The Guardian fights for media freedom in Russia

by on September 30, 2016 in Media Comment

The Guardian frequently talks about the Kremlin media bubble in Russia. The idea is that the reason that 82% of Russians support Putin is not because he has caught the desires and ambitions of Russians and won their confidence by implementing polices they like, but because they are brainwashed by the Kremlin controlled media.

It is true that TV stations in Russia are largely owned by the state or by organisations which can be said to “have links to the state”. Press ownership is more diffuse. [1] In the Western media, including the Guardian, Russian state ownership of the media is often implicitly contrasted with the ‘free’ media in the West. (E.g. this headline which references “Russia’s state-owned media”). This is laughable. Media organisations in the West are owned by capital. A typical pattern for a Western newspaper or news organisation (e.g. The Daily Telegraph or Reuters) is that it is owned by a combination of a private wealthy family and investment capital, the latter controlled by city institutions. [2] Far from ‘free’ the Western press is owned by finance capital. Not surprisingly it acts in the interests of finance capital. The contrast between state-owned media as being ‘unfree’ and the finance capital owned media in the West being ‘free’ is a piece of propaganda told by the Western media. (The Guardian is an exception to this pattern of media ownership – being owned by a company whose constitution requires profits to be re-invested in journalism. [3] Its slavish devotion to the line of the US State Department is thus harder to explain).

Furthermore; anyone in Russia who is able to access the Internet (a high proportion of the population, – 70% according to this Russian university backed research project) can read, for example, The Guardian or the Daily Telegraph. They just have to use Google translate. But Russians can get Western propaganda even without doing this; the BBC (British state media) publishes content aimed at Russians, in Russian. Radio Free Europe – a propaganda project of the US State Department – broadcasts Russian language radio into Russia and publishes Web content in Russian. [4]

At any event, convinced perhaps that Russians really are starved of the ‘truth’, the Guardian is working hard at redressing the balance. Here is an article by Oleg Kashin, who is described by the Guardian as “one of Russia’s most prominent journalists”. That may be slightly generous – nonetheless Mr Kashin seems to have had a long career in professional journalism in Russia during which he has worked for a wide range of press outlets and published multiple articles critical of the authorities. [5] All of which gives the lie to the endless claims about the Kremlin controlled media bubble. Mr Kashin’s article in the Guardian is also published by the Guardian in Russian. It is as if the Guardian is making a heroic attempt to communicate with the brain-washed masses in Russia. They don’t really need to. The same article is in fact available in Russia on a Russian language (.ru) web site. This web site itself is affiliated with the state broadcaster RIA Novosti. [6] This is quite amusing. The Guardian is attempting to create a narrative about how it is making a stand for ‘freedom’ by publishing an article by a Russian journalist who is critical of the authorities – in Russian. But in reality the Russian authorities themselves publish the same article in Russian as part of a project to disseminate Western media in Russia. The Western media narrative about the Kremlin controlled media bubble is really a fiction. The narrative shows a failure to understand Russia or Russians and is insulting to Russians.

The article by Oleg Kashin is more interpretation than fact. It explains that Putin’s Syria policy is dictated by a desire to “raise the stakes” with the West and divert attention away from his “failed Ukraine policy”. That may be the case; though the article simply presents this as theory without any supporting argumentation or fact. With no offence to Mr Kashin this particular article then does not represent a particularly high standard of journalism. But, for the Guardian, this won’t matter. What matters is the narrative about media oppression in Russia and how the Guardian is doing something about it. This in turn reflects that rather strange preoccupation on the part of Western liberals about how Russia (another country) should be run.

Notes

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_freedom_in_Russia

2. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/the-free-press-in-the-west-8/

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Guardian

4. http://www.rferl.org/p/5547.html

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oleg_Kashin

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InoSMI

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