Television and Radio

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Present-day Russian television and radio have come a long way. Today's domestic news and entertainment broadcasts can hardly be told from their Western counterparts. The successors of Soviet television and radio are characterized by a state-of-theart style of presentation, modern advertising, and professional journalism. The Russian mass media have undergone a series of profound transformations, notably since the end of the Soviet era, but they continue to be under the influence of powerful interest groups.

Journalism, especially news coverage, is subject to various restrictions. There is a wide gap between the official policy, its provision for the freedom of the media, and the actual situation. The regulation of television and radio in the Russian Federation has shown indications reminiscent of the centralized media control during the Soviet regime. But economic influences and the opinion-leading value of television both create a competitive environment considered irrevocable and therefore immune to attempts to reinstate a Soviet-like authoritarian rule over the media, mainly due to Russia's matter-offact accession to international politics, and liberal values.

In 2002 the Ministry of Press, Broadcasting, and Mass Communications (MPTR) registered 3,267 television channels and 2,378 radio stations, more than half wholly or partly state owned. Almost every Russian household owns at least one television set, whereas a radio can be found in four out of five households. Many listeners still rely on the old wire radio through which state-run Radio Mayak and Radio Rossiya have been broadcasting their programs. The fact that no fees need to be paid for broadcast reception contributes to a high penetration of the population and dominance over the print sector. Less than a quarter of Russians read newspapers on a daily basis, and almost half of those age thirty and younger do not read newsprint at all. State-owned national TV Channel One (ORT) and Television Rossiya (RTR) reach practically all viewers, and together with private channel NTV achieve 60 percent viewer ratings. The radio audience ratings are dominated by Radio Mayak, Radio Rossiya, and private Radio Europe Plus, Russkoye Radio, and Echo Moskvy.

soviet exploitation of media potentials

The media's assignment life was plotted by mass communication experts from the Politburo and pursued with measures like enforced subscriptions to print media and various obstructions to diversity of broadcast programs. From the 1920s on, wire radio receivers were installed in almost every household, whereas small and remote villages received collective loudspeakers. Because they could not be switched off, only muted, these primitive mass information instruments already bore the sign of inescapability, which transcended into the 1980s. Soviet wireless radio started its career with its first transmission in 1924 and quickly developed into a public voice of the party. In the early Soviet days, broadcasting owned its significance to widespread illiteracy. Not only could radio and later television reach large masses of people without them being able to read, broadcasting influenced how information was perceived and accepted by the audience. Television's potential, though being experimentally tested since the 1930s, was not acknowledged until decades later.

In 1960 the Central Committee commanded broadcasting to actively support the propagation

of Marxist-Leninist ideas, and the mobilization of the working class. Major investments in technical infrastructure followed and by the end of the decade Moscow neighborhood Ostankino became home to the national broadcasting organization. It provided the Soviet population with two television and four radio programs. Later accessibility was enhanced, and further television programs were added. Until the late 1980s the Soviet Union boasted a uniform information sphere designed to reach most of its 285 million inhabitants. Television was broadcast in forty-five union languages, and radio in seventy-one. The programs were centrally produced in Moscow and transmitted to the far reaches of the Soviet world. They incessantly stressed the political meaning of each news item. As there was no other medium of information, and no access to foreign news sources, the audience was inescapably exposed to propaganda through mass media.

broadcast programming and autonomy

In Soviet times the majority of television and radio programming was dedicated to broadcasts of party sessions and statements by government officials. Next in importance was news from the economic sector. Educational and cultural programs followed. The only television news show, Vremya, contained coverage of international events. All programming was subject to austere censorship and depended on one sole information source, the government. The fact that people's values and their image of the world were given a one-sided direction through mass indoctrination enhanced the impact of the new freedom the media experienced when Soviet society started to unravel.

From 1986 to 1993 the media won a hitherto unknown autonomy owing to their role in the perestroika reforms, and the dissolution of political structures that rigidly controlled mass communication. While Mikhail Gorbachev encouraged the investigation and discussion of state problems, new leaders fought against old bureaucrats and economic obstructions; first the press, then television and radio, gained momentum. The Russian society broke into a fragmented mass of people hungry for Western achievements and individual liberties, and the media made use of the vacuum created by the loss of a uniform ideology and morals. Most did not aim to serve democratic ideals but looked for financial profits. Not many of the exceptions to this rule have survived the struggles. Independent broadcasters, NTV Television, and TV6, formerly controlled by oligarchs, were recently restrained by court orders referring to their financial situation. Radio Echo Moskvy, founded in August 1991, has retained its independence, although still harrassed by occasional interferences by the authorities.

problems of ownership and control

Privatizations of media outlets during the first years of the newly founded Russian Federation created opportunities not only for the staffs of media organizations. State-controlled plants and the new business elite soon profited from the hardships imposed on the media by repeated financial crises. Even in the early twenty-first century, most television and radio stations were dependent either on state subventions or on financing by oligarchs. Their influence relates to formalities such as licensing and provision of technical equipment, as well as to media content. Reporting often reflects only two positions, that of the government and the ruling businessmen. The media may convey oppositional messages, but not on behalf of society. This is even more pronounced in the vast regions of the Russian Federation, where local governors and plant owners exercise arbitrary power over the struggling local media industry.

This competition has led to media wars between businessmen like Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Vladimir Potanin, who during President Boris Yeltsin's quest for voting consensus acquired liberties through behind-the-scenes arrangements. In Yeltsin's 1996 campaign, television was recognized as effective to influence voters. Other major players who contributed to the broadcasting media being used as instruments of power were at times Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Deputy Prime Ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, and Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov. After President Vladimir Putin's concerted actions to reinstate central power over opinion-leading mass media, private competitors retreated to the print sector and own minor stakes in broadcasting. Nevertheless, the ownership structures in the media industry have been characteristically intransparent. It remains difficult to discern the origin of financial and ruling power over a great number of media outlets.

In Soviet times the usurpation of the right to intervene in daily media business was based on the well-oiled censorship apparatus. Journalists had to be party members and follow guiding principles that adhered to government interests. Russian journalism bears some of these traits into the twenty-first century. On the one hand, many of the Soviet journalists have remained in their profession. On the other hand, many journalists are young, have put the historical past behind them, and aspire to meet modern professional standards. They, too, have to make amends to the kind of censorship imposed on them by the special interests of the owners of the media organization. The positive coverage of state or oligarch activities, or the rumor-based reporting on competitors' faults, are also often ordered and paid for, not selected by journalistic processes.

modern media policies

Until 1990 there were no specific laws concerning the mass media. More than thirty laws and dozens of decrees have been passed since then. Under the Soviet regime, two constitutions (1936 and 1977) alluded to the freedom of expression, which had to be in accordance with interests to develop the socialist system. Such ideological baggage was discarded by the constitution of the Russian Federation adopted in 1993, and the Supreme Soviet had in 1990 already passed a law to lift censorship from the media.

In 1991 the Russian Federation adopted the Law on Media of Mass Information, which allowed for fundamental freedoms of the media. It was revised in 1995 and significantly limited the media's choice of diversity for the portrayal of political parties. Such undemocratic hindrances, along with the lack of a law conceding to the specific needs of broadcasting media, continue to the present day. Other laws are On Procedure of Media Coverage of State Authorities by State Media (1994); On the Defense of Morality in Television and Radio Broadcasting (1999); On Licensing of Certain Activities (2001); and the Doctrine of the Information Security of the Russian Federation (2000), which links media autonomy with national security.

See also: perestroika


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Lucie Hribal

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Television and Radio

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