In the Post-Soviet Russian debate on media,
there is a considerable incongruence between
the understanding the nature and social role of
the media by media insiders and by outside
researchers. While at least some of the former
still believe the industry to be a means of public
information and enlightenment and concentrate
mainly on the freedom of speech, the latter tend
to view it rather as a system of social control and
manipulation or a closed system of infotainment.
So what exactly is media? If it cannot be
profitable, how is it supposed to survive? If it
survives, can it be made socially responsible? In
this issue, we have addressed the nature and
basic purposes of media, the character of the
relations between media and society, various
national and cultural models of distributing
information (or mass communication, if you
like), and the main trends of media development.
How is the Russian media positioned in
the world media market? How are the current
distortions in the national media market going
to unwind? As always, we have collected articles
that represent a wide range of views, so that
opposing voices can be heard.
At the dawn of modern society, the emerging
sphere of public was opposed to the sphere of state
as a subject of media interest. Printed media was
designed as a tool of political influence upon the
state and “the voice of the public.” But no matter
how humane its proclaimed intentions were,
media that was claimed to be a tool of liberation
and democratization, turned out to be a tool of
manipulation and oppression. The free market
that is notably the main source of supporting the
work of media is at the same time clearly the main
factor of eroding media independence. In a historical-
philosophic overview, Vitaly Kurennoi
traces the main stages of media evolution, its
functions and purposes, and the standing of
Russian media in this context.
In a profound overview of the structure and
evolution of theoretical knowledge, Alexander
Oslon describes a historical process as a neverending
struggle for dominance between theories.
Everything – from political or scientific debates
to political murders and military interventions –
is due to this struggle. Media is an institution of
“replication theories,” whereas polls are an institution
and a tool of “measuring theories.” The
latter are probably the only way to really get to
know what is happening “in the world of theories,”
i. e., what people think, how theories are
reflected by their conscience.
The media are always manipulative, and
always claim to be “enlightening.” The media
world is comprised of multiple correlated communication
systems and conveys “knowledge
without consciousness” rather than cultivates a
“true judgment” of reality. Can the nature of
media be altered? What would be the most considered
way to view the media? Oleg Nikiforov
overviews and evaluates modern “anthropocentric”
and “system-theory” media concepts.
At a time of crisis of the nation state, media
functions are changing. Is diversification of media
leading to the demise of the industry? If not, what
kind of power is media going to be? How is the
current media evolution going to affect our personal
lives? In a thematic discussion, Valery
Bardin, Simon Kordonsky, Linor Goralik,
Alexander Gavrilov, and Vitaly Kurennoi debate
aspects of the institution transformation.
According to Vladimir Sungorkin of
“Komsomolskaya Pravda,” Russian capitalism is
corrupted, oligarchic, senseless, and ruthless.
However, Sungorkin knows how to maintain
independence from the will of politicians and oligarchs.
The good “chef” shares the secrets of his
cuisine; he knows what diet is good for his readership.
He describes relationships between privately
owned media and the state, and between regional
media, on the one hand, and governors and businesses,
on the other. Sungorkin asserts his view of
the prospects for the Russian media market.
Supposedly, economic independence of
a medium can serve as a basis for its editorial
independence. However, national media continue
to live by “non-economic” rules, and, despite
proclaimed freedom of speech and information,
Russian media remain mainly propagandistic.
Floriana Fossato examines the structure, progress,
and problems of the distorted Russian media market
in the last decade based on extensive empirical
study of the subject.
At the time of Gaidar’s reforms, the media that
faced severe economic crisis applied to the state for
subsidizing. Alexey Pankin maintains that it created
a precedent for an “economies of exclusions,”
which is the reason for today’s problems. Having
contributed to the formation of the anti-liberal
economy, our media have remained a specific tool
of this economy. The economies of the media business
were fit to producing paid-for biased publications rather than making a profit from advertising.
However, Pankin emphasizes, the political investment
in the Russian media was not effective either:
media cannot significantly influence voters.
The direct monetary contribution of the
media to the national economy is not high even in
most prosperous countries. Still the indirect impact
on the economic sphere is extensive. Publishing
business consultant William Dunkerley analyzes the
Russian media’s influence on the country’s economic
development and considers ways of improving
the situation that he finds tragic.
In an acute critique of Russian political and
social attitudes, Alexander Khramchikhin notes
that the dominant political discourse made anybody
who would want to have a personal opinion
to position himself either on the left or right, and
nowhere in between. The author argues that the
country is heading towards fascism. The government
does not do anything meaningful; all it cares
about – just like the TV channels – is high ratings.
Domestic media have caused huge damage to the
country. He analyzes the reasons and outcomes of
the profound Russian psychological crisis which
he identifies as the main reason for all the country’s
losses and failures.
In the modern world, visual media is probably
the most powerful teacher of values; they
broadcast to the masses role models and behavioral
norms that determine national well-being in
psychological, social, economic, and all the other
spheres of life. Daniil Dondurei maintains that values
taught by today’s Russian cinematography are
profoundly destructive in their essence: they profess
promiscuity, pessimism, sense of insecurity,
and disbelief in law and order. This negative
impact of our film and television industry contrasts
with a thoroughly positive message of
Hollywood that models respect to family, private
property, law and order, and inspires optimism.
Dondurei calls for the establishment of professional
analysis of media content in Russia.
One of today’s commonplaces is that while the
worldwide web made it is easy for people to get published,
it is hard for an individual site to be noticed
by visitors. Anton Nosik contests the notion: the
Internet “oligarchs” who get about 90 percent of
the readership are search engines that take an investigative
web surfer everywhere on the net where he
could find the information he needs.
In his interview to OZ, Mikhail Kozhokin of
“Izvestia” forecasts foreigners’ advent to the
Russian media market. They will care not only
about gaining profit but also about a fundamental
structuring of this market. According to Kozhokin,
newspapers are going to be replaced by media
holdings, just as supermarket chains supplanted
old-fashioned produce shops in the West.
Except for special occasions, the Russian
authorities use statistics in merely a ritualistic
manner. How exactly was the Russian “democratic
media” born? When and why do the Russian
authorities need relevant information – sociological,
for example? How is the worldwide web
essentially used: as a technologically advanced
way of interpersonal communication, a source of
independent information for the active minority
of population, or an up-to-date sophisticated
controller of personal and social freedom? Gleb
Pavlovsky, Ivan Zasursky, and Vitaly Kurennoi
explore the nature of media in their old and new
In his interview with Vitaly Kurennoi,
Modest Kolerov delineates trends in the Russian
media market and raises controversial issues.
Television on the federal scale remains a molding
image-and-myth-creating force that keeps
about 90 percent of the population at the TV set.
The active 10 percent of the population – those
who do not watch TV but read news instead — are
manipulated by news agencies who define the proportions
of information flows, or the structure of
information supply, reachable by a modern information
consumer. All media in Russia, just like in
the “civilized countries,” can be bought; they differ
only be the price. Is there a way for a medium
in such environment to sustain its values?
To protect itself from governmental despotism
and monopolization by large businesses, the
larger society must control their activities.
Investigative journalism is one tool for this purpose,
but alone it is not equal to the task. Besides
freedom of speech, society needs free access to
information. However useful, the freedom of
informational transparency is a controversial issue
and is not liked by everybody. However, we do not
have an alternative, Dmitry Zavalishin suggests.
So far, the main detrimental feature of the
media business has been its independence from its
consumers. Dmitry Volkov suggests that the new
technology that allows information users to
become active on their side could change the status
quo. Volkov uncovers the roots of the partisan
engagement of media that has long been striving
to become the society’s “fourth estate,” and
defines conditions under which achieving media
independence would seem sensible.
From the moment the wheel was invented,
information has always been a motivating power
of economic progress. Yasen Zasursky outlines the
history of media development focusing mainly on
the economic and technological aspects of the
process. Zasursky believes that in the modern
information society, fast-moving technological
advancement promotes democratization. He
questions whether the distribution of texts
through the Internet is going to kill the advertising
In Russia from 1870-1910 where industrial
capitalism and urbanization were just picking up speed, printed media acquired not the Western
form of “mass communication” but rather the
form of “mass information,” or informing the
masses from above. As the level of literacy of the
masses increased, printed media increasingly
served as a catalyst of social and political discontent.
Boris Dubin and Abram Reitblat give an
account of the complex processes of that time.
Although the facts of life and newspaper
headlines are not exactly the same, many individuals
as well as professional associations believe in
the possibility of pursuing truth in journalism.
Olesya Koltsova juxtaposes objectivist and constructivist
approaches to news making and outlines
new trends in this field.
According to classical media theory, power,
death, and relations between sexes are the three
dominant topics that are capable of attracting
public attention most effectively. It is the ratio of
coverage of these topics that shapes the individuality
of a mass medium. The great disparity
between the mythical picture of reality created by
media and our personal experience causes public
frustration and distrust in media. However, we
hardly have a good alternative to this “fish bowl”
world of media, according to Yaroslav Shimov.
We live in a society that is heavily addicted to
consuming news. News production is not concerned
with “truth” or “falsehood” of phenomena
and ideas it transmits. It is rather a didactic broadcasting
of the domineering system of values. The
“news world” is merely a historical paradigm that
is going to demise soon, Kirill Kobrin professes.
News on Russia in the leading Western media
tend to be brief and primitive. World media writes
about a country when it is interested in it, Natan
Katz explains. This interest is caused by business
opportunities opening in a country at a particular
moment, and the political stability allowing to use
A mass of grass-root historical material was
lost during the Soviet era due to the fear of repressions
and neglect. Luckily, some survived. Olga
Edelman’s story of a new contest of students’
compositions on the history of their families based
on family archives shares subtle observations.
Evgeny Abov defines the existing federal legislation
designed to support media as utterly ineffective
and outdated. Media should become a wellorganized
and considered business profiting from
circulation and advertisement sales. The state has
to concentrate on supporting not publishers but the
low-income and other socially deprived and vulnerable
segments of readership. The only exclusion
must be made for the unprofitable but socially
demanded media as children’s and maybe scientific
magazines. Abov names conditions under which
a successful media business is built.
It is program rating that makes TV producers
include programs of inferior quality into their
schedules. According to Oleg Dobrodeev’s interview
with Tatyana Malkina, TV administrators are
not content with the situation; they are torn
between the need to earn money and better their
channel’s reputation. Dobrodeev confesses to
have a personal ambition to deliver his channel
It may seem from the outside, that advertising
in the Russian print media is a well and prospering
business. A deeper examination shows that
the business suffers hollowness of content and
marketing ineffectiveness. Popular local print
media cannot compete with the versions of
Western magazines that, quite understandably,
recoup a fortune from mainly Western ads; so the
locals are being pushed out of the market. The
audience is not crazy about this fact: a domestic
reader is looking for something addressed personally
to him. Besides, just as too many brands of
yogurt at the counter often prevent a customer
from buying any, the exaggerated variety of
monotonously colorful glossy covers repels a
reader. Do advertisers realize that their audience
is shrinking? Olga Nikulina points to a paradoxical
trend in the Russian advertising market.
For a member of the information society, the
notion of “life experience” lacks direct contact
with actual life and most often means experience
gained through mass media. The endless flux of
aestheticized images creates a sort of quasi-reality
living by its own inner logic. Vera Zvereva examines,
to what extent the TV reality affects the
“real” one, the scope of authoritative power of
media and audience’s ability to actively participate
in the process.
From the point of view of advertising, TV’s
main resource is its audience. The larger the audience,
the greater the TV companies’ profit. The
majority of the larger audience is not well educated
and is inclined to relax before their TV sets
after work rather than to be involved in watching
high-quality intellectual programs. Creative
workers of television, such as scriptwriters and
producers, are forced to adapt their initial ideas to
the entertaining needs of their audience. The
result is normally inferior to their own creative
ability; it is at best a mediocrity. Viktor Kolomiets
explains the social phenomenon of contemporary
Russian TV rating: why we are so obsessed with it
and why the variety of TV programs is fading away.
Throughout the times of political turmoil,
Russian niche radio programming ruled only by
the laws of the market managed to create a successful
business model. And public radio, continuously
undersubsidized by the state, suffered
severe material and organizational losses. Today
both survive but some of the previously demanded
genres as radio theatre or children’s programs are
extinct. Speaking of the broadcasting policy,
Viktoria Sukhareva doubts that the state should support such non-commercial genres. First of all,
the public is content with the “fast food” of the
popular music and infotainment mix it is being
fed. And if non-commercial genres are really
demanded, commercial radio channels might
include them in their schedules, she suggests.
Russian TV channels (with the exception of
the Kultura (Culture) channel whose addressees
constitute 1,5 percent of the population) are
intended for the mass audience and claim to form
their schedule based on program ratings. Irina
Poluekhtova analyzes preferences of the Russian
TV audience and “menus” of TV channels by type
and genre of a program. Poluekhtova points to
tendencies and problems of contemporary
domestic television watching.
TV program ratings are supposed to inform
advertisers and television managers about the
effectiveness of advertising and program quality.
Sergei Keshishev testifies that domestic television
managers do not have an effective system of telemetric
measurement of TV audience, which
allows TV management to engage in shady transactions.
As a result, channel budgets are underfunded,
advertising businesses and politicians are
misled, and nobody gets to know what the audience
is really interested in. Telecasters are not
interested in realistic evaluations of their audience.
Keshishev suggests a model of independent and
objective assessment of TV audience that would be
beneficial for advertisers, channel management,
and the audience itself.
Nikolai Plotnikov analyzes the ideology of
Russia-related rhetoric in German media. At its
core is the presupposition of Russia’s being not just
distinctively different from the West, but rather an
undeveloped and backward version of Western civilization.
German journalists unambiguously
interpret this “civilizational inadequacy” as a negative
feature that has to be overcome. This critique
conflicts with polls results but is congruent with
prevailing Russian self-reflecting discourse.
Plotnikov discusses possibilities of creating an
alternative language of understanding and describing
The impact of media on language, despite
popular misconception, is inconsiderable. Media
only magnifies current linguistic tendencies that
in their turn depend on deeper social and technological
shifts in national life. Depending on the
situation, media can either preserve the literary
norm while sterilizing the language or shatter the
norm thus inducing creativity. Maxim Krongauz
describes the alternative tendencies and their
For people of traditional culture, norms of
everyday life are based mainly on spoken tradition,
knowledge received from elders, the
Scriptures, and religious literature in general.
Media is the main agent in forming their political,
scientific, and historical ideology, being virtually
their exclusive source of information in these
fields. Natalia Kuznecova examines the role of
media in shaping beliefs and attitudes of Russia’s
In the Publication section, there are translations
of “Broadcasting and National Identity” by
David Cardiff and Paddy Scannell and “Press:
Government by Newsleak” from Marshall
McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions
of Man. We also publish synopses of Die Realitat
Der Massenmedien by Niklas Luhmann and Media
and Sovereignty: The Global Information
Revolution and Its Challenge to State Power by
Monroe E. Price.
In the OZ discussion section, we continue to
publish articles considering the subject of labor.
What are the main sociological characteristics
of the modern Russian agrarian worker? Has
the agrarian reform of the 1990s improved both
economic conditions and the mentality of the
Russian peasant? Has he or she become more
ambitious, eager to work, and conscientious? Ilya
Shteinberg analyzes the reasons of the reform failure
and suggests an alternative.
A class approach implies analysis of social
classes as social-economic groups related to each
other. In Soviet Marxism-Leninism, social class
analysis was substituted for analysis of social strata.
Vladimir Iljin points to the potential of class
analysis in both a global and Russian context.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, publicizing
documents from historical archives came
into vogue in Russia. In the Country of OZ section,
there is an essay by Olga Edelman about the controversy
of archive usage by the media. Edelman
writes about the responsibility of journalists and
historians in treating historical issues.
An analysis of “mentalities and sentiments”
allows a historian to document a vague and
imprecise substance that could be called the spirit
of the age. Anna Minaeva and Evgeny Kuleshov’s
work based on the detailed diary of a Leningrad
woman-pensioner describing poor work of the
city’s utility service provides a good notion of
Russian life of the period.
In the Old World section, there is a biographical
essay based on the memoirs of , former aviation constructor, engineer,
and ordinary Soviet man. The diaries that vividly
demonstrate conditions at which people could
accept Bolshevik ideology depict the typical
course of moral evolution of a Russian proletarian
of the time and a typical career of boy from a poor
rural family that culminated in a meeting with
Lenin during his study at the Supreme Party
School. Unlike refined literary memoirs, these
records are remarkable for their spontaneity.