Unfair Yet Balanced

The Russian elite’s control over the Russian media marches on. The NY Times is reporting that media executives who are Kremlin allies are instituting a “50 percent” rule on news reporting. The bosses at the Russian News Service have told their journalists that “at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive.” What is the difference between “positive” and “negative”? As one editor told the Times on the condition of anonymity, “When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive. If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.” The journalists also claim that they’ve been instructed not to mention opposition leaders and the US must be portrayed as an enemy. Nice. To think I thought Fox News was bad. Wait, this is exactly what Fox News does!

Most will charge that the increasing media control in Russia is directly coming from the Kremlin. I don’t think so. And neither does the Times. Something else far more sinister is at work. Namely, an the elite is using its financial and political power to ensure their continued existence. Control the message and you control minds. Thus, says the Times, “the tactic has been to impose state ownership on media companies and replace editors with those who are supporters of Mr. Putin — or offer a generally more upbeat report on developments in Russia these days.” Oligarchs who have connections with the Kremlin essentially buy up major media outlets and directing them at their ideological whim. This is what has happened with the Russian News Service.

The Russian News Service is owned by businesses loyal to the Kremlin, including Lukoil, though its exact ownership structure is not public. The owners had not meddled in editorial matters before, said Mikhail G. Baklanov, the former news editor, in a telephone interview.

The service provides news updates for a network of music-formatted radio stations, called Russian Radio, with seven million listeners, according to TNS Gallup, a ratings company.

Two weeks ago, the shareholders asked for the resignation of Mr. Baklanov. They appointed two new managers, Aleksandr Y. Shkolnik, director of children’s programming on state-owned Channel One, and Svevolod V. Neroznak, an announcer on Channel One. Both retained their positions at state television.

Mr. Shkolnik articulated the rule that 50 percent of the news must be positive, regardless of what cataclysm might befall Russia on any given day, according to the editor who was present at the April 10 meeting.

When in doubt about the positive or negative quality of a development, the editor said, “we should ask the new leadership.”

Yes ask. I’m sure whatever answer you get will be in the “leadership’s” own interest and no one else’s. After all, that is one aspect of the elite that you can always count on.