Хитрые (и не очень) диктаторы | Как они работают со СМИ (English subtitles) @Максим Кац

Хитрые (и не очень) диктаторы | Как они работают со СМИ (English subtitles) @Максим Кац

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Recently, a reporter from Yakutia was fined for saying the word “frontline” during Dozhd channel live stream. Because “frontline” is a wartime word, and during the special operation we say “line of contact”. Dmitry Kiselev called the withdrawal from Kherson “establishing positions on the left bank of Dnieper”.

The news about military censorship and newspeak, even though they still sound crazy, have already become a daily occurrence. Today we are in the situation in which Russian people can get truthful and independent information about war and politics openly and without VPN only through Youtube and Telegram channels. But strict censorship and openly pressuring journalists weren’t always typical for Russian leadership — for many years, it manipulated the public opinion more carefully. And saw more success than most other autocracies. Today we will talk about how the mechanism of controlling the media was being built over the last twenty years and why the Kremlin switched from its try and true methods to direct repression. A short announcement before we begin. We are looking for someone whose native language is English. But you need to know Russian, too.

We are looking to improve the quality of our English subtitles, you'll be translating 1 or 2 videos per week, so it's sort of a part time job, and we pay well. Follow the link in the description if you're interested. Again, this is only for people whose native language is English, and Russian is their second language. Now let’s get back to the video. DID THE STRATEGY OF CONTROL WORK? Manipulating the public opinion worked better than direct censorship, and I'm not just saying that.

It can be easily proven with statistics. If you compare us to Belarus, where censorship was being slowly introduced since the 1990s when Alexandr Lukashenko came to power, the society in Russia had years of free access to independent opinions, even the ones that were very critical of the regime. But the audience of propagandist media was always higher in percentage terms. Primarily because they had television bands to broadcast on, among other things. It may seem counter intuitive: you allow outlets like Novaya Gazeta or Echo Moskvy to exist and at the same time expect that citizens will be listening to your own propaganda. Wouldn’t it be easier to just ban all who refuse to work by your manuals and accustom the people to an idea that there can be only one opinion? It may be easier, but it is certainly not more effective.

Take, for example, the data by Levada-Center, FOM, and the Russia Institute at King’s College London. They all studied the audience reach of various information sources in Russia, as well as how much people trust them. How many people use state media (mostly television) as a primary or even only source of information? In Russia, it’s up to 65%. In Belarus, that number is a bit lower — 50%.

Doesn’t sound like a huge gap, does it? But in reality, there is a principal difference between the two neighboring democracies. The difference is in the overlap between the audiences of independent media and state media: television, radio, newspapers, and websites. In Belarus, the society is deeply polarized in their choices of sources of information. Only 7% of the Belarussians who trust independent media, have ever turned to state channels controlled by Lukashenko for information.

So, if you don't watch tv then you just don't. In Russia, this number is way higher — 54%. What does it mean? It means that even those of Russians who put more trust in free media, still consume the content created by propaganda. How much they trust it is another matter. But on our channel, we said many times that Russian propaganda doesn’t try to make you fully believe it. Its goal is to make Russians believe that “truth is more complicated” and “there is no truth at all”.

To make them feel that there are many sides and that they gather various opinions to draw their own conclusions. And for a lot of people, it works. Another interesting detail: according to FOM, most Russians agree that one needs to check information using many different sources.

But not everyone understands that “different” sources that they choose are de facto under a total or at least partial control of the state. They may watch Channel 1, and for an alternative source of information they may use, for example, Lenta.ru, whose independent staff was removed 8 years ago and created their own independent outlet — Meduza. Another example. After Vedomosti fell under the Kremlin’s control, most of the staff left the newspaper. You’d think that the audience that considered Vedomosti to be their independent source of information would now stay away from it.

But the reach of the newspaper has only increased. Most readers who have only 20 minutes to read the news won’t notice a slight change in tone or how there are now certain prohibited subjects. We can make a guess on why the reach has increased — they now have more money to produce content, and pro-government articles attracted new audiences. And those who started to look for alternatives, went not to Meduza or Novaya Gazeta, but to Lenta.ru or Kremlin-controlled Kommersant.

Some may intentionally use state channels, while some read newspapers that they think are independent, even though this has not been so for a long time now. To find out which media are truly independent, one must have a good understanding of politics and to be spending a lot of time on it, which only a small percentage of people have and do. The Russian regime managed to create a system of control over the media that forces people — intentionally or not — to consume the information that was approved by the presidential administration.

Even if they put more trust in the independent media. In order for this system to work, the Russian leadership had been working with the media market for years. Let us see how they were doing that, and compare it to Belarus, whose leadership never took any detours around censorship. MASS MEDIA IN AUTOCRACIES Let’s start with Belarus.

The independent media existed in the republic for a very short time — from the beginning of the perestroyka and until 1994, when Alexander Lukashenko was elected as president. He decided to once again put all information in the country under total control by the state, which he represented. State officials have been appointed to key positions in all radio and television companies, television has become state control, and censorship was established. State-owned media like “Sovetskaya Belorussia” and “Respublica” began to receive

funding from the state budget, and people were forcefully encouraged to subscribe to them. Independent media outlets had to survive on their own and were constantly under a risk of not getting advertising deals due to a pressure by the state, or to even have their license revoked. Many went to cable TV, like Belsat, to radio, like Euroradio, many became privately printed, like Narodnaya Volya or Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta. Already by mid-00s, a large number of outlets that criticized the regime had their licenses revoked.

On top of this, television was under direct censorship, and policies of state channels’ editorials were controlled for ideology. For example, the film Godbat’ka was removed from the NTV-Belarus broadcast. Literature and movies fell under Soviet-style censorship.

When you’re building a dictatorship codenamed Museum of Socialism, it may become difficult to stop. As a result, most independent journalists moved on to online media and began to voice their opinions from there. It worked for quite some time But Belarussian regime was unwilling to tolerate this, and it was not particularly interested in playing any subtle games to lure viewers and readers. So it just went straight for repression. Arrests, fines, and real prison sentences have become widespread even before the 2012 election.

The penal code was enriched with a ban on all attempts to criticize the president, and on all opinions regarding the politics and economy of Belarus that are not in line with the official narrative. Did all of that help the regime to ensure stability and public support? Well, not really. The Belarussian protest movement was still there, as well as independent media.

Acts of civil disobedience were happening in 2017-2018, and of course, there was also the biggest one that happened in 2020 after the election. The regime responded to protests with even more arrests and legal prohibitions. Today, almost every honest Belarussian journalist is either in prison or abroad, but independent media are still there and stay connected with their audiences. It was different in Russia. Instead of banning or shutting down independent media, Russian leadership in the 2000s preferred to take them under control using money.

This is how it happened to NTV and ORT (the name of the Channel 1 back then). A loyal businessman buys an outlet in question, and then the presidential administration assigns supervisors whose job is to tell the editorial what they can and cannot talk about. The name remains the same, and for a long time most of the audience thinks that they’re still watching their favorite channel, just with different faces. For a very long time, the Russian regime focused almost all of its attention on television. As a result, a vast assortment of opposition newspapers and tv and radio channels have appeared in the periodical press and on the internet: Novaya Gazeta, Lenta.ru, Echo Moskvy.

Even the tv channel Dozhd, even though it was not allowed to broadcast, still existed. And there were also some new neutral but honest outlets. Like Kommersant, Vedomosti, or RBK.

Novaya Gazeta was put under a heavy pressure, the list of its journalists that were killed or had an attempt on their lives alone would barely fit on an A4 paper. And still, Novaya Gazeta continued to publish truth about Chechnya, Nord-Ost, Beslan, etc. Lenta.ru honestly covered falsifications during the 2011 election, Ilya Azar’s article about ballot box stuffing, “The Broken Carousel”, brought more people to the streets than some politicians from the opposition. The first tightening of the screws happened right after Bolotnaya Square protests in 2012, but not immediately after.

The style was immediately recognizable: independent media were losing independence, but not all of their audience were aware of it. They kept existing under old names and sometimes even criticized the regime — within certain allowed boundaries of course. It’s only 20 years after Vladimir Putin’s rise to power that the Ministry of Justice started to declare media outlets foregin agents and undersired organizations. And after the war started, all independent media have finally become completely outlawed. Echo and Dozhd were banned and moved to Youtube, and the editorial of Novaya Gazeta emigrated and their website was blocked along with many others. And just so that we weren’t comparing just Russian and Belarus, let’s take a look at another one of European autocracies, a one that is in its infancy. Hungary.

Whom Victor Orban sees as a role model in regards to establishing control over the media: Putin or Lukashenko? Victor Orban started thinking about controlling the media back when he was in opposition. And when he became the Hungarian prime minister in 2010, he started to put his plans into practice. But we can say that he was forced to choose the more gentle approach.

It’s just that when you’re at the center of the European Union, you can’t simply declare the state monopoly on all broadcasts and adopt censorship laws like it happened in Belarus, it just wouldn’t be a smart strategy. Voters and colleagues from the EU would probably not like the idea. And for now, Orban finds ways to manage both annoyances.

He has chosen the tactics that, in a way, makes him similar to Russian leaders. Hungarian independent media were turned into resources that are controlled by the state at varying degrees. Various Orban’s friends among loyal businessmen bought many outlets. More than half a thousand of various media outlets, just think of it! One government-affiliated outlet for every 19 000 hungarians! What unites all these outlets is their more or less explicit love for the ruling party Fides and for the traditional values.

As well as the single editorial policy. No really, instead of appointing supervisors from the presidential administration, Orban created the “Central Fund of Press and Media” to supervise all these countless outlets. He clearly bested Russia here. Of course the Hungarian autocrat spends all that informational resource on promoting himself, his views on history, his views on the place of Hungary in the world, and on its enemies, like George Soros and migrants. Here’s a good example: this year, a candidate for prime minister had only 5 minutes in the state broadcast.

While Orban’s speeches are being broadcast almost 24/7. So what do we have? Russia and Hungary have chosen a soft strategy of controlling the media, while Belarus opted for strong censorship by the state, both the audience reach of the propaganda and the how massive the protests are show that a soft approach is more successful. It’s just more of Russians accepted the official viewpoint and weren’t that eager to go to the streets. But why then did Russia switch to Belarussian tactics, even though its pre-war methods were much more effective? SOMETHING WENT WRONG Not so long ago we made a video about dictatorships of fear and dictatorships of lies. About why the Russian regime switched from manipulation to outright repression and intimidation.

Today i’ll briefly remind you of the reasons. It's the 21st century. The Internet has become a part of our everyday lives, people became more educated, and they now create a societal demand: people want more than food and buying cars on credit. Many now want honest government and civic freedoms. The Russian system faced a difficult choice. They comply with societal demands and continue the process of liberalization that once started during Medvedev’s presidency, but there was a huge chance that certain people would lose their positions. Another option was to toughen the system, pump up the scale of repression and try to suppress all dissent.

Kremlin chose the latter. Repression against independent media — is the most important detail in this whole picture. Polls show that the more information a person gets from tv, the more supportive he is of the government, war, and mobilization. But now there’s this new generation that doesn’t watch tv. And they are less supportive of the war. The above mentioned data of state-controlled FOM shows that the number of TV viewers has been falling ever since 2008, while the audience of online sources has been steadily growing. During the six months of the war, the audience coverage of Channel One, Rossiya-1 and NTV dropped by a quarter.

The authorities reacted to this fact in the only way that remained in their arsenal - with force. Censorship started to increase during the pandemic, but it only became worse during the war. A TV can’t hide the war. They cannot even, like they did during the pandemic, distract the public attention with their favorite subject “Just look what’s going on in Ukraine” — because what’s going on there is the war. There is too big of a difference between the official data and the data from independent media. 6 000 dead Russian soldiers vs tens of thousands — it’s something that you can’t just dismiss.

Someone’s been lying. There is too big of a difference between promises of propaganda and reality. Instead of “Kyiv in 3 days” and “victorious march to Lviv” we have shelling of facilities in Belgorod region and fleeing of the army back to the Russian border. Instead of long lines of volunteers we had long lines in Verkhny Lars. In a situation like this, you can’t hide the truth, you can’t cover it up and you can’t obscure it with another agenda. There is nothing left but to ban all sources that spread information other than the official one. SO WHO IS OBSOLETE The biggest problem of modern autocrats in how they interact with the media lies in the simple fact that the very concept of informational autocracies was born at the peak of growth and power of broadcasting media, primarily television.

Television is by nature a centralized thing. It’s easily controlled. Both through production, which, due to its scale, has always been in the hands of biggest financial and industrial groups, and through the advertising market. In a system where broadcasting media dominate completely, the very concept of independent media is questionable.

Even in a perfect model we’ll probably see media outlets with varying degrees of dependency rather than truly independent ones. In its golden age, broadcasting media were centralized and heard by everyone. They decided who was a celebrity, who was a politician, which subject was trending. The result was a consolidated environment, which can be easily monopolized and usurped if you have enough power and money. It is all-encompassing, it comes to every home, whether you asked for it or not. But technologies develop much faster than societal institutions can follow, let alone political models.

By definition, autocracies work on monopolies, especially informational autocracies — having a monopoly over public space lies in their very foundation. So they struggle in situations when everyone can have their own media with unlimited outreach. Like mine.

True, the state spends enormous amounts of money on propaganda on the internet and at the same time does everything to ensure that alternative viewpoints are difficult to access. And not without some degree of success, we should not deny the obvious: audience outreach of an online source of information falls drastically after it enters the Roskomnadzor registry. On the other hand, the fact that the internet is a decentralized system makes it extremely difficult.

Even if we forget about all the ways of bypassing blockings, independent media flourish on platforms which the state cannot easily reach due to either technical or political reasons. They have Telegram: remember how the state tried to block it? It didn’t end well for the reputation of Roskomnadzor. Plus, propaganda uses Telegram, too. How would you block it without affecting people who make so much money with it? That’s right, you can’t.

The independent media also have YouTube. First of all it’s too big, it’s become too ingrained in our everyday lives, it’s the most popular social media. Second, you can’t block it without affecting all the other google services, which would mean bricking tens of millions of gadgets and interrupting the work of the entire Russian segment of the internet. So in this new world, classic informational autocracies face two challenges. First, it is a world of decentralized sources of information. Second, it is a world in which connections are provided by new entities which classic autocracies are unaccustomed to - global corporations.

And the resources of those IT giants often surpass the wealth of national governments. So where are we at? We are at a point in which classic informational autocracies are becoming obsolete. We usually think that the 20th century was a century of automobiles, that they replaced all competition in the 1920s-1930s. But if we look at real historical photos we can easily see that up to the end of 1940s, and sometimes into 1950s, even in major cities horse-drawn transportation existed alongside automobiles. Which is what we see now. We see the past and the future, yesterday and tomorrow still coexisting. Yesterday is already incapable of seriously competing against tomorrow. But it can still exist next to it.

See you tomorrow.

2022-11-23 00:29

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