Media Landscapes

Russia

Written by Natalya Krasnoboka

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Geographically, Russia is located in both Europe and Asia. It is the world’s largest country in terms of territory and the ninth largest in terms of population. The size of Russia’s population continues to decline, though, although not as rapidly as in previous years. A continuous increase in immigration to Russia from other former Soviet Union republics nearly compensates for the negative dynamics of the population size.

In 2007, life expectancy was 61.4 years for men and 73.9 years for women.

The Russian Federation has a presidential-parliamentary system. Until recently, the president possessed the predominant political and public weight. After the last election cycle the situation visibly changed. President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have equally prominent positions; many national and international experts are inclined to see the prime minister as a more powerful figure.

After a long period of political and economic volatility and instability, Russia is now a relatively stable system. Critics of the current Russian authorities describe the system as authoritarianism while supporters call it a managed democracy. According to the various opinion polls conducted by the Levada Centre, citizens of Russia support and trust their authorities and consider power rather evenly divided between president and prime minister. They also believe that Russia should continue with reforms and have certain doubts whether democracy is the most appropriate form of government for the country. Even in the conditions of the current economic crisis, the most recent polls register citizens’ confidence in President Medvedev at 72 percent. Confidence in Prime Minister Putin is around 78 percent. According to almost 70 percent of respondents, Putin remains the most influential politician in the country.

The Russian media space has changed dramatically since the Soviet period. Print media have been particularly effected. In the first 15 years after Russia’s independence the situation with Russian print media was very volatile. Many print outlets appeared to disappear practically overnight. It would be difficult to name a print outlet that did not undergo a change of ownership during this period. A majority of outlets changed several owners; many outlets changed owners repeatedly.

According to the National Association of TV and Radio Broadcasters, there are 2,168 TV and radio companies in Russia. Of these, 161 have a combined (TV and radio) licence, 799 are TV companies and 888 are radio stations. There are about 1,511 cable operators.

Currently, there are 35,500 registered newspapers in Russia. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, there were 1.7 daily newspapers per 1 million inhabitants in Russia in 2004. The total average circulation of daily newspapers per 1,000 inhabitants was 91.8 in 2004. The share of non-daily newspapers was 50.2 per 1 million inhabitants. 

Several newspapers popular in the Soviet era survived post-Soviet transitions and continue to be popular today. Among them are Komsomolskaya Pravda, Izvestia, Trud, and Moskovskiy Komsomolets. All of them have changed their editorial policy and at the resemble what in Western Europe is called the “yellow” press. Other popular outlets include weekly Argumenty I Fakty, dailies Kommersant and Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Popularity and exact circulation numbers are difficult to obtain. It is assumed that Komsomolskaya Pravda has the largest circulation in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States: 27m copies. Rossijskaya Gazeta is the daily bulletin of the Russian government. Its circulation is about 432,000 copies. The Moscow Times is a daily English-language newspaper published in Russia since 1992 with the circulation of about 35,000 copies. Other English-language print media include Russian Newsweek and the Moscow News. Novaya Gazeta is the most well-known national newspaper that is openly critical of the Russian authorities. The paper is published twice a week and has a circulation of about 535,000 copies.

According to the information distributed by the Russian Federal Agency for the Press and Mass Communications, in 2007 revenue from all periodicals sold in Russia amounted to 72.64 bn rubles (1.66bn euro). Advertising revenue amounted to 52 billion rubles (1.2bn euro).

The state-owned radio station Radio Rossii is the most widely-spread radio channel in the country (1,100 transmitters). The station was launched in 1990. The station broadcasts 174 original programmes. Its potential daily audience is more than 120 million people.

Mayak is another state-owned radio station. It broadcasts information and music programmes. It is the oldest and previously the most-popular station that began broadcasting 45 years ago.

Voice of Russia is an English-language, state-run radio station. It began in 1929. Its aim is to inform the world about Russia, its view on major world events. Additionally the station attempts to create a positive image of Russia abroad and to promote Russian culture and language. It broadcasts in 160 countries in 38 languages.

Echo Moskvy is the most famous information and talk-radio station in Russia. Although it was recently bought by Gazprom, the station claims editorial independence. The station was created in 1990. Its potential daily audience is about 46 million people. About 900,000 people listen to the station daily. It has more than 30 transmitters in Russia and the CIS. Echo Moskvy is also broadcasted in Chicago and New York.

There are three main federal TV channels in Russia, which together cover more than 90 percent of the country’s territory. Rossiya (covers 98.5 percent of the country’s territory) is a state-owned channel. It was created in 1991. The first national channel – Pervyj Kanal (covers 98.8 percent of Russia’s territory) – has a shared state (51 percent) and private (49 percent) ownership. Pervyj Kanal began broadcasting in its current format in 1995, replacing the channel Ostankino. The third channel – NTV (covers 84 percent of the national territory) – was once the property of the exiled oligarch Vladimir Aleksandrovich Gusinsky but is now owned by the energy giant Gazprom. It is broadcasted via 700 cable networks throughout Russia. NTV was created in 1993 and in 1998 the channel received the status of an all-Russian company.

In recent years, four other channels were included in the list of federal channels that are accessible throughout Russia. These are state-owned Kultura, Sport, Vesti and Bibigon and the Petersburg-based Pyatyj Kanal.

The All-Russian State TV and Radio Company (VGTRK, the umbrella-organisation for state-run broadcasting) unites the federal channels (Rossiya, Kultura, Bibigon and Sport); 89 regional TV and radio companies that broadcast in all regions of Russia; the news channels Vesti, RTR-Planeta, a Russian version of Euronews, three radio stations (Radio Rossii, Mayak and Kultura); and the Internet portal Rossiya (about 20 websites).

The channel Kultura was created in 1997. Its focus is on cultural life events. Another channel – Sport – was created in 2003. The VGTRK has decided to terminate the Sport channel in 2010 and to replace it with a new channel oriented toward young audiences. Costs of broadcasting sport events were named as the major reason for such a decision.

Vesti is the news channel. It was created in 2006. Vesti is the only Russian information channel with a 24-hour information service. Bibigon is a channel for children. It began broadcasting in 2007.

Pyatyj Kanal is considered to be the oldest TV channel of the Soviet Union and Russia; it was founded in 1938. The channel is part of the National Media Group, one of the biggest private media holdings in Russia. In 2006, Pyatyj Kanal began broadcasting throughout the country and in 2007 it was given the status of an all-Russian channel through a special presidential decree. It became the first all-Russian federal channel not based in Moscow.

REN-TV is another big privately owned media company. It possesses 27 stations throughout the country. The channel is broadcasted via 253 cable networks.

Another popular TV channel is the Moscow-based TV Tsentr. It focuses on the life of Russia’s capital and is owned by the Moscow-city government. It began broadcasting in 1997 and now can be received in all regions of Russia.

Television continues to be the main source of information, be it political or for entertainment, for the great majority of Russian population.

In 2005 Russia launched an English-language satellite channel, Russia Today. The channel is broadcasted in over 100 countries.

There were 1,510 cinemas in the country as of 2007. On a weekly basis, Russian cinemas show nine national and 37 foreign movies. In early 2009, 66 new movies were released in the country. The share of the national movies is 21 percent, according to the Movie Research Company.

In 2006, 67 feature films were produced in Russia. Production of TV serials based on the classics of the Russian and Soviet literature has become particularly popular in recent years. About 50 percent of Russian viewers watch the most popular national TV serials. Another popular approach is to film sequels of the Soviet movies. Overall, Soviet-era movies continue to be extremely popular in the country. Among the genres developing rapidly are action and horror movies. Comedies and re-adaptations of popular foreign serials are similarly popular. The most recent trend is the production of the historical patriotic dramas.

The state-owned Rossiya TV channel was the first Russian TV channel to begin its own film production. The channel is particularly famous for its production of TV serials. Broadcasting of films and serials accounts for 35 percent of the Rossiya broadcasting.

Moscow hosts the annual Moscow International Film Festival.

The three largest federal mobile network operators in Russia together control 83 percent of the market: VimpelCom (Beeline) (25.6 percent of the market), MegaFon (23 percent)and MTS (34.2 percent). Other leading operators include Tele2, Uralsvyazinform, Sibirtelecom, SMARTS and some others.

MTS is the biggest mobile operator in Russia, as well as in some other CIS countries.
VimpelCom is one of the biggest in a CIS group that consists of several telecommunications operators, which use mobile, fixed and broadband technologies. MegaFon conducts its operations in every region of Russia.

Svyazinvest is another large telecommunication group. It includes seven inter-regional companies, the intercity and international operator Rostelecom, and the research institute Giprosvyaz. The state owns 75 percent of the company’s shares.

There were 196.6m users of mobile communication devices as of summer, 2009. Mobile connections are the most rapidly expending type of Russian telecommunications. The market share of mobile connections is 45.7 percent of the total telecommunications market. Major profits come from operations in Moscow and the Central Federal district.

Russia is ranked No. 50 on the global index of ICT development. The country’s position on the index is the highest among the CIS region. As of 2009, 78 percent of Russians use mobile phones (compared to 32 percent in 2005). In Moscow, 90 percent of population use mobile phones.

According to recent statistics, 35 percent of the Russian population use the Internet. In the regions, this number plummets to 12 percent. For the most part, Internet users are between 18 and 24 years old.

Fifteen percent use the Internet on the daily basis. About 54 percent of Russians have never used the Internet. The highest share of Internet users is in Moscow (49 percent), although in some Russian regions that share does not exceed 8 percent. Moreover, Internet connections in Moscow and St. Petersburg are faster and cheaper than in the rest of the country. 

Forty-one percent of Russians use the Internet for information reasons, 38 percent for communication. About 23 percent say that they use the Internet for work-related purposes, about 14 percent for news. Twelve percent of respondents use the Internet for education and learning. Only 2 percent use the Internet for online shopping. Seventy-nine percent of Russians use Internet connections for emailing, 76 percent for social networks. Online forums are used by 49 percent of Russian users. Chats are utilised by 43 percent of respondents, while blogs are utilised by 23 percent. 

All the leading Russian newspapers, TV and radio channels have websites. The most-cited online resources are the information agency Regnum, online newspaper Lenta.Ru and the news agency Interfax. At the same time, only 23 percent of Russians consider online media a reliable source of information. Compare this to the 70 percent of Russians who consider television the most reliable source.

Odnoklassniki.ru is the most popular social network in Russia. Seventy-five percent of Russians between 25 and 35 years old use the Odnoklassniki.ru network. The second-most popular social network is VKontakte. Its users are younger than those of Odnoklassniki.ru. For a long time, LiveJournal was particularly popular among Russian bloggers. Its popularity has declined in recent years, though. Nevertheless, blogging continues to be popular among Russian journalists and politicians, including the current president, Medvedev.

The state-owned TV channel for children, Bibigon, has created an online social network for children. It offers a range of online games, videos, books, songs, etc. Children can also create diaries and photo albums.

Another famous online resource is the Internet TV channel Internet Kanal. Similarly popular is the online game channel Igrovoj Kanal. Russian Internet users continue to rely on the Russian search engine Yandex more than on international search tools like Google.

Opposition and independent groups continuously use the Internet. Among the most famous information websites is Ezhednevnyj Zhurnal. A news and opinion website run by the leading Russian journalists, it is critical of the current Russian administration. Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov has a visible presence online. Human and civil rights organisations, as well as media watchdog groups, also use the Internet extensively.

The state’s use of the Internet is both reactive and proactive. In several Russian regions, local authorities prosecuted Internet users (mainly bloggers) for posting critical information online. At the same time, state is actively involved in the promotion of the Electronic Russia initiative. The current Russian president is in particular known for his intensive Internet usage.

There are approximately 400 news agencies in Russia. The three biggest news agencies in Russia are ITAR-TASS, RIA Novosti and Interfax.

ITAR-TASS is a federal, state-owned news agency. It was founded in 1904. It existed throughout the Soviet period as the Soviet news agency TASS. In 1992 it was transformed into the news agency of Russia. Today it broadcasts in six languages across the world. The agency employs more than 500 correspondents in Russia and abroad. It is the biggest Russian news agency and one of four biggest world news agencies, together with Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. On a daily basis, ITAR-TASS delivers between 350 and 650 news items. The agency has the biggest archive of photos in Russia.

RIA Novosti is another state-owned news agency. It has correspondents in 40 countries and broadcasts in 14 languages. It was founded in 1941 as the Soviet Information Bureau. In 1990 it transformed into the Information Agency Novosti and a year later into the Russian Information Agency (RIA) Novosti.

Interfax, a privately-owned news agency, is part of the Interfax Information Services Group. The Interfax Group is comprised of more than 30 agencies throughout Russia, the CIS, China and several countries of central and eastern Europe. The Interfax agency was founded in 1989. It became the first non-state information channel in the Soviet Union. In 1993 it created the first in Russian news agency specialised in financial and economic information, Interfax-AFI.

The largest media organisation is Russia’s Union of Journalists. It unites 84 regional unions as well as more than 40 associations, guilds and communities. It is a part of the International Federation of Journalists.

MediaSoyuz is another media organisation. It was founded in 2001 as a non-commercial organisation called to facilitate freedom of speech and social protection of journalists. MediaSoyuz unites several journalistic guilds, including a guild of political journalism, economic journalism, ecological journalism, Internet journalism, and others.

Another big organisation is the Guild of the Press Publishers, which unites 370 companies and sees as its major goal the development of the publishing business in Russia.

TV and radio companies have their own organisation, namely the National Association of TV and Radio Broadcasters.

There are many smaller and less known media organisations that unite media outlets and journalists working in specific fields. One of them is, for example, the Association of Agrarian Journalists. This association was supported by the federal agency and it sees as its prime goal proper coverage of the state agricultural programme.

Three major laws regulate the Russian media sphere: the Law on Mass Media, adopted in 1991; the Law on Communications (2003); and the Law on Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information (2006). The Law on Mass Media has been repeatedly changed and updated, with the latest changes introduced this year.

Some other federal laws are specific to particular aspects of media activities. There are, for example, two laws that regulate media coverage of state authorities and political parties. Additionally, election legislation and legislation concerning national security regulate the media coverage and journalistic work. Finally, normative acts issued by the president and the government can further regulate media activities.

Most of the recent changes to the Law on Mass Media limit the propagation of extremism, terrorism, violence and pornography in the press. Specific limitations are introduced concerning media coverage of anti-terrorist operations.

In 1994 the Congress of Russia’s Journalists adopted a Code of Professional Ethics. Journalistic standards listed in the Code are similar to those adopted by journalists worldwide. There is, however, widespread critic that the Code is a mere formality; its tenants are hardly applied or respected by the majority of journalists.

The Law on Mass Media also contains an article that specifies rights and duties of journalists. 

State-owned ectronic media outlets and print outlets owned by local authorities are in one way or another accountable to federal or local authorities. The role of authorities is reinforced by dependency on them for registration and licensing. There is also a system of annual state subsidies for outlets that produce socially relevant products and educational programmes.

Since Russia’s independence in 1991, the government has initiated several structural reorganisations of the regulatory bodies in the country’s media sphere. The latest restructuring took place in 2008 with the creation of the Ministry of Telecommunications and Mass Communications. It regulates mass media, communications and IT activities together with four subordinated federal agencies (Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications; Federal Agency on IT; Federal Agency of Communications and Federal Control Service in the Sphere of Communications; IT and Mass Communications).

The Ministry of Culture regulates cinematography.

Many state and private universities in Russia offer programmes in journalism and communication studies. The most well-known Russian journalism school is the Faculty of Journalism at Moscow State University. 

There are several state-run media education institutions, all of which are subordinated to the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications. International University in Moscow runs the High School of Journalism. It offers degrees in journalism to those who already has a university degree.

Critical and oppositional media groups perceive different aspects of media education as crucial. The Glasnost Defence Foundation has developed diverse programmes called to legally educate Russian journalists. The Foundation offers consultations and training related to the legal aspects of journalistic activity in Russia. It also runs two thematic schools, on blogging and investigative reporting.

There are several online educational projects for young journalists. One of them is called Mediacratia, another one – Mozhnosmi. Both projects claim to facilitate communication among young journalists , to foster exchange information and skills and to improve the overall quality of Russian journalism. An additional source of online media education is the media education portal, founded through the financial support of the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications. Finally, the Russian Association for Film and Media Education co-operates with the UN project on Media Education and Media Literacy.

Two factors effect the scarcity and unreliability of information on Russian media.

First of all, Russian media studies is a relatively new field; its proper institutionalisation is ongoing. Secondly, the rapidity of change in the Russian media sphere makes a lot of information relatively quickly outdated. Additionally, many media owners and journalists still believe that most of information concerning ownership, profitability and circulation of their outlets should not be publicly disclosed. Finally, only a small share of information on Russian media is available in English or other languages of the international community.

A general overview, annual reports and normative acts can be found on the websites of federal agencies that regulate media activities as well as on sites of some media associations. The Federal Statistical Service offers statistical information on different aspects of Russian society. Two public opinion research organisations – Levada Centre and WCIOM – regularly include media-related questions in their surveys. Websites of both organisations offer general overview of their analyses.

The website of the Institute of the Problems of Information Law offers detailed analyses of Russian and international media legislation. The Glasnost Defence Foundation offers diverse materials and news related to the questions of media freedom in Russia.

Many organisations in Russia offer market research and analysis in the sphere of telecommunications and Internet technologies. Some interesting statistics can be obtained, for example, through the website of the Advanced Communications and Media. ICT-Online.ru is an online resource that offers news and analysis of the Russian telecommunications market.

Additionally, international organisations such as World Bank, UNESCO and OECD include diverse Russian statistics in their databases. Finally, the website of Wikipedia, its Russian language version in particular, offers detailed analysis of many aspects of the Russian media sphere.

The Russian media landscape of recent years is characterised by the continued expansion of the state’s role in media activities. The state is directly involved in the ownership of some media outlets and indirectly involved in others, through its close ties with the businesses world. Additionally, the state controls media activities by way of regulatory bodies and media-related legislation.

Recent years have seen rapid consolidation of the media field by the state and around the state. This is particularly visible in the case of TV channels. All but one national TV channels are fully or partially owned by the state. The last channel – NTV – is owned by Gazprom, in which the state has a controlling stake. The situation in the radio market is similar. Major information channels are in one way or another controlled by the state.

Echo Moskvy constitutes an exception. Despite being owned by Gazprom, the station continues to execute an independent editorial policy. It broadcasts a range of critical and oppositional programmes.

The direct involvement of the Russian state in the print media market is less pronounced. The state and its agencies own several national papers, as do some local governments. The greatest part of the print market is in private hands, although most publishing businesses are state-friendly, if not directly linked to the state.

Overall and compared to the previous era, the Russian market of print and electronic media is characterised by greater stability and predictability. Expulsion of competitive political actors from media ownership has gradually led to the depoliticisation of media content. For the first time since the moment of independence, media owners are more interested in economic rather than political gains.

Depolitization of media content, however, goes hand in hand with the increased patriotisation of the message. If in previous years the press was critical not only of the Russian authorities but also of different aspects of Russian national identity, the more recent trend is to glorify Russia’s past and present.

The Internet continues offering the space for oppositional and critical voices. However, even online the state presence is extremely visible. Blogging has become one of major online activities for political, intellectual and journalistic elite. At the same time, participation in the Russian social networks is the most popular online activity in the country as well as among the extended Russian diaspora.

Media legislation continues to be a field of change. Some changes are related to the new developments in the Russian media sphere, such as the emergence of the new media forms and communication means (online media, digital, mobile telecommunications, satellite television, etc.). Other changes are introduced as the means of restrictions on media activities. It is difficult to link any legal changes to direct limitations of media freedom. At the same time, the definitions of threats to the national security or propagation of extremism and terrorism are often broad and vague.

In the early years of Russia’s independence, media standards and professional ethics were cornerstones of then-new journalistic activities. Most of those standards have been formalised in several normative acts, yet their daily implementation is questionable.

There are visible changes in the quality of media production. Media products have undoubtedly become business commodities that are expected to be profitable. Yet, in combination with other developments mentioned above, media products seldom meet the requirements of international journalism standards such as neutrality, objectivity or impartiality. As a result, we can talk about the change in the visual quality of media products, whereas the content-wise change is questionable.

Questions related to freedom of speech in Russia as well as matters of professional and personal safety of journalists in the country continue to be unresolved. Russia continues to fall in the international rankings of civil and media freedoms.

Natalya Krasnoboka
Doctoral candidate
Faculty of Political and Social Sciences
University of Antwerp,
Stadscampus, S.M.174, Sint Jacobstraat 2
2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
Tel.+32 (0)3 275 56 71
Email: natalya.krasnoboka@ua.ac.be