparov stated that he regularly travels with bodyguards in Russia and is often followed and has his phones tapped while in the country.


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