The Russian Federation is a 17.1 million km2 territory, on which a population of 146 million is unevenly distributed. It has borders with 14 countries in Europe and Asia. Russia is a federal republic comprised of 88 federal administrative units subordinate to the central government. Russia is divided into seven federal regions headed by plenipotentiaries appointed by the president. Russia is a parliamentary democracy. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of the Federation Council (members appointed for each of 88 federal administrative units) and the State Duma (450 members elected every four years by proportional representation from party lists (50 percent) and from singlemember constituencies (50 percent). The major political parties are Yedinaya Rossiya (Unified Russia), the Communist Party, the SPS (Union of Right-Wing Forces), and the nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party.
The official language is Russian but the population is comprised of various ethnic groups speaking more than 70 languages between them. The major religions are Russian Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. The economic situation remains uneven despite Russia’s rich natural resources. The disintegration and strong autonomy of regions hinder economic progress, and Russian political leaders have made strong efforts to consolidate regional markets into one economy.
Historical Stages of the Russian Media System
The development of the Russian media has been traditionally controlled by the political elite. The first print newspaper, Vedomosty, was set up in 1703 by Peter the Great. His grand-daughter Catherine the Great edited a magazine, but later suppressed liberal publications. In the nineteenth century Russian journalism developed disproportionately. The existence of censorship hindered the progress of newspapers. Until the reform of 1865 literary magazines dominated, and private newspapers operated only in St Petersburg and Moscow. Regional newspapers started to develop in the 1850s and 1860s, but they were subordinated to governors’ offices. In 1880 the number of newspapers outnumbered that of magazines. After the first Russian revolution in 1905, numerous political parties and their newspapers began to operate legally, although formal censorship still existed. Press freedom was legally introduced only in April 1917, in the course of the bourgeois revolution. In the Soviet period, from 1917, the media were used instrumentally to promote the dominant communist ideology and to create unanimity of a society.
The dominant structure of the Soviet media was a pyramid hierarchy, which subordinated all media to Moscow. This pyramid was controlled by the Communist Party and the state, thus safeguarding political accuracy. Media content was watched by representatives of Glavlit, the special Soviet censorship agency. This produced an informal system of self-censorship, which still affects Russian journalism today. Radical changes in the Soviet media started immediately after Mikhail Gorbachev began, in 1985, to promote the goals of his policies, such as acceleration (in economy), “perestroika” (in social life) and “glasnost” (in the media). Although it resulted in revolutionary changes in the media and society as a whole, “glasnost” was a variation of the late Soviet media policy with a clear instrumental character (Paasilinna 1995).
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian media were radically restructured. Print media were no longer distributed nationally, while national TV channels captured the central place in the media system. The first stage of transformation of the Russian media system (1990–1993) was characterized by president Yeltsin’s fight to free the media from the control of the USSR central authorities. Two laws, the Soviet Law On Press and Other Mass Media and the Russian Law On Mass Media, laid down new foundations for media activity. The second stage of transformation (1994–1995) was mainly associated with the privatization of print media and partly denationalization of the national TV. In the third stage (1995–1996), media activity was shaped by the necessity to ensure the re-election of Yeltsin.
The fourth stage of development (1996–1999) was characterized by safeguarding the existing status quo of the media. The principal role of the executive in media regulation and the dominance of state-run media became the main features. The next stage started after parliamentary (1999) and presidential (2000) elections with the strengthening of influence from the government and the president. Official statements were made about the eventual withdrawal of the state from the media industry in order to foster fair competition and secure equal conditions for all media companies. However, the political elite intensified its efforts to more efficiently determine media policy. The dichotomy between etatism and the market-driven economy became the most crucial characteristic of the Russian media system (Nordenstreng et al. 2002).
The modern development of the media was strongly determined by economic factors. It took about a decade for the Russian media to realize the economic role of advertising. The economic significance of advertising for the media became evident in the late 1990s, but a financial crisis in 1998 slowed down its growth. Since then, the progress of the media market has been connected with the improvement of the economic situation in Russia. Since the year 2000, the most popular form of media among advertisers has been television. Still, the advertising market is immature, and no more than 0.5 percent (0.8 percent of GNP) is spent on advertising. Audiences became another key driving force for restructuring the media. By the year 2000, they had demonstrated a decrease of interest in political media that resulted in the rise of entertainment programs.
Normative And Legal Framework
The first Russian Federation Law on Mass Media (1991) reinforced inadmissibility of censorship and guaranteed freedom of information. The main thrusts of the law are also included in the Russian constitution (1993), which guarantees freedom of speech and bans censorship. These rights can be limited only by (federal) law, and only in the interests of protecting the constitution, morality, or for the defense of national security.
After 1991 several attempts were made to introduce limiting amendments (restrictions on violence and pornography on television, and on the role of the media in covering terrorist attacks), but the Law on Mass Media has not undergone any significant changes. Russia is still lacking a broadcasting law, although draft laws were actively discussed in the 1990s. Broadcasting is under the direct control of the president and is regulated by presidential decrees and government orders. Licensing regulations date from 1994 and 1999. The authorized broadcast licensing body is the Federal Service for Monitoring Compliance with Legislation on Mass Communications and Protection of Cultural Heritage, a separate entity in the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communications.
Self-regulation exists in the form of the Professional Code adopted by the Union of Journalists and codes of professional associations (National Association of Broadcasters, Russian Association of Advertising Agencies). In 2005, the Public Board for Press Complaints was established by the Russian Union of Journalists. The Board examines complaints filed by readers, listeners and viewers, regarding breach of professional ethics and standards of conduct.
Newspapers have lost the central position in the national media system, but play an important role on the local market. The number of titles increased significantly from 4,863 (in 1991) to 5,758 (in 2000), but the newspaper circulation as a whole radically dropped from 160.2 million to 108.8 million (a decrease of 67.9 percent), with the share of nationally distributed newspapers falling down to 36 percent (Russian Press Market 2006). The Russian newspaper system is comprised of national, republic, regional, city, rural district, lower-level (lower than city or district), and other (mostly free non-daily sheets) newspapers. National newspapers are distributed mostly by subscription; the role of retail is essential only in big cities.
Moscow newspapers Moskovsky Komsomolets (daily circulation: 1.4 million), Komsomolskaya Pravda (756,000), and Izvestiya (234,500) safeguarded popularity outside the capital by producing inserts in cooperation with regional dailies. These dailies elaborated specific content strategies close to sensational journalism. The position of quality newspapers is more problematic. Kommersant Daily (circulation of 86,000) or Nezavisimaja gazeta (50,000) cannot compete with local tabloids or nationally distributed mass circulation dailies.
The most popular Russian newspapers are national weekly Argumenty i Facty (circulation of 3 million), weekend editions of Komsomolskaya pravda (2.8 million), and Trud (1.6 million). Among quality weekly magazines, leaders are Itogy (85,000), Expert (75,000), and Kommersant Vlast’ (73,500), which target educated and well-paid readers. The Russian press market is divided into quality dailies, mostly business-oriented, and popular newspapers that obviously follow the trends of tabloidization.
The degree of concentration on the print media market is rather low. “Prof-Media,” a media affiliate of the oil company LukOil, owns more than 40 newspapers and magazines, TV channels in Rostov, Norilsk, several radio stations, numerous Internet sites, and a business news agency. The combined readership of its outlets has exceeded 25 million. German publishing house Burda has a combined readership of about 23 million, and Argumenty i Facty company has more than 19 million (Russian Press Market 2006). A unique media owner is the Russian state, completely or partly controlling 300 national, regional, and local TV companies and 2,140 print media (15 percent of all print media titles). The central government owns Rossiiskaya gazeta, ITAR-TASS news agency, and VGTRK broadcasting company.
In terms of popular magazines, the publications most in demand are illustrated TV guides: 7 dnei (with a distribution of 1 million), Antenna (486,963), TV park (298,000), and Tsvetnoi televizor (162,000). Among women’s magazines, Liza (90,000), a weekly with a mixture of practical advice for working females, cookbook summaries, and fashion patterns, is the most popular. Glossy magazines represent a comparatively small but vigorous sector of the magazine industry. The German company Burda and Finnishowned company Independent Media have adapted international periodicals like Burda moden, Playboy, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s bazaar, and Cosmopolitan.
About 85 percent of adult Russians listen to the radio every day. In 2005 radio was listened to mostly at home, in work offices, and in cars. The statistics for the radio industry are not precise; in 2005, however, 1,002 licenses for radio broadcasting were issued. No more than 500 were operated; of them 143 were municipal and non-commercial and 391 were commercial stations.
The present structure of the radio industry involves a mixture of state and private channels. Two state-owned stations – Radio Rossiyi, received by 66 percent of the population, and Mayak (55 percent) – maintain the position of major national channels. Their universal technical accessibility is the main reason for their popularity. In the sector of commercial radio, commercial networks play a significant role. The success of the Russkoye radio network (257 local stations) is ensured mostly by music programming that rests upon Russian pop and light music. The network has risen as the third national radio channel (reaching 45 percent of the population), and Evropa plyus has become the fourth (43 percent). In big cities, commercial music radio stations have succeeded because of increased professionalism in developing formats and establishing relations with both advertisers and listeners. Other stations gained popularity among specific audiences positioning themselves as sources of specialized programs like women’s radio (Nadezhda), drivers’ radio (Avtoradio), or religious channels (Radonezh). A major network that dominates the radio segment is the Rousskaja mediagrouppa, the owner of Russkoye radio.
About 94 percent of Russians watch television every day. Almost all Russian households (99 percent) have at least one television set, about two thirds have color sets, but 45 percent still possess black-and-white sets. The number of broadcast licenses issued by authorities in 2006 was 14,290. However, there is no reliable data on the number of TV stations operating on the market. Major national TV channels are transmitted from Moscow via terrestrial networks and satellites. Satellite earth stations provide access to Intelsat, Intersputnik, Eutelsat, Inmarsat, and Orbita systems.
The core of the national television market is comprised of nine channels available to more than 50 percent of the population. There are three federal channels – the First Channel, with mixed state–private ownership, the state Rossija, and the private NTV – three national private television networks – CTC, Ren-TV, and TNT – and two regional channels with national distribution – state-owned Kultura and the Moscow municipal TVC. Regardless of ownership structures, Russian television is financed primarily by advertising and sponsorship.
Russian television is a mixture of two models: the state-controlled and the strictly commercial. The concept of public-service broadcasting was not considered until recently, because of the control of the integrated political-business elite on TV. The state formally or informally remains the major actor in the TV sector. By operating the VGTRK company, the state has got complete control over two nationally distributed TV channels – Rossija and Kultura – and radio channels Radio Rossiy’ and Mayak (more than 50 percent shares). VGTRK also includes a network of 80 regional television stations and 100 centers for transmission of broadcast signals. Another important player, Gazprom Media, the owner of NTV and TVT, is an affiliate of the state-owned Gazprom company that helps the state to informally control the management of private TV channels.
Leading private channels operate as television networks, and Ren-TV, CTC, and TNT have formed alliances with local stations targeted at joint programming and advertising. Although they are financially independent from the state, they do not provide any serious alternatives to political news on state-controlled TV, since they pursue purely commercial programming strategies based on entertainment. The national status of the two top channels is secured by their technical availability. The First Channel is available to 98 percent of Russians, and RTR to 95 percent. However, the popularity of channels varies: in 2005, shares of the First Channel represented 22.9 percent, closely followed by Rossija (22.6 percent), NTV (11.2 percent), and CTC (10.3 percent).
In terms of programming, competition for viewers among major channels is especially intense among evening news and current-affairs programs. The growing popularity of feature genres, cultural and non-political programs, and Russian drama and serials, compared to political programs in the early days of the “glasnost,” has made television an essential part of the Russian leisure industry and marked the revelation of the global trend toward television infotainment (Rantanen 2002). The only channel that carries noncommercial programs (high culture, classical films, quality documentaries, classical music) is state-run Kultura. By including Euronews shows in its programming schedule, Kultura has come close to the idea of public service in TV.
Cable television began to develop after 1990. In recent years state and municipal authorities have issued 258 licenses for cable TV networks, 18 for satellite transmission, and 20 for combined air and cable operations. Statistics also show that there are 3,000 relatively large cable companies operating and delivering programs to nearly 12 million households. Penetration of satellite TV is fairly low, not exceeding 8 percent of the population. Two leading companies, satellite NTV Plus (owned by Gazprom) and cable and Internet Stream TV (owned by SistemaMultimedia and linked to the Moscow City Government), offer packages of terrestrial and their own channels, but are available mostly in Moscow and a few big cities.
Minor cable and satellite operators offer Russian-language programs and popular international channels like CNN, BBC World Service, Euronews, Discovery, Cartoon Channel, etc. From the year 2000, Russian niche channels distributed via cable and satellite channels developed in numbers and scope, varying from business channel RBK-TV to women’s channel TDK-TV, from Orthodox channel Spas to old movies on Nostalgia-TV.
The Russian Internet began to develop between 1993 and 1997, when the number of users doubled each year. In 2006, the maximum number of Russian Internet users stood close to 22 million (about 12 percent of the population). The progress of the Internet initially took place in big cities, especially in Moscow, but in recent years the inequality of geographical regions has been steadily decreasing. Now residents of Moscow and St Petersburg represent less than one third of Russian users. In 2006, the share of female users was almost 50 percent. Most users are still educated and better-paid men (between 20 and 35 years old): state officials, politicians, businessmen, students, and school children. The Internet in Russia is the most open medium, thus closely corresponding to the concept of public sphere, regardless of some unsuccessful attempts by the Russian state to introduce special legislation into the field.
There are more than 180,000 sites in the Russian-language sector of the Internet, Runet. Several popular newspapers, like the Nezavisimaya Gazeta, were already exploring the Internet in 1994. The first online media projects were started by literary postmodernist writers who launched the Russkii Zhurnal. Currently the most popular online sources are RBK.ru, Gazeta.ru, List.ru, Lenta.ru, and Polit.ru. Major political parties and official state agencies also operate numerous sites, but a diversity of political and cultural views is created by the Internet presence of many oppositional voices.
Fundamental Characteristics Of The Media
The Russian media system differs substantially from western European ones in a number of features, due to the influences from politics and the professional traditions of Soviet journalism and literature. The rationale for this might be the geopolitical position of Russia and the multiethnic and multicultural character of Russian society. The pressures of the authoritarian traditions of Imperial and Soviet Russia also play a role. The Russian media can be seen as a synergy of western – mostly European and North American – and Asian elements, and regarded as transitional and Eurasian.
Several points distinguish the Russian media from European and Asian counterparts. First, the Russian media are subject to pressures from those who influence the media system as a whole. Second, in “Eurasian” media there exists a strong belief in the regulatory role of the state shared by players on the media scene. This explains the traditional ignorance of market-driven logic and societal initiatives at grassroot level. Top-down media policy is another consequence of this attitude. This gives a firm basis for the etatist mentality embedded in the “Eurasian media model” (De Smaele 1999). Third, a Eurasian media model is affected by conflicting multiethnic, multiconfessional, and multicultural interests where values of modernization and knowledge confront paternalistic mentality of journalists and audiences. Unevenness of economic wealth reflected by unequal access to ITCs is another indicator of the “Eurasian” media. The complexity of the model is also reflected in the lack of commonly shared journalistic professional values and the dangers that still exist for professionals working in the field of investigative and critical journalism. Since 1992, 179 journalists have been killed in Russia, including Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006.
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