In Putin’s Russia, the hollowed-out media mirrors the state

Alexey Kovalev writes: Vladimir Putin perfectly understood the power of the media that helped propel his famously unpopular predecessor Boris Yeltsin into power in 1996. So the first thing he did after assuming the presidency in 2000 was to force all the major TV channels – still the most powerful medium in the country – to submit to his will. Oligarch owners were either co-opted, jailed or exiled, and by 2006 most major Russian media were either directly or indirectly under Putin’s administration’s control.

Today, the three major Russian TV channels are either directly owned by the state, operating as state enterprises (Channel One and VGTRK, or All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company), or owned by a subsidiary of one of Russia’s largest oil and gas companies, Gazprom (NTV). So are two of Russia’s three major news agencies, Rossiya Segodnya and Tass. Later, larger independent online news outlets such as were subjected to hostile takeovers by loyalist editorial teams picked by the Kremlin.

Members of Putin’s administration – today it’s his deputy chief of staff Alexey Gromov – control the political coverage and decide both what foreign and domestic policies are to be covered, and how and, more importantly, what is not to be covered. For example, Putin’s family is strictly off-limits, unless specifically instructed otherwise. This often leads to awkward moments, as when Putin casually dropped the bomb of his divorce on national TV while tactically cornered by a TV crew after an opera he went to see with his now ex-wife Lyudmila.

The editors-in-chief of all the major media in Russia attend regular “strategy meetings” with Putin’s staffers. It’s like Fight Club: no member will admit to its existence – but it’s fairly easy to deduce, given how coordinated the coverage is on the most watched TV shows across all three major news channels. [Continue reading…]

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