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Gardner, Palacios & Eisen 0

An Exploration of Russias Media System

Elizabeth Gardner, Lorena Palacios, & Jonathan Eisen
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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An Exploration of Russias Media System
Russias media system is a hybrid of the three media models specified by Hallin and
Mancini (2004). As indicative of the Polarized Pluralist Model, the Russian government
interferes with media outlets in order to broadcast advocative, state-approved content and
intervenes with agents reporting antigovernment facts or sentiments. As Russia slowly transitions
into a more Westernized system of governance, Russia adopts concepts of press freedom seen in
the Democratic Corporatist and Liberal models. However, Russia retains elements of political
control, seen through political clientelism and the abuse of journalists. The different aspects of
clientelism in the process of democratization and Russias authoritarian tendencies have greatly
influenced Russia throughout the process of becoming a new civil society and political system
(Roniger & Gne-Ayata, 1994).
The Russian media system has been referred to as postsocialist (Vartanova, 2011, p.
112) and post-Soviet (Becker, 2014, p. 192) in attempts to bridge Russias historic past with its
emerging system. Russian government and media have undergone significant evolution in a short
amount of time. Prior to 1991, Russia identified as the Soviet Union, a powerful Communist
state which censored all content and enacted severe regulations and laws. Today, Becker (2014)
coins Russias media system as neo-authoritarian (p. 192). Becker (2014) argues neoauthoritarian media systems manufacture diversity by allowing nominal press freedoms (e.g.,
Russias diverse newspaper market) to appease the public while also wielding disproportionate
political power (e.g., Russias state-run broadcast media) (pp. 194-195). Journalists of a neoauthoritarian system are subject to strict licensing laws and severe victimization.
This conceptual component serves to demonstrate that Russias media system is a hybrid
of Hallin and Mancinis (2004) three media systems. We will break down the role of the state,

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the degree of political pluralism, the newspaper industry, and the professionalization of
journalists as key determinants in identifying the media system model. Russia has reformed from
the Soviet system of governance into a modernized state with increased privatization of media,
yet the government continues to interfere more heavily than governments of the Democratic
Corporatist or Liberal models. While modern Russia is a unique state founded on ideas of
hybridity, Becker (2004) asserts the Russian system is not sui generis, a Latin phrase meaning
unique, one of a kind, or in a class of its own (p. 139). Russias media system can be deemed a
neo-authoritarian system based on the criteria presented by Becker (2004).
The role of the state in Russia
The Russian government has long been accused of censoring media within the country.
Between a slew of tough libel laws with steep penalties, ineffective media protections,
government funding, and staunch political divides, the media in Russia face significant
difficulties maintaining independence and transparency. Becker (2004) writes, To silence
critics, the state does not resort to pre-publication censorship so much as economic pressure
through selectively applied legal and quasi-legal actions against owners, as well as broadly
worded laws which prescribe criminal and civil penalties for journalists concerning such issues
as libel, state interests, national security and the image of the head of state (p. 149). Russia
criminalized libel once again in 2012 after previously decriminalizing it under pressure from
human rights advocates, sparking concern among press liberty watchdogs. Concerns run
rampant, but a common tenor among advocates is that [r]e-criminalization of libel was part of a
raft of laws rammed through the Russian parliament from June through mid-July, setting out
new, severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, assembly, and association, and laying
the legal groundwork to reinforce authoritarianism in Russia (Human Rights Watch, 2012). The

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Russian libel laws allow for fines up to 5 million rubles (approximately $78,547 USD) to be
administered for statements found to be libelous (Human Rights Watch, 2012). Conversely, legal
safeguards for media outlets and journalists are ineffective due to their flexibility. This flexibility
is used by prosecutors and other state officials to keep these defenses from applying to the
situations they were originally designed for.
The final factor contributing to the states capacity to limit media autonomy is
Russias weak legal system. Legal protections for the media in Russia are
minimal. In fact, ever-flexible laws and a pliant judiciary permit the government
to take selective actions against media organizations The Kremlin has many
means to manage disloyal media because the legal grounds for such
management are always available. Actions taken by federal agencies and federal
officials include wide-ranging tax audits..., investigations of privatizations, the
denial of press credentials and access to media pools, limited access to sensitive
areas..., libel suits and criminal complaints against reporters for violating antiterrorism laws (Becker, 2004, pp. 152-153).
It has long been discussed by outside observers that many media organizations are very
closely involved with the government, especially with the presidential administration. For the
minority of media outlets (those that are not government-run) a significant amount of funding for
traditional media is provided through government allocations. The close ties between
governmental officials stem accusations that there exists a strong bias in Russian media
coverage. Significant disinformation is often reported, especially among state-run media, and is
often labeled as propaganda. One of the highest profile cases of this disinformation came during
the Russian military action in the Ukraine in 2014. Many pictures and video clips were broadcast

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and identified as being from the conflict, but were actually from other regions and unrelated
conflicts (Freedom House, 2015). One major example that dominated social media for a short
time involved a picture of a young Ukrainian girl with a drawing that stated I want war. It was
later discovered that the picture had been photoshopped by a member of the Russian government
from its original statement, I dont want war (, 2014).
Additionally, there are many opposition groups and watchdogs who have discussed a
stop list that is described as a roster of political opponents and other critics of the government
who have been barred from TV news and political talk shows by the Kremlin (Levy, 2008). The
people on this stop list insist that they are removed from any media in which they appear. For
example, in the fall of 2007 a man named Mikhail G. Delyagin was digitally removed from a
television show after expressing opinions not in line with Vladimir Putins (Levy, 2008). This
censorship sparked significant attention from media watchdogs, who retaliated by calling for the
Russian government to cease this practice.
The Russian media system certainly does not fit any one particular media system entirely,
but the role of the state in Russia seems to align most with that of the Polarized Pluralist Model.
Given the high government subsidies of media and the periods of censorship imposed by the
government, Russia stands apart from the majority of European models as well as the US media
Political parallelism in Russia
In determining political parallelism within a system, Hallin and Mancini (2004) evaluate
the formal organizational links between media and political parties, content and attitudes
conveyed within journalism, trends of bribery or extortion, and other factors. Russias political
role in media cannot be clearly defined per Hallin and Mancinis model. The nation exhibits

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external pluralism within national press only while the government controls public broadcasting.
The Russian media system contains considerable hybridity, adopting facets of both the
Democratic Corporatist Model and the Polarized Pluralist Model.
While Russia attempts to transition into a more Westernized state, the Soviet system of
the past is far from eradicated. De Smaele (1999) states, The reshaping of the media system into
a pluralist and independent Fourth Estate, the transformation of the journalist community into an
autonomous professional group dedicated to a public service ideal and the redefinition of the
audience into a group of citizens all failed to occur (p. 173). Hallin and Mancini (2004) link the
Democratic Corporatist Model with public service broadcasting, where media run autonomously
with a degree of state intervention. Russia fails to integrate this level of press freedom. The staterun media are motivated to persuade and control the audiences, instead of being motivated by the
social responsibility of disseminating information for the public good. De Smaele theorizes this
is due to Russias political and cultural differences from the Western world. Countries with
Democratic Corporatist and Liberal media systems score much higher in individualism,
according to the Hofstede Centre indexes. The United States generates a score of 91 in
individualism, the United Kingdom displays an 89, and Sweden garners a 71, dwarfing Russias
individualism index of 36 (The Hofstede Centre, 2015). This lack of individualism stems from
Russias state paternalism. The government is depicted as a parental figure, charged with raising
and looking out for its citizens. Paternalism implies the citizens are not educated enough to
cultivate thoughts and attitudes for themselves. This mental paternalism becomes characteristic
of the Russian people, as they are portrayed as submissive and highly persuadable by the media
(Salmenniemi, 2008).

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Russia retains a long tradition of controlling broadcast media (especially television) since
it is arguably most important mode of mass communication between a state and its populace.
Mediterranean countries also exercise politics over broadcasting systems (Hallin & Mancini,
2004, p. 106). In the Soviet Union, the state controlled all forms of press and media, but today
Putin locks down on broadcast particularly. Weeks after Putins inauguration in 2000, Putin took
down Vladimir Gusinskys Media-Most Empire and absorbed NTV, the leading non-state
broadcast news outlet, through the state-controlled energy giant Gazprom (Becker, 2004, p. 151).
The Russian government retains ownership over Russia One (formerly RTR) and
Channel One (formerly ORT). NTV, as stated above, is owned by Gazprom, and Centre TV is
owned by the Moscow city government (Russia Profile--Media, 2015). These media outlets
receive criticism for being heavily biased in favor of pro-government (Becker, 2004, p. 152). In
regards to radio, the state owns the national network named Radio Russia, along with Radio
Mayak and Voice of Russia; Gazprom owns Ekho Moskvy (Russia Profile--Media, 2015). The
only radio station BBC News lists as privately run is Russkoye Radio, which is music based. The
government also owns the news agencies Itar-Tass and RIA-Novosti. Becker (2004) argues that
state-owned media have limited autonomy, the government exerts strong control over content,
and appointments to key positions are secured through political loyalty (p. 149). With so many
channels available, Russian government easily indoctrinates its public with slanted propaganda.
The Mediterranean media system shares similar government oversight.
Meanwhile, there are few avenues for subversive political criticism. The United Russia
political party sustains strong partisanship. President Vladimir Putin has an approval rating of
89.9 percent, according to Russia Today (Putin's approval rating, 2015). This report could be
slanted, seeing that it is a government-run publication, or it could be indicative of the strong

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political affinity for United Russia that surges through the Russian people. This party garnered
over 49 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections of 2011, and party members make up
238 out of the 450 seats in the State Duma, or Russian parliament (Duma voting behaviour:
2011, 2015). Russia has a multi-party system, but United Russia is the dominant party with the
most representation and recorded membership of over 2 million in 2011 (Russian elections: The
political parties). The Communist Party is the second largest party, which has under 550
thousand members and only 92 seats in the State Duma (Duma voting behaviour: 2011, 2015).
Other parties include the Liberal Democratic Party and Just Russia. While a multi-party system
often suggests political pluralism, the fact that United Russia is by far the most powerful and
popular party undercuts all potential for a truly diverse political atmosphere. The Russian press is
the only outlet for politically divergent views.
Ultimately, the government uses television to influence news coverage and undermine the
citizens abilities for unique political thought. While the government does own the Rossiyskaya
Gazeta, print media is for the most part privately owned and autonomous. Press freedom exists
as a check on government; however, this medium of speech is suppressed in other ways that will
be further discussed later.
The newspaper industry in Russia
Russias newspaper industry shares characteristics with a pluralistic system and is very
similar to other European countries like Italy and Greece. The Russian media system was part of
the state institutions during the majority of the twentieth century (von Seth, 2011). The main task
for the press in Russia was to proliferate the policies made by the Communist Party and actively
participate in the development of their citizens, as stated in von Seths article. A key indicator of
a pluralist model is the low newspaper circulation within the country. During the 1990s, there

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were 43 national newspapers that together shared 49 percent of the circulation in Russia, as
compared to the much larger selections available today, but at a much lower circulation level
(Lehtisaari, 2014, pp. 75-76).
The influence of politics and business definitely played a key role in the orientation of the
newspaper industry, as newspapers have become more market-oriented. Since the fall of the
Soviet Union, the Russian society as a whole has become significantly more commercialized and
business-centered, thus contributing to the growth of the business press in the country
(Koikkalainen, 2007). The peer review essay written by Katja Lehtisaari discusses how the
economic modernization of the country was due to the business newspapers influencing the
opinion of the public and economic policy. There is no direct link between these two factors, but
many say that the tones of various articles published in such magazines (such as Vedomosti and
Delovoi Peterburg) have exercised great influence over the perceptions of the public. The
market-oriented ways of Russian newspapers began as a simple topic of debate when Russia was
still part of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, but later the highly used word market became a
topic for general political interest and business-oriented media (Lehtisaari, 2014, p. 77).
The pluralistic model was most evident during the 1980s in Russian articles about the
Communist Party. The Russian newspaper, Rossiiskaia Gazeta, showcased the different opinions
about the market economy and economic reforms by members of the Communist Party. Things
started to change in the press as more outlets started addressing their audiences as citizens who
were active and knowledgeable during the early 1990s (von Seth, 2011). Despite addressing the
Russian citizens as active and knowledgeable about their countrys political and economic status,
this discouraged the average citizen to read the newspaper. The industry became part of the
pluralist model when the press focused on citizens of the political elite. Since the press was still

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part of the state, this tactic from newspapers can be seen as a way to inhibit the general publics
ability to question or raise any issues by limiting their ability to understand the current situations
that were happening (von Seth, 2011, p. 60). Newspapers in Russia did not adjust their writing
techniques until the Soviet Union dissolved.
The main topic of discussion now within the Russian newspaper industry is what
countries have had the biggest influence in shaping the current state of the press. There are
similarities from both Eastern European and Western countries in the models being used by
financial and business media outlets. Russian newspapers still have the main characteristic of
Eastern Europe (i.e., the trend of low circulation levels), but some publications have started to
include English words. In Kommersant the weekly supplement is called Weekend (Koikkalainen,
2007, pg. 1320). The combinations and differentiation of roles among newspapers are clear signs
of the modernization of the press in Russia (Lehtisaari, 2014, p. 81). There has been a decrease
in the readership of newspapers worldwide. There remains a niche market that still reads
specialized newspapers, which increases the demand for special area information, like business
news, which has grown with the rise of the economy in Russia (Koikkalainen, 2007, pg. 1316).
All these newspapers specialized in certain areas also contribute to the growing privatization of
the press in Russia. When the state let go of their role in the press, this opened the market for
investors, including foreigners, to enter and influence the newspaper industry. Like the
overarching media system, the newspaper industry today in Russia is a hybrid of different
elements of models from very distinct countries.
Professionalization of journalists in Russia
Regarding the professionalization of journalists, Russia is a blend of the three media
systems outlined by Hallin and Mancini (2004). During Soviet reign, media was instrumentalized

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by the state, allowing journalists to express only the kind of opinions that match the general
line of the party (Litvinenko, 2013, p. 6). After glasnost, Soviet policy instituted under
Gorbachev opened discussion and catalyzed democratization. Formal censorship was abolished
and private media ownership became permitted (von Seth, pp. 53-54). Modern Russia allows
press freedom, but there is still some instrumentalization in media. This government interference
is common in Mediterranean media systems, yet Russias professionalization trends share
commonalities with the Northern European and Northern Atlantic models.
Historically, Russian media has been literature-centric and opinionated, serving as a
government advocate (Johansson, 2014, p. 35). Literary and political writers gained tremendous
influence in Russia through the use of strong metaphors as a means of avoiding censorship
(Litvineko, 2013, p. 5). Famous writers like Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy are noted as
forerunners of Russian journalists, and journalism of that age contained opinions and propaganda
(Vartanova, 2011, p. 136).
With the burgeoning market economy, Russian journalism is undergoing strong
professionalization, especially within the business realm. New journalistic values emerge as
creative literary ones erode, including sensationalization that appeals to mass audiences.
Journalists are expected to self-regulate, with threats of death or imprisonment if they publish
content that is deemed unfavorable by the Russian state. While Russian journalism attempts to
shift into a system like the Liberal Model, it differs too much to be classically Liberal. The
practice of journalism in Russia resembles Western counterparts, such as the United States, in
that primary sources with first-hand information rank higher in importance than other sources
(Koikkalainen, 2007, p. 1322). Politicians and business people are often interviewed by Russian
journalists like they are in the Liberal Model and exhibited in the US and the UK. Russias

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system is similar to the Liberal Model in that journalists strive for factual accounts and
objectivity (Koikkalainen, 2007, p. 1324).
Though Russian press offers avenues for criticism and contrariety, journalists are limited
in their ability to criticize the center of power (Becker, 2014, p. 196). There are both formal
and informal ways to create limitations, such as the laws for professional licensing, information,
and state secrets. Journalists may be dismissed, imprisoned, tortured, or even killed for
overstepping boundaries (Becker, 2014). There is strenuous visa protocol in place to limit the
voices of foreign journalists as well (Becker, 2014, p. 197). Since 1992, 80 Russian journalists
have been killed, compared to the deaths of only six US journalists (Committee to Protect
Journalists, 2015).
The Committee to Protect Journalists cites numerous incidences of murder: Dmitry
Kholodov, investigative reporter of Mosckovski Komsomolets, was killed in 1994 by a hidden
briefcase bomb after planning to expose military corruption and involvement with the mafia; In
2006, after investigating human rights abuses by the military in Chechnya, Anna Politikovskaya
of the Novaya Gazeta was found shot in her apartment building; and Kommersants Ivan
Safronov was murdered in 2007 for collecting information regarding the sale of fighter jets and
anti-aircraft missiles to Syria and Iran (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2015). Becker notes,
There is a clear sense among journalists and journalism experts that conditions for journalists in
Russia are deteriorating, particularly as they seek to cover highly sensitive issues (Becker, 2004,
p. 151).
Vartanova (2011) identifies the paradoxical relationship between Russian media
independence and the low level of free speech. Media have undergone massive decentralization
and journalists have gained formal autonomy since the Soviet era, yet instrumentalization

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continues to occur as the state employs broadcast media as a tool for political persuasion and
suppresses journalists voices via force (Vartanova, 20011, p. 132).
As stated previously, De Smaele (1999) contends a cultural dichotomy that exists
between Western attitudes toward individualism and Eastern ideologies pertaining to
selflessness and submission to central control (p. 181). Russian culture calls for strict
adherence to authority in order to promote social harmony and lacks Western concepts of human
rights, political rights, and individualism (de Smaele, 1999). Caught between Western and
Eastern cultures, Russia adopts a blended, Eurasian perception that is gradually becoming more
In this new digital age, Russian journalists turn to blogging. The Russian Internet
(RuNet) is comparatively free of government censorship and instrumentation, making it an ideal
arena for bloggers to exercise free speech (Johansson, 2014). Russian journalists are more likely
than their US counterparts to use social media to blog about non-work related content, such as
socio-political issues (Johansson, 2014). While the Russian masses consume state mediated
content through public broadcast, the narrow, more socially active Russian audience turns to
information ghettos, such as the blog LiveJournal (Johansson, 2014, p. 27). The LiveJournal
bloggers studied by Johansson are predominantly journalists who post content related to sociopolitical or cultural issues, and most bloggers write for professional purposes (p. 33). These posts
are posted in Russia, by Russians, for Russians (p. 33). Other platforms utilized by bloggers
include Facebook, Twitter, and VKontakte (p. 32). While Russian journalists are mostly less
autonomous than those of the Democratic Corporatist or Liberal models, the anonymity and nonregulation of the Internet opens a marketplace of ideas for Russians.

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The Russian media system cannot be classically defined as Polarized Pluralist,
Democratic Corporatist, or Liberal. The system contains elements of all three models that set it
apart and simultaneously link it with the rest of the world of ever-evolving media. The variables
offered by Hallin and Mancini (2004) to categorize media are rendered too simplistic in the
overarching framework of modern mass communication. Russias formal adherence to press
freedom takes after Democratic Corporatist and Liberal systems. The niche newspaper market
and the emergence of Internet blogs that remain relatively uncensored promote political
pluralism seen in Scandinavian countries. However, the role of the state in broadcast and the
draconian modes of law enforcement are more concurrent with the Polarized Pluralist Model.
The Russian state exerts the most powerful influence over the masses, and journalists who dare
report about government corruption become subject to torture, imprisonment, or murder. While
the Russian media system is unique, it can be classified as a neo-authoritarian system. Russia
tolerates a level of press freedom in order to maintain support while the state asserts dominance
over the populace through broadcast and informal modes of regulation and enforcement.

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