Pavel Chikov: Gloomy forecast gives way to hope of a technological revolution in the media

posted 6 Nov 2017, 06:31 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 6 Nov 2017, 06:35 ]
29 October 2017

Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Online magazine '7х7']

It is interesting (to someone like me who has been in the headlines for many years) that there has been a shift in Russia’s media landscape in the last couple of years. Since 2012, most of the Russian federal media have been in crisis (they had been having a tough time prior to that, but we will start from the latest state-sponsored clampdown – a fate also suffered by the rest of civil society – from the reelection of Vladimir Putin in March 2012).

The precise moment when the squeeze on the media began can be seen as the harassment of the management in December 2011 before the State Duma elections (in quotation marks, as everyone will recall), for its partnership with Golos on the 'Election Violations Map' project, after which the management was replaced.

This was then followed by campaigns against Dozhd, which was taken off the cable network; the takeover of; the remaking of RIA Novosti; and internal strife at Kommersant and Vedomosti. The latter were less publicised and may not have had so much of an impact on content. However, one by one the 2012 team of journalists at Kommersant all up and left the publishing house.

Journalists were uprooted and headed off in four directions: to remaining parts of the federal media (RBC, Dozhd/Republic); to Russian-language foreign media (BBC, Reuters, Radio Svoboda and its satellite channels, referring here as well to Meduza); to niche publications whose editors have been reassigned (Smirnov to MediaZona, Kashin to, Tumanov to Batenka, and also Bumaga, Mel, Moloko+ and many more); and, finally, to propaganda outlets and similar, with the loss of their former reputations.

The harassment of RBC reinforced the other trends. Many familiar faces can now be seen at the BBC and Radio Svoboda, people who previously worked at Russian publications. Both foreign media outlets have government funding and so appear more financially sustainable than private ones like Meduza, which have extremely limited budgets and cannot take on more staff. The growing influence of Russian-language foreign media is surely a matter of concern for the Presidential Administration, which will inevitably come up with a direct way to respond sooner or later, that is, by banning foreign media with government support, little by little rendering it inevitable.

Another interesting trend is the rapid development of regional publications.,, Бизнес-online, Fontanka, and rank among the top 20 Russian media by citation count, while some consistently make the top ten. With the intensification of conflict by the federal government, the regions are initiating a raft of legal actions, trials, protests and clashes, and in so doing are creating conditions in which regional media can thrive. The process of 're-establishing the constitutional rule of law' in the regions, and the associated conflicts, will attract public scrutiny in the coming year or two.

Political activists like individual media outlets or even media holdings such as the one owned by Navalny, also represent a new model. With a website, blog, YouTube channel and Twitter account, they get millions of readers and viewers everywhere. Open Russia going for that same model. Then there is the phenomenon of Vyacheslav Maltsev who, unbeknownst to the federal government, accumulated tens of thousands of followers around the country with just such a YouTube channel. At this point we should also consider Telegram channels, in particular the unique phenomenon of anonymous channels, something that was probably launched by '@KermlinRussia' on Twitter but now forms the mainstream on Telegram. Only three of the top 30 Telegram channels by views (according to Medialogia) are named, and they are Varlamov, Davydov and Venediktov. The rest, including the five most popular, are anonymous. They are also intensely secretive about and value their anonymity.

One way or another, the media landscape is changing fast; the old models are increasingly giving way to the new and technology is transforming the ways in which we gather, process and transfer information. The public is segregating according to levels of technological advancement, and those who are at the forefront of change (YouTube and Telegram channel readers and viewers) no longer understand the old guard (State TV viewers). The demand for current, high-quality factual information is overcoming the barriers to access to such information that were put up by the authorities. The government is being slow to respond, and the baton is serving as a sort of stimulus to technological progress. A gloomy forecast is giving way to hope of a media stimulus to technological revolution.

Translated by Lindsay Munford