Two Steps Forward, One Step Back:(1)
Russian Journalism in the Post-Soviet Era
by Adam Jones, Ph.D.
Profesor/Investigador, División de Estudios Internacionales
Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE)
México, D.F., MÉXICO
(Note: To reduce the number of endnotes, all quoted passages not specifically referenced are drawn from interviews conducted in Moscow in mid-1997. A full list of these appears at the end of Part II.)
Russia is in many ways the "classic" study of the press in transition. Under state socialism, the Russian press was the paragon of the Leninist model of media functioning, according to which the media serve as the major means of "mobilizing the masses," which translated in practice to passively disseminating the ideological tenets of the vanguard party. This Leninist conception, of course, underwent substantial change in successive periods of Soviet history. Most notoriously, it was entrenched as a tool of the terror-state and the "cult of personality" by Joseph Stalin. The paradigmatic "thaw" took place after Stalin's death, beginning with Nikita Khrushchev's limited exposure of Stalinist atrocities at the Twentieth Party Congress (1956). Less dramatic "chills" and "thaws" were evident at different points during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras, with the media often serving as a bellwether. For many foreign observers, however, these fluctuations were minor. The landscape of Soviet politics and media was better represented by the literature of the era: most enduringly, Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its "unpersons" and "memory holes" -- potent symbols of the propaganda constraints that were seen to overwhelm ethical and professional considerations in Soviet press functioning.
This classical image of the Soviet press, and the Soviet system more generally, has faded somewhat since the capacity of the system for transformation became evident under Mikhail Gorbachev. The fact that a post-Soviet journalistic corps sprang fully-formed from the dying state-socialist parent, to assist decisively in advancing glasnost and perestroika and later in consigning the USSR to history's slag-heap, suggested that professional values and skills were latent within the system -- ready to seek expression when the winds of change blew. We know now, from a wealth of sociological and other studies, that the communist behemoth was in fact a more fissiparous entity -- socially, ethnically, politically -- than most outside observers acknowledged or assumed. This was true also of its propaganda apparatus and communications policies more generally. During the period of revolution and civil war (1917-21), and then under Joseph Stalin (1928?-1953), the Soviet system sought and achieved a degree of surveillance and control over ordinary citizens' lives matched in its time only by Nazism, and duplicated since only by the modern capitalist corporation. Both Lenin (with the faintly credible excuse of war and national emergency) and Stalin (with psychotic zeal) sought to stamp out independent, "horizontal" channels of communication among the citizenry. Workmates were badgered into spying on workmates, wives on husbands, children on parents, and soldiers on comrades -- which is how Solzhenitsyn ended up in his labour camp, after all. But even under the most extreme repression and surveillance ever imposed, those channels of communication among citizens were never entirely eliminated.(2)
The era of Nikita Khrushchev (1955-64) is generally remembered as a precursor of the "golden age" of Russian journalism under Gorbachev. In fact, though, it may have been the era of collective rule under Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982) that was more significant for the press. As elite rule was bureaucratized in the Brezhnev Politburo, so the society as a whole was "professionalized," in a manner that bore some comparison with the postwar West. This had obvious implications for professional journalists, whose prestige and perks (higher education, foreign travel, state laurels) increased commensurately.
It was thus not too surprising that when censorship was finally lifted in the later Gorbachev era, the press immediately flexed its professional muscles in a way that many western journalists found familiar -- but which also varied strikingly from the western norm. Investigative journalism was zealously pursued, sometimes with spectacular results. The western-style "watchdog model" of the press put down roots -- at least, there was no shortage of journalists willing to point out flaws in the system when glasnost gave them the breathing-space to do so. At the same time, though, a pre-Soviet model of journalism reasserted itself. It reflected the more belletristic tradition of journalism in czarist times; allegedly innate features of Russian language and rhetoric; and a long-established link between journalism and politics that was typical of Central and Eastern European journalistic cultures. Dmitry Babich, a former reporter with Komsomolskaya Pravda now working in broadcast journalism, actually assigned this tradition supremacy in influencing late-Soviet and post-Soviet media:
The difference between Slavic and Anglo-Saxon journalisms is tremendous. Even globalization couldn't alter that fact. The western press is mostly reporting, telling you what happened. The Slavic press is a very special mixture of sermon and confession. "Here is what happened to me, here is how I view the situation, and here is how I want you to view it." A lot of stuff written in the first person, a lot of columns ... Now less than before, but still a lot. A lot of headlines with double meanings, a lot of puns; always a great attention to literature and to context. Most Russian journalists don't really like the western press. They have the feeling: "Oh, it was [all] written by one person." I don't agree with them. ... But I would say that many, many Russian journalists would never agree to work in the way that their western colleagues do."(3)
With the sermon went the pulpit. The pre-Soviet tradition, heavily suppressed but not utterly vanquished under communism, entrenched journalism both as an intellectual calling and an opportunity to attain social prominence, even privilege. (One of the journalists interviewed for this monograph, Stanislav Kondrashov of Izvestia, was awarded the Order of Lenin, the highest state honour of the USSR, in 1967.) Even Leninist/Stalinist formulations emphasized the crucial role propaganda -- and hence propagandists -- played in entrenching Soviet power. When all censorship was lifted during the "golden age" of 1987-1992, the temptation to present oneself as the voice of the masses was irresistible. And the Russian masses, desperate for someone to navigate them through the dizzyingly unpredictable events of the period, turned first of all to journalists -- certainly well before they turned to politicians. "Eight years ago," recalled Vitaly Korotich (former editor of Ogonyok) in 1997, "I was elected, solely on the merit of my reputation as a journalist and an author to serve as a member of parliament for Constituency 58 in Kharkov, a city I had never before visited." More than a dozen of his fellow journalists joined him in the Congress of People's Deputies.
Korotich emphasized, however, that such an extraordinary blending of journalism with politics "could not happen now. Today the relationship between the press, the bankers and the government is such that journalists are most often seen as representatives of the establishment and not as defenders of the public interest."(4) Whether one sees this as a melancholy, welcome, or simply inevitable development, it points to a sharp change in public perceptions of journalism. "There are fewer unfounded expectations of the press now on the public's part," said Dmitry Babich in 1997. The journalists elected to congress in 1990
were political failures! They were excellent journalists, but pretty bad politicians. Now, people understand that you can't expect the press to solve all your problems. There are fewer letters from people saying, "Oh, I live in a small apartment, I want to get a bigger one, so please tell the government I am suffering." That is stupid. ... Now the press is working to establish its reputation in the new conditions.
The abandoning both of unnatural conditions and unnatural expectations is the subject of this monograph. It begins with an evaluation of the instrumentalist "Soviet model" of the media inculcated between 1917 and, say, 1987. It then considers the onset of glasnost and the "golden age of Russian journalism" -- 1988 to 1992 -- when newspapers and their staff found themselves at the very forefront of the changes sweeping Soviet society. The onset of material crisis in 1991-92, and the painful readjustments required to the vision of an independent and self-sustaining "fourth estate," are then explored. The shifting role of the Yeltsin regime and the rise of non-regime actors (especially large corporations and regional or municipal authorities) is addressed in detail, together with a summary of the diverse strategies implemented by Russian newspapers to adapt to the constraints posed by the new market economy. The monograph concludes (Part II) with a case-study of one of the leading newspapers of the Soviet era, Izvestia (News).
Some brief background comments about the fieldwork may be of interest. The most obvious logistical disadvantage confronting the research was the author's complete lack of Russian-language skills, despite many years of dedicated immersion in John Le Carré's spy novels. The obvious route around this obstacle would have been, as in Jordan, to focus on an English-language paper with an English-speaking staff. As noted in the Introduction, however, I rejected this approach. One anomalous publication seemed insufficient for a project with comparative pretensions. To focus on The Moscow Times or its counterpart, The Moscow Tribune -- even on the well-studied travails of the glasnost vanguard, Moscow News -- seemed too limiting in a media landscape as broad, diverse, and rapidly evolving as Russia's. This meant I would have to rely on translated sources (especially Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press), on English-language journalism and scholarship, and on journalists and scholars themselves. This last group deserves special mention, not just for the influence of their scholarship on this case-study, but because a significant number of them took an interest in my work from the planning stages. They helped me to focus on intelligent, well-informed, and experienced interview subjects who happened to speak English well enough to field questions. The language barrier remained an obstacle. But I think it can be contended that any interview regimen that includes Victor Davidoff, Iosif Dzhialoshinsky, Boris Kagarlitsky, Stanislav Kondrashov, Alexei Pankin, Andrei Richter and Yassan Zassoursky, as well as leading voices of the new generation of Russian journalists such as Dmitry Babich, Ivan Zassoursky, and Andrei Zolotov, cannot be entirely without merit.
As for secondary source-material in English, there is a great deal of it about.(5) The Russian transition is so well-studied thanks to 1) the extensive scholarly apparatus that already existed in Soviet studies when glasnost shifted into high gear; 2) the enduring significance of Russia and Central Europe in western foreign-policy calculations; and 3) the rather well-funded attempt to encourage Russian media (and other post-Soviet institutions) to adopt western standards and practices, in both commercial and professional spheres. The secondary literature is an indispensable buttress to the framework, insights, and conclusions I advance here. With rare exceptions, though (such as the narrative of events at Izvestia in 1991-92), I fold this material into the notes, the better to focus the main text on the interview materials gathered in Moscow in May-June 1997. Together with the comparative framing of the overall work, this seems the main "original" contribution to scholarship on the Russian transition that this monograph can hope to make.(6)
The Soviet Model:
Mobilizing and Professional Imperatives
Everybody was a party man at that time.
-- Igor Kovalev, correspondent, Financial Izvestia
It is impossible to speak about the total control of every line.
-- Dmitry Murzin, editor, Financial Izvestia
In what specific ways did the the Russian and Soviet press models influence the post-Soviet press? A range of factors, from management and administration to literary style, merits attention. Dmitry Soshin, a producer with Reuters Television who began studying journalism in 1985 and joined the MSU journalism faculty in 1987, recalled that at this most prestigious of Soviet journalistic institutions, "the training [they] provided us with, and our tutors and working papers, were quite good. ... Their first task was how to teach young people to write properly. They would think about skills: how to make you think quickly, put things in the appropriate way." The instruction was "more concentrated on the stylistic side ... rather than on the guts of the stories," and it was accompanied by what Soshin called "the ideological crap": "Four out of the five years of my university was still under the Soviet Union. So obviously we had all these propaganda subjects: the theory of propaganda, the theory of the Soviet and Marxist press, the theory of Soviet journalism, the theory of writing on political matters," and so on. Nevertheless, especially as the momentum of glasnost built, Soshin claimed a meaningful space existed for journalists to construct their own professional self-conception:
The tutors and professors were very intelligent people. They gave you the drill, the theory, very ideologically polished stuff. Then you had to match it with your own conception of journalism. ... I think most of them, especially close to the end of my education , were hinting that apart from what they were giving to you [ideologically], there was the other conception. ... The subjects were often built around a very good theoretical base. They were talking about things like the theory of interviewing, the theory of feature-writing. ... They were giving you very clear ideas of western precision journalism, investigative journalism, feature journalism, Fleet Street journalism -- this kind of stuff. And when I [later] saw these things in reality, I realized that they gave us a very clear and true picture of what was going on. ... Sometimes they said, "Look, this genre is quite good." They were really hot on the western practice of investigative journalism; they wanted us to pay more attention to [it]. ... They gave us a very good breakdown on the various genres of journalism. I now feel thankful for that, because I can see that western journalists lack this idea. When you [the Russian journalist] are given an order to write a certain story, you've got a clear idea what you're going to do.(7)
Even as late as 1997, after epochal changes to the media system and wider society, Andrei Richter of MSU could claim that "the majority of the curriculum" at the School of Journalism "has remained the same as it was ten years ago, and most of the faculty are the same as they were ten years ago" -- though an increasing emphasis on practise over theory was perhaps evident.(8)
The delicate combination of professional nuts-and-bolts with propaganda requirements was mirrored in the literary style of print media, which derived, as noted, from the high-minded belletristic tradition of the 19th century. That tradition saw state censorship combined (then as later) with journalists' guile and sense of self-importance to create a journalism that was "much more sophisticated" than the West's, according to Boris Kagarlitsky. Other aspects of available professional training, at least at pre-eminent institutions like Moscow State University (hereafter, MSU), appear also to have laid a foundation for the post-Soviet era. The calibre of the training likely increased during the Brezhnev era, in line both with the policy of détente towards the west during the 1970s, and the more general professionalization of the Soviet system.
Skills and capacities useful for the post-Soviet era may also have been developing at the managerial and administrative levels. Had this been limited to lower-level functionaries abjectly taking orders from above, the ability of Soviet press institutions to survive into the post-Soviet era might well have been crippled. It was quite clearly hindered by the managerial deficit common to authoritarian societies (and many democratic ones): a reliance on obedience rather than initiative, and on command rather than consensus. Nonetheless, the administrative legacy of state socialism appears to have provided a wellspring of managerial skills that media could exploit after the sponsor -- the Soviet state -- officially collapsed. Eric Johnson, an American who founded the Internews agency in Moscow, described the new generation of journalists in the independent television stations he visited as an outgrowth of the old system -- but in certain respects a positive outgrowth. "Often in 1989 or 1990, they [the managers] were Komsomol people [from the Communist Youth organization]: the kind of person that has the initiative to get things done. If you were a Komsomol person in 1989, you'd already demonstrated your managerial skills." Dmitry Soshin suggested that the legacy of communist administration also assisted the written press in navigating the transition to a post-communist order:
I don't think these [Soviet-era] editors knew a lot about journalism, that they were brilliant professionals who knew the newspaper business. Ninety-nine percent of them had nothing to do with the newspapers. They were people who were highly placed in the Central Committee of the Party and Komsomol; they were simply going by the Central Committee's decrees. ... But some of them managed to get knowledge. Some of them turned out to be very dynamic and smart people, in a way. Some had very good aides who directed them and could teach them the basics. And they were actually quite good -- not from the editorial point of view, but very good as media managers. I think they were reading a lot about the media moguls and trying to act as media moguls.
But if such little-appreciated aspects of Russian and Soviet media can be held to have influenced the press of glasnost and the 1990s, these traditions can also be seen as powerful impediments. Most obviously, "hard" authoritarian constraints featured throughout the czarist and (especially) Soviet eras. Alexei Pankin went so far as to argue that in "the communist heritage ... even the notion of journalism is non-existent." For Pankin, across vast swaths of the former Soviet Union no effective model of professional journalism was ever inculcated. When the Soviet mobilizing agenda disappeared, a vacuum was created into which more tawdry and mercenary habits rushed.(9)
The rigidly-enforced mobilizing agenda also inhibited journalists' abilities to assimilate new models andideas. "The old communist religion," as Ivan Zassoursky referred to it, meant there was no shortage of pliant publicists to be found among the post-Soviet press corps:
Their [journalists'] mind is used to having a basic idea of how things are developing, and judging the world through it. It's not a pluralistic mind. It's an ideology-based mind. Now the situation has changed, and they have put "reform" where communism used to be. So now the world is pretty much clear to them [again].
Yassan Zassoursky similarly cited an "inability to believe in your reader's intellectual capacity, their ability to understand and interpret the facts" as "one of the greatest failures of our journalists. ... Objectivity is the last virtue of our journalists. They were taught not to be objective, but partisan, in the Communist era, and they remain not objective."(10)
One legacy of the Soviet era, already mentioned, may at first seem a positive one: the tendency to nurture journalists and editors as public-opinion leaders. "Journalists," said Andrei Richter, "have always been in the limelight of public attention, especially the prominent journalists -- [in] both print and broadcast [media]. They were trusted in the old times, trusted by the party to be prominent journalists, and that meant they could express their opinion without being afraid that it would contradict the party line, because they were already indoctrinated." The Soviet journalist, Richter said, was prized "as a propagandist, an agitator, and an organizer," with the result that journalists still "believe they have the right and the knowledge to formulate public opinion and to shape the public's mind."(11)
Almost as a matter of course, this time-honoured self-conception of public "voice," bolstered by the propaganda apparatus of the state, thrust journalists to the forefront of the social and political changes that swept the USSR during glasnost. Equally predictably, though, it spawned disillusionment and bitterness among journalists when their coveted status as "public-opinion leaders," no longer buttressed by the propaganda system, declined in tandem with the public's interest in politics and its reduced willingness to acknowledge journalists as instruments of positive change. Iosif Dzialoshinsky of the Russian-American Press and Information Centre argued in 1997 that
In general, the Russian journalist feels it as a very acute pain, because instead of speaking for the state, they are now downgraded to expressing some petty private interests. ... As far as prestige is concerned, the journalist has always held fifth or sixth place on a scale of one to ten. [But] now they've moved down to the tenth or -- or eleventh -- place!
Together with this somewhat inflated self-perception(12) went a "welfare mentality" -- a conviction, also strongly conditioned by the Soviet legacy, that newspapers were public institutions deserving public subsidies. Many commentators saw the mentality as playing a decisive role in conflicts between newspaper staff and corporate sponsorship. Discussing the Summer 1997 fracas at Izvestia, for example, Iosif Dzialoshinsky commented: "Americans would never understand this conflict. From the American point of view, the person or persons who invest in a paper can and should take decisions on everything that concerns the paper. But from the Russian point of view, sponsors are obliged to finance the paper! And the sponsor should be glad that he was allowed to finance the paper!" Alexei Pankin was another interview subject who derided such pretensions:
Most journalists, and editors more than journalists, simply can't reconcile themselves to the idea that the proper role for a journalist and an editor is to be hired labour. No matter what they say [in favour of] the market, they simply refuse to abide by its consequences. So they want to be owners, they want to be executives, and they want to be journalists all at the same time. This is understandable; but when they're taken over rather legitimately, they start crying wolf and appealing to the president. When somebody uses the instruments of the market against them, they can't accept it, although it's natural.
In a number of other ways, the mentality may be seen to influence the functioning of the post-Soviet press. Eric Johnson, for example, linked it to the operations of the "journalistic collective," the odd institutional structure that emerged to control and direct many newspapers after power was transferred from the defunct Soviet state in the latter half of 1991. The role of the journalistic collective will be considered in slightly greater detail below, and in the Izvestia case-study. Johnson, though, joined Pankin in perceiving a "leftover mentality" from Soviet times that encouraged the feeling "that [journalists] have a right to determine how their particular medium is run":
It's a very Soviet thing, that these people theoretically have the right to a say in how the enterprise is run -- whether it's a factory or a newspaper. In this particular case, you've got journalists who believe they have a right to manage this enterprise, even if that means the enterprise is not going to be financially viable. And if somebody with a more capitalist bent comes along and says, "You're just going to go bankrupt," they say, "We are an institution. And as such we should receive government subsidies and be allowed to continue to exist in exactly the way we've always existed, in the same way that the Pushkin Museum or the cathedral downtown should exist." I don't buy it. It's naïve. I don't see any particular reason why a newspaper should continue to exist just because it has always existed. And I'm not sure that appealing to the government to preserve the independence of the media is setting a very good precedent.
A wider feature of the Soviet system was vital in inculcating the model of journalist-as-opinion-leader. Its disappearance, likewise, powerfully reshaped journalists' professional self-image in the post-Soviet era. Under Soviet rule, the different classes or "sectors" of society had been bound together (in large part by communications media), each to play its designated role in the system. This meant that something approaching a unified intelligentsia was created. Boris Kagarlitsky, author of the classic study of Soviet intellectuals,(13) argued in an interview that the unity was founded on limited disparities in wealth and the centrally-directed nature of the materials provided for intellectual nourishment:
The old intelligentsia was very homogeneous, both culturally and even economically. Take a professor, as my father used to be. You could go to certain places where you could meet friends who were engineers and teachers and so on. The lifestyles were always the same. You read the same books. You had the same education. You had the same styles and tastes. If there was an important book which came out, like Rybakov [Anatoly Rybakov's Children of the Arbat, 1987], which was probably the last book of its kind, everybody with any kind of educational level above, say, the tenth grade read it. ... The difference of income was real, but it was not great. It was probably 1 to 2. In Soviet times, yes, that was important; but now, we have income differentials of 1 to 20, 1 to 40. These are completely different worlds: you will never be able to communicate.(14)
Media, broadly viewed, were the "glue" for this arrangements. Correspondingly, the fissioning of the intellectual class in the post-Soviet era, and the impoverishing of many of its members, would be key factors underlying the catastrophic declines in circulation that afflicted nearly all Russian publications in the 1990s.
Having painted the evolution of post-Stalinist Soviet media in broad strokes, it is worth looking at how it played itself out in the life of an individual journalist, one of Russia's most venerable: Stanislav Kondrashov of Izvestia. Kondrashov joined the paper in 1951, and was still ensconced with his office and emeritus status as of mid-1997. He served as Izvestia's foreign correspondent in Cairo and New York for most of the 1960s, receiving his Order of Lenin near the end of the decade. From 1971 to 1977, he was Izvestia's Washington correspondent; from then until the time of the interview in May 1997, his designation had been political commentator, "or, to be more precise, 'political analyst'." As an éminence grise of the Soviet press and a direct link to Izvestia's storied past, Kondrashov had an almost "untouchable" status at the newspaper. This protected him from the massive staff-cuts at the post-Soviet Izvestia, discussed in Part II of the monograph.
Kondrashov's rise to prominence and an honoured status within Soviet journalism attested not only to his personal and professional skills, but to the service he had rendered the Soviet state for nearly four decades. The demands of that system, and the professional costs exacted, changed over time. But the basic character of a highly-mobilized, centrally-directed media system did not. "All of us were appointed by the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party," Kondrashov said -- referring to "political analysts" like himself who occupied "top position[s] in the newspaper" and wrote on politically-sensitive subjects like international affairs. "In this sense, we were part of what was called the nomenklatura," the list of party faithful who received perquisites and status unavailable to ordinary citizens. Kondrashov "worked within the general framework of that time":
What do I mean? Many people were devoted party members. Communists - although you can interpret the term in different ways. [In the beginning,] I was a young man, a man brought up under the Soviet regime. I was very loyal to my country, and still am. I was very patriotic; now I have many doubts, but I'm still a patriot. So it was kind of a mutual development -- the country developed, the system developed, because there were gradual and sometimes drastic changes after Stalin's death. Under Khrushchev and even under Brezhnev, that development did not stop.
For Kondrashov personally, the development was from a strongly partisan allegiance to the propaganda system he served, to a more nuanced understanding of the world outside the prefabricated frameworks. "When I was young, I was rather uncritical about what was going on. My reporting, my coverage of, say, Soviet-Egyptian relations or of the United States was rather immature. But when I came back [to Izvestia] after my first assignment to the United States, in 1968, we had the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August of that year," which Kondrashov described as "one of the greatest disappointments of my life." His editor-in-chief, Lev Tolkunov, asked him to write a laudatory article about the invasion. "I could not decline his offer openly," Kondrashov remembered, "but I told him: 'Lev Nikolayevich, I am not an expert on Soviet-Czechoslovakian relations. I am an expert on the United States.' He did not insist, and I did not write anything, positive or negative. From 1968 to 1971, I wrote very few pieces. ... My understanding of the nature of my profession was becoming more and more serious, and for me to write something which I didn't believe in became more and more difficult, even impossible."(15)
When he returned to writing with full vigour in the early 1970s, Kondrashov said he used his established status at Izvestia to cultivate a more flexible, less overtly propagandistic style:
If you take what I wrote for my newspaper, Izvestia, and what I wrote in my books on the United States, I am ready to stand by all I've written from, let's say, the end of the 1960s, the beginning of the '70s. Sometimes it was difficult. Sometimes, because of my professional standing, they had to publish what I wrote. Sometimes they made excuses and did not print it. Or they tried to make corrections somehow. But it's all a part of our profession.
As these comments suggest, Kondrashov's freedom of movement continued to be tightly constrained by the bureaucracy of censorship. The limits of acceptable criticism, he said, were conveyed to journalists both through "direct indications, direct instructions" and more subtle strategies:
At the end of the 1970s, what was called the Department of International Information of the Central Committee [of the Communist Party] was created. And the chief of this department used to invite us political observers and analysts - not only from Izvestia, from the other newspapers as well -- once every week or two weeks for briefings. But usually [the party line] was not [conveyed by] an order. It was a kind of "recommendation," so to speak. Then it was up to you to write about it or not to write about it. As for me, I tried to write about those items which interested me. But of course, at that time, you could not air any criticism of the Soviet foreign policy scene. All criticism of the foreign policy actions of Brezhnev or his subordinates was also excluded. There was censorship. Representatives of Glavlit [the censorship authority] were here in Izvestia. Not all of us knew them personally -- they were somehow invisible people -- but they had very strict instructions. And they had, of course, a rather long list of what could not be written. ... Only after they put their stamp on each page could Izvestia be sent to the printers.
"All criticism of ... foreign policy actions ... was excluded." How, a western journalist might ask, could one then pose as a professional commentator on foreign policy? The prostration before the party's mobilizing imperative appears total. And yet it seems to have left room for some personal choice of subject-matter, some individual exploration and expression. How Kondrashov used the breathing-space apparently enabled him to establish a bond with readers, making him "a rather popular, well-known journalist in the Soviet Union" -- in his own, and many others', estimation.
Glasnost and the "Golden Age"
People were expecting a lot from the media. They wanted the truth.
-- Dmitry Soshin
For a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the field seemed open for a decisive break with the Soviet past -- engineered by the last exponent of the old order and the harbinger of the new, Mikhail Gorbachev. The policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) that Gorbachev announced after his ascension to power in 1985 began as an attempt at "managed liberalization" of the type also seen in Sandinista Nicaragua after 1987, Jordan after 1989, and South Africa after 1990. Gorbachev's goal was to modernize and fortify the Soviet system, not undermine it. The Communist Party's monopoly on political power would remain, along with the command economy. Like many such liberalizations, however, the momentum of transformation escaped the regime's control, and ended up overwhelming it. In this process, the Soviet press played a role as significant as media have played in any political upheaval in the twentieth-century world.
That role, however, is more ambiguous than might appear at first glance. It was not simply a matter of restrictions being loosened and an independent press emerging into full flower. For Gorbachev, the policies of glasnost and perestroika were intimately linked. Greater openness was necessary if an efficient restructuring of the economy and administrative apparatus was to occur. The press would be vital in isolating the blockages in the sclerotic Soviet system. A freer flow of information would contribute to more effective planning of production and distribution of resources. Yassan Zassoursky's comment that "functionally, the media remained instrumental" in the first years of glasnost is apt.(16) For Gorbachev, the press was both an instrument of change and a valuable weapon in the struggle against reactionary forces left over from the era of "stagnation" under Leonid Brezhnev. The alliance the Soviet leader struck with Yegor Yakovlev of Moscow News symbolized this instrumental and clientelist conception, providing at the same time one of the best-known examples of a press organ "piggy-backing" under authoritarianism.
To encourage greater openness about the flaws of the Soviet system, however, was to open a Pandora's box that Gorbachev could not close. The desire for fresh thinking on the economic front led the press to reconsider the era of Lenin's New Economic Policy (1918-21), when the new Soviet regime briefly liberalized on both economic and cultural fronts. Stalin's foreclosing of the experiment, and the subsequent atrocities associated with the "cult of personality," could then be criticized in terms far more sweeping than Khrushchev permitted during the thaw of the late 1950s. And was it accurate to depict Stalin merely as a grotesque anomaly? Could not links be drawn between his tyranny and the one-party model that Lenin, not Stalin, had imposed? Was the Communist Party's monopoly on power not therefore the heart of the problem? This final issue was broached in 1987-88, and stands in retrospect as the point at which Gorbachev's managed liberalization spiralled out of the regime's control. This was, of course, much more than an ideological undermining: Gorbachev's failure to refashion the system of production and distribution without creating catastrophic shortages and bottlenecks was probably the decisive nail in the coffin of his regime.(17) But it marked the moment at which the press, in particular, moved beyond the preset limits of glasnost and began to explore the taboos that underpinned single-party rule. While (crucially) still enjoying the generous state subsidies that allowed them to maintain the highest circulations ever achieved, newspapers increasingly replaced the formal party apparatus as the main generators of instruction, advice, and guidance for the new era.
The result, between approximately 1988 and 1992, was the "golden age" of Russian journalism. Interview subjects in Moscow described the resulting freedom with varying degrees of nostalgia, but in strikingly similar terms overall. "I don't think this media liberty was surpassed in any other country at the end of the twentieth century," said Dmitry Babich. Irina Petrovskaya of Izvestia called it "a kind of special period that will probably never be repeated ... Everybody thinks about [it] with a sense of gratitude and amazement." Ivan Zassoursky described the environment as one of "total freedom and total interest. A total freedom to write whatever you liked, and the total interest of the people to read whatever you wrote." Readers' "total interest" bolstered the journalist's self-conception as an opinion-leader. "The media became a kind of public guardian," said Yassan Zassoursky. For Dmitry Babich, the press was essential in sanctioning a new diversity of permissible opinion:
People still viewed the media as part of the political establishment. And when, suddenly, the media -- by some twist of fortune -- were dominated by dissidents, or by people with views close to dissident views, when the journalists were against the communist authorities, people could refer to the media and say, "Look, I didn't do anything wrong. Look at the newspaper, listen to the radio. They say exactly what I do." ... I think that was the main role of the press: it legitimized the opposition to the communist regime in the last years of glasnost.
The collapse of Soviet power, perhaps surprisingly, made it "much easier to work as a journalist" on a day-to-day professional level, according to Babich. He offered an intimate portrait of news-gathering with most of the former (and subsequent) impediments absent:
What do you do if you write a police story now ? It's like in the West. You have to go to the press or public-relations department of the Moscow city police. Then, if you have good connections and so on, they will probably release you some news. At that time, if someone was killed near this or that apartment block, you could go to the local police precinct, talk to the officers, and they'd tell you everything about it. No-one could punish them for telling you! There were all these heads of political departments who had information that came with their posts, and who were not responsible to anyone. ... So it was very easy to work. Under Gorbachev, it was a real press freedom, in the sense that people were just not afraid! Now, can you try to approach Yeltsin? You first have to talk to his press secretary. And then, if he really loves you, and if you talk to Yeltsin's personal guards, and if they have a good relationship with you, they may allow you, if you write down the questions in advance, to come into his august presence and ask him a question that he already knows how to answer. Under Gorbachev, it was easy. You just caught him by the wrist: "Mikhail Sergeyevich! A few more questions!" He didn't say anything new while answering the questions, but at least it was human. ... I don't think [that time] will ever come back.
As noted earlier, more than a dozen journalists -- nearly half of them from the mass-circulation Argumenty i Fakty, were elected to parliament in the 1989 elections. But in the rapidly-changing environment of the last years of the USSR, it was not long before journalists were knocked off their lofty pedestals.
The Death of the USSR
and the Onset of Material Crisis
My first concern is to not end up being Izvestia's last editor-in-chief.
-- Oleg Golembiovsky, March 1992(18)
In August 1991, Communist Party stalwarts, terrified by the economic crisis into which the regime was sinking and by the increasing calls for an end to one-party rule, staged the final revolt of the Soviet old guard. Their blundering coup attempt marked one of the shining moments in Russian journalism -- for some newspapers at least. (The showdown between supporters and opponents of the coup at Izvestia, described in the case-study, was only the most dramatic example.) For a time, the failed coup and the subsequent quick collapse of the USSR into its constituent republics seemed to portend a new era of press independence and prosperity. This proved illusory. Materially-stable independence, it transpired, was easier to attain than to preserve.
The question in the wake of the collapse of the USSR was: who owned the country and its component institutions, the press included? The Communist Party had claimed nearly all property in the Soviet Union, and monopolized political power as well. The latter vacuum Boris Yeltsin and his cohorts were quick to fill. At the most general level of property ownership, the new regime engaged in a round of "privatization" that bore comparisons with the piñata of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, but with much richer spoils. The nomenklatura did its about-face and emerged as the new "private" owning class, though their relationship with the state remained intimate.
The solution found for the Russian press seemed promising at the outset. Ownership of the newspaper's "intellectual structures" was transferred to the staff of the institutions themselves. Each journalist, editor, or other staffer received shares (aktsy) in the enterprise. "The amount of stock you got depended on your experience," said Dmitry Babich, then a young journalist at Komsomolskaya Pravda. "So if you had worked in the newspaper for twenty years, you got five or six times more stock than someone like me, who had worked there for two or three years. I got just four aktsy ..." The effect of this arrangement, however, was perhaps -- or perhaps not -- the opposite of what the Yeltsin regime had intended. The disproportionate weighting of shares towards more veteran staff bolstered the power of the conservative old guard within these institutions -- just as the power of the nomenklatura had been buttressed, indeed extended, by the wider process of privatization. "This is the irony," said Babich. "Privatization, which was supposed to empower people and give them some kind of control over the enterprise, in reality led to this situation where the people who were appointed to their posts in the last years of communism ... got a tremendous amount of property." The result was that they "stayed on longer than they should have." The transition process within the press was thus more difficult and protracted than it might otherwise have been. At Komsomolskaya Pravda, a conservative bloc formed which, when the search for outside investment became an economic necessity, turned to one of the most conservative and old-style of the "new" corporations, Gazprom. The dominant bloc at KP, according to Babich, was composed of
old, ineffectual people who didn't want to do anything dramatic, just wanted to live a decent life until the end of their term, and then -- après leur le déluge. ... They were not very professional. They wanted to sit it out. They were old, they were from Komsomol, and they wanted a nice life.
Still, the most interesting and significant aspect of this first post-Soviet model of press ownership and operation was the new prominence it gave to the "journalistic collective" at individual newspapers, and the blurring of divisions between editorial and managerial functions. The collectives had always existed. But as with any other Soviet institution, they served primarily as a means of transmission for party directives and the broader ideology of communism. Now, with their members turned individual shareholders in the enterprise, their role assumed pre-eminence. Collective members elected their own editors-in-chief, which was how Oleg Golembiovsky seized power at Izvestia from Nikolai Yefimov in 1991. But in part because of the disproportionate power still held by Soviet-era veterans, the collectives rarely acted collectively. Ivan Zassoursky, formerly of Nezavisimiya Gazeta, referred to the body as "a shapeless mass of people who can't govern the newspaper, but who can, in moments of crisis, be approached. It's like a democracy," Zassoursky said. "You can lobby them to make the right decision, or the wrong decision, or whatever. But if you have enough power, will, or money, you can always buy things back."(19)
There was, in fact, a growing vacuum evident at the managerial level. "In 1991," said chief editor Oleg Golembiovsky of Izvestia, "newspapers weren't ready to handle their independent status. They had never had to deal with finance and management issues, because everything was taken care of by the government and the Communist Party." As such, figures like Golembiovsky acquired a standing that resembles the Latin American institution of the newspaper "director" who involves himself or herself in both managerial and editorial sides of the operation. The result, in the appraisal of MSU's Andrei Richter, was "a very unique case where journalists handle[d] both the editorial and business side of the newspaper."(20)
It is possible that this first post-Soviet model of the press would have been able to find its feet, had it not been followed soon after by the onset of a material crisis unprecedented in the history of the Russian press.(21) "Even before" the reforms were introduced, according to Alexei Pankin of the Media Development Program, "editing a magazine meant looking for money all the time, lobbying the government for subsidies, sub-letting office space at commercial rates when you were getting it before for free, various types of hidden advertising. It was really rather boring, always looking for money and struggling against inflation." But difficulty and inconvenience gave way to full-blown crisis with the so-called "Gaidar reforms": the market-oriented economic measures introduced by Boris Yeltsin's Prime Minister, Yegor Gaidar, in January 1992. The policy "had a staggering impact on Russian newspapers," writes Frances Foster:
With the lifting of price controls, the cost of newsprint alone rose from 300 rubles per ton to 13,000 rubles per ton. Izvestia reported an increase in overall production expenses of as much as 200 times previous charges. ... Izvestia in the first quarter alone suffered a 400 million ruble loss from subscriptions. By July the situation had deteriorated to the point that Izvestia was actually subsidising its subscribers in the amount of more than two rubles per issue.(22)
The impact of the economic reforms on press functioning extended beyond the spiralling prices of basic inputs and services. The reforms annihilated the savings of millions of Russians overnight, and bit deeply into the discretionary spending of tens of millions of others. "The newspapers themselves became very costly," said Andrei Richter, "and not many people could afford to buy them; so circulations dropped for that reason." "Dropped" is putting it mildly. Twenty Russian newspapers folded in a single month (January 1992). Looking back in late 1997, Vitaly Korotich, former editor of Ogonyok, cited a decline in "the total circulation of Russian newspapers and journals" from 220 million copies before the economic crunch, to "20.8 million copies in the centre and 22 million in the regions."(23) Trud, the trade union daily "that had the highest circulation of any newspaper in the former USSR at 22 million," had fallen to 1.2 million by mid-1994.(24) Izvestia fell from approximately 12.5 million copies in 1990 to 600,000 in late 1996, "a decline of 95 percent."(25)
The sudden rise in the price of newspapers drove many consumers back (or exclusively) into the arms of broadcast media -- always more cost-efficient in underdeveloped and poverty-stricken environments. It also prompted a "turning inwards" on the part of the population. Such material scarcity tends to spawn political disengagement and a preoccupation with daily survival. This was certainly the case in post-1992 Russia. "The political apathy of the population in general, and disillusionment with politics and politicians" began to erode not only press circulation but the heroic model of journalism that prevailed between 1988 and 1992. So claimed Andrei Richter, adding: "These trends resulted in the decreased popularity of journalism as a profession, a reduced trust of journalists, and less audience interest."
Part of this growing distrust derived from an interim institution, which still survives, called the dzhintsa, or "ordered article."(26) It is similar to the gacetilla in Mexico: reporters accept commissions from political or corporate clients in order to supplement their low wages. The practice established deep roots within the press, and bolstered public perceptions that journalists were limited by their role as paid publicists for shadowy new sponsors.(27) But while the dzhintsa could be significant as a supplementary income source for individual journalists and editors, it was a fragile foundation for medium- or longer-term institutional functioning. If sponsorship was no longer to be provided by the state on the exceedingly generous terms of 1988-1992, and if "civil society" was no longer the buttress of press independence (not to mention professional self-image) that it had once been, where could newspapers turn as material crisis threatened to destroy them? The choices were limited. Newspapers would have to seek sponsorship from the Yeltsin regime; or they would have to approach the new "private" corporations that at times seemed inseparable from the regime (and vice-versa). Neither prospect offered much potential for the kind of far-reaching independence that had seemed possible during the "golden age." But neither would newspapers adopt quite the lickspittle posture towards their new sponsors that they had towards the all-powerful Communist Party. It is to the intricate interplay of mobilizing and professional concerns in the era of semi-democracy and market economy that we turn next.
The Russian state consists of a few shallowly rooted institutions -- a presidency, a parliament, a central bank and so on -- which have yet to earn public trust, and which are dwarfed by an impenetrable and antique hinterland of cynicism, incompetence, racketeering and bureaucratic dead-weight. Weak and corrupt government means that Russia has no rule of law. There is no local investment, only capital flight. Manufacturing industry and agriculture are dying, though commerce survives. Public services are minimal, often criminal. There are pockets of brilliance and generosity to be found, but only amid a wasteland of misery and poverty, ugliness and pollution, created partly by the builders of communism, partly by its collapse.
-- The Economist (28)
Could we imagine that we would live to see the day when there wouldn't be enough paper for Pravda ...?
-- G.N. Vachnadze(29)
Source: The Economist, 20 September 1997
|Argumenty i Fakti*||3,100,000|
If President Boris Yeltsin was a notably mercurial leader, the regime he headed after 1991 was likewise extraordinarily difficult to pin down. Some comparisons, though, can be drawn with Nicaragua, another country analyzed for this study of The Press in Transition. As with the unexpected collapse of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, the scale and suddenness of the post-Soviet transformations caught most participants by surprise. This precipitated similar processes of devolution and -- as noted -- parallel if not comparable abuses. Both transitions left the former ruling party as the main opposition and most coherent political force: the Communist Party scored 40.3 percent of the vote in the Russian presidential elections of 1996; the Sandinista Front, 38 percent in the presidential elections held in Nicaragua that same year.(30) In both countries, moreover, the transitional regimes were exceedingly permeable. The Chamorro government in Nicaragua was never more than a cobbled-together anti-Sandinista coalition, and it quickly collapsed into its squabbling parts. The Sandinistas continued to exercise a de facto veto over certain areas of government policy; so did international capital in the form of the International Monetary Fund, and U.S. foreign policy more generally. The family politics that had long been the Nicaraguan norm reasserted themselves to provide a lubricant for the squeaky wheels of the transition process. In post-Soviet Russia, the constitutional and actual powers accruing to the executive went some distance towards countering centrifugal forces and muting the power of the communist opposition. But a return to previous ruling practices and institutions was also evident. Boris Kagarlitsky spoke only partly metaphorically when he described post-Soviet power as characterized by a revival of feudal, even clan-type institutions:
We get a government which is not a coalition of political forces, but is very much a coalition in the sense that it's a kind of council of main lords and notables in the country. ... The point is that you have to be in the system, because there they make economic decisions based on the political position of yourself of your client. And just as when you get a council of feudal lords, it's not just one-person, one-vote. In a feudal council, the vote of, say, the lord of this place will be much more important than the lord of some tiny little shire.(31)
One thing most of these actors have in common is a past existence as members of the nomenklatura (Boris Yeltsin himself sat on the Soviet politburo). Their experience of the press is as a mobilizing tool. Andrei Richter described the mindset this way:
Yeltsin is the head of the executive branch. To some extent, he and his close advisors are basically those who grew up during the years of the old regime. And during the old regime, those who had power viewed the mass media as their instrument to form public opinion. That means that while, okay, they have dropped their communist dress and crossed the bridge to the new world, they still view the press as an instrument they can use -- for good purposes, of course. And therefore, they are very irritated when they see something which they don't like in the press or on television, and they try to correct the mistakes of the press. In doing so, they sometimes display a rude and arrogant and unlawful [attitude].
Let us examine, first, the diverse means by which the executive branch, and a range of non-regime forces, has sought to discipline and direct the post-Soviet press in this time-honoured fashion.
Direct subsidies, and the preferential granting of same, are a standard means of co-opting the press worldwide, and they have been a feature of the post-Soviet system as of its predecessor.(32) In official guise, the post-Soviet round of subsidies began on 20 February 1992, when Boris Yeltsin introduced the Decree On Additional Measures of Legal and Economic Protection for the Periodical Press and State Publishing. As Frances Foster summarizes it, this
decree specifically targeted the dual threat identified by the mass media: continued government monopolization of all major publication services and new price liberalization policies. Most notably, it established a mandatory price-controlled quota for newsprint production, guaranteed state compensation of state communications enterprises to reduce delivery and distribution costs, called for rapid demonopolization of distribution networks, and authorized subsidies to Russian publications.(33)
The decree itself "was legally and practically unenforceable ... [and] failed to recognize the severe budget constraints of the Russian government," as Foster also notes. But it was not the first, or the only subsequent, route by which the regime could funnel funds to help newspapers cope with the crisis engendered by the reforms. Direct subsidies had flowed from Yeltsin's Press Ministry from December 1991.(34)
Because they are such an obvious instrument to manipulate press functioning, the Russian subsidies (and the market reforms that necessitated them) have tended to be presented as a Machiavellian attempt by the Yeltsin regime to reassert central control over the press. There is more to the policy, however. One must recognize that the newspapers themselves petitioned the regime, beginning in early 1992, for subsidies that could only reduce their hard-won independence. Alexei Pankin of the Media Development Program took a particularly jaundiced view of the newspapers' role, calling the press "the first in the chain of moguls that asked for special subsidies, special treatment, privileges for themselves. They paved the way for state collective farms, the defence lobby, et cetera." But such subsidies were crucial in allowing a number of major papers to survive long enough to seek more stable sponsorship -- mostly from para-statal corporations and the urban business class, including individual media moguls. With this "handoff" accomplished, regime subsidies faded as a significant feature of the Moscow and St. Petersburg media, although they remained a preferred instrument of authorities at the regional level. Only once, up to the time of writing, did they stage a resurgence -- at the time of the 1996 presidential elections, when the Yeltsin regime lavished tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue and direct-to-pocket cash payments to Russia's press. Again, many newspapers competed eagerly for the munificence. Here, indisputably, the result was virtually-unqualified support for the donor, regardless of the longer-term damage done to the professional reputation of the press.
The 1996 elections deserve special attention, for they reveal much about the material and ideological harmony of interests that made most Russian papers close ranks around Yeltsin's regime in a time of crisis. As John Murray's examination of election coverage in Izvestia suggests (see the case study), the critical tenor that the mainstream press had adopted during the Chechen war of 1994-95 went out the window when the fundamentals of the new system seemed at stake..(35) At the most general level, the Yeltsin regime -- certainly as against its communist competitor -- was seen as the guarantor of a system that had enabled a daily newspapers to secure a precarious financial stability and varying degrees of professional independence. Accordingly, they had "no problem serving the vested interest that maintain[ed] the situation in which they keep their jobs," said Alexei Pankin. "That's the reason why they supported Yeltsin. Because he's the guy who pronounces all the right words, but in reality helps the system work: the give-and-take between the authorities, business interests, and the press; the negotiating and lobbying." Other respondents also pointed to a mixture of material and normative considerations, though with the former predominating:
Of course [journalists] were afraid for the freedom of the press; they were scared they wouldn't earn as much money as they can now. Because if the press is not free it's not an industry anymore, and there wouldn't be as many places to work. (Ivan Zassoursky)
It was self-interested on two counts. One was: "How can I make the most money out of it?" ... For the independent [broadcast] stations outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, it was just a windfall. They made more in that month than they made in the rest of the year. ... The second thing was self-interest in the sense that a lot of media, if we [Internews] said to them, "How about trying to make sure that everybody has equal air time, that the communists and capitalists and socialists all get equal coverage in the news?," they would say: "You've got to understand. Our existence is at stake here. If the wrong guys get elected, we get closed down." They would be perfectly open about it. (Eric Johnson)
One of the reasons this craven media stance dismayed so many observers was the brave Chechen coverage that had so recently preceded it. This earlier high point receives slightly greater attention later in the monograph, in the context of press professionalization; the more effective "watchdog" role it symbolized is equally part of the story of post-Soviet media. Independent NTV, for example, "became famous because of its independent stand on the Chechen war," said Yassan Zassoursky. "They uncovered the crimes, they criticized Mr. Yeltsin, Mr. Chernomyrdin, everybody. And suddenly, in 1996, during the elections, everything changes."(36)
Press-regime relations in post-Soviet Russia were prone to these erratic twists and turns, the more so once para-statal corporations entered the scene in force in 1993-94. But the boom-and-bust cycle disguised deeper continuities in press dependence upon the regime, and manipulation of that dependence by the regime (even more so at the regional and municipal levels). The "privatization" process that saw entire industries and vast swathes of real estate sold for a song did not affect the state's monopoly in several areas critical for press functioning: printing; newsprint manufacturing and distribution; tax collection; publication-related distribution and transportation (both departments of the Ministry of Communication); and the state postal services (especially vital in a country where mail-order subscriptions typically outnumber newsstand sales by four to one). The federal government also shares with its local counterparts responsibility for licensing media enterprises and accrediting the journalists who work in them.
Of these potential instruments, Alexei Pankin cited the "state monopoly on printing facilities" as "the main problem," at least throughout the Russian regions. "The cost of printing is just exorbitant. What is even worse is that, as with every monopoly, the state printing plants are basically not interested in reforming themselves. They pass the costs of their inefficiency onto the papers." Of at least equal concern is the possibilities for political manipulation that the monopoly creates, according to Eric Johnson:
When I say that printing presses are very expensive, I have in mind not so much that it costs a lot to set up your own, but that the only one around is the government printing press: unlike TV transmitters, setting up your own is practically impossible. Therefore, you have to use the government one, and the problem is not so much that it's expensive, although it is expensive; the problem is that it's politically-controlled.
It is no coincidence that the structure of press-regime relations at the level of material functioning, subsidies and slush-funds included, bears a strong resemblance to the state's armoury in underdeveloped media systems. The closeness of the similarity attests to the near-catastrophic dislocation that accompanied the death of the USSR. Living conditions and infrastructure outside the largest cities (and often there as well) have fallen to Third World levels. The unprecedented demographic collapse is the most disturbing evidence of the trend; but there is no shortage of examples, either, from post-Soviet press functioning. Rowland Lorimer offers this instructive vignette about postal delivery in the new Russia:
Getting a paper to a reader is also a problem. The postal system, while not totally collapsed, barely grinds along. Morning papers that, prior to perestroika, were available before setting off for work now arrive sometime during the day. They are placed in apartment mailboxes. But many mailboxes have been vandalized and no one is in charge of fixing them any more. So if your paper is still in your box when you come home from work, you are either lucky or you know that no one else wants it.(37)
Another typical element of media underdevelopment is the scarcity of advertising revenue. The western experience suggests that sponsorship by diffuse corporate capital, in the form of advertising, served as an important means by which the press extricated itself from dependence on regimes or other political authorities. Russia has seen a transformation in the direction of corporate sponsorship, but in the form of straightforward ownership and direct subsidy, often accompanied by traumatic internal upheavals at the institutions in question. (The ramifications for press independence and professionalism are explored at length below.) The material dislocation of the post-Soviet economy, and the nascent character of many of the enterprises that have sprung up in the last half-decade, means that even the richer environments of Moscow and St. Petersburg cannot support the huge array of publications struggling for revenue. Apart from economic or political paroxysms, like the brief flurry of "pyramid schemes" in 1993-94(38) or the Yeltsin campaign's election-related expenditures in 1996, there is nowhere near enough "adspend" to go around. "The market here in Moscow, where there's lots of money and advertising, is overcrowded," said Alexei Pankin. "There are twelve quality dailies here, and that just destroys any possibility of their living by advertising, because they're robbing each other." The difficulty of accessing ad revenue is compounded by the unfamiliarity many companies have with the practice:
Russian companies do not normally budget some part of their income for advertising. It doesn't work that way. Normally, it's like this: a Russian company has a certain budget, which it doesn't know how to spend. First you build a building, then you get a nice secretary with long legs, then you probably place an ad somewhere. (Tigran Vardanian of Maxima Advertising)
The press also suffers from the shoddy quality of the state's antiquated printing facilities, and from competition by increasingly-dominant broadcast media and "knock-and-drop" publications. (These latter, as in South Africa, are published weekly, monthly, or irregularly, and delivered free to people's doors.(39)) The result is that "Most Russian newspapers have less than 40 percent advertising," according to Victor Davidoff -- barely two-thirds of the minimum considered sustainable in western press systems. In fact, one of the more recent pieces of Russian tax legislation "provides for very heavy tax on advertising revenues if a newspaper contains more than 40 percent advertisements."(40)
The financially precarious situation in which the struggle for ad revenue leaves most newspapers encourages them to avoid, as far as possible, taxes on their operations. This is in fact necessary for all enterprises of note in the newly-underdeveloped Russia: the plethora of old and new tax regulations would drive companies into bankruptcy if all were abided by. The regime's administrative weakness means that these regulations are lackadaisically and inconsistently enforced, and usually easy to evade -- but only so long as the regime chooses not to turn its limited capacities of vigilance on a particular institution or enterprise. By simply holding this tool in reserve, the regime can use it to rein in would-be recalcitrants among the press. The regime "won't have to do anything illegal," Dmitry Babich stresses; "what [it] can do is simply not notice some of the taxes you owe. And if it remembers ... you will lose everything in two days."
In these diverse ways, the "meta-environmental variable" of underdevelopment and material scarcity can be seen to drive the press into the arms of the regime, and at the same time to vitiate the capacity of the regime to deploy its authority and tools of control effectively. A nearly-ubiquitous feature of underdeveloped systems is the limited range and power of central authorities vis-à-vis other power contenders, whether regional, municipal, corporate, or criminal. The difficulty of central control is exacerbated by the sheer scale on which such a grip has to be exercised in what is (and in recent centuries always has been) the largest country in the world. We turn now to consider the role of the most important of these actors.
Though the focus of this monograph is on Moscow-based newspapers with a national reach, it should be remembered that a diverse regional press still exists in Russia. Its posture towards regional authorities has been more reliably subservient in the post-Soviet era than its counterparts in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is not surprising, in light of the much greater material crisis in the regions than in the urban heartland; the reduced number of possible sponsors to court and play off against one another; the paucity of advertising revenue and developed corporate enterprise; and the lack of even remote alternatives in the fields of production and distribution.(41) In addition, there is often a parochial character to the publications themselves. Under the USSR, their designated role was to supplement the national press with local news and propaganda.(42) According to Dmitry Soshin of Reuters:
I think the papers in the small towns are really cut off from life outside. All the best local journalists are trying to escape to Moscow or St. Petersburg. I think they're more suppressed by local authorities, and are just more "provincial." This is a very international term: you've got provincial thinking and cosmopolitan thinking. In the cities with long intellectual traditions, you've got very independent papers. Where there's a flow and exchange of information, the papers will be very good. If it's a small town, cut off and ruled by a bunch of ex-mafia people, then you wouldn't expect a nice local paper to exist.(43)
This evaluation may underestimate the diversity of the regional press. But the basic depiction of dependence seems accurate. "In the provinces, ... the majority of newspapers rely on subsidies from the federal and local budgets," said Andrei Richter, adding frankly: "Most of the newspapers depend on those subsidies, and therefore they follow the policies of local governments and local administrations." Laura Belin provides a vivid recent example of how this "servility" may be manifested in practice:
... In the October 1997 gubernatorial election in Orel Oblast ... supporters of the incumbent governor, Yegor Stroev, who is also speaker of the Russian Federation Council, in effect staged a sham election. Stroev's only competitor, the obscure head of a collective farm, was barely visible on the campaign trail and told journalists that she hoped Stroev would win the election. Two potential candidates were excluded from the race by the regional electoral commission. Local media neither publicized their cause nor reported on foot-dragging by the Orel Oblast Court, which deprived the would-be candidates of enough time to appeal to the Russian Supreme Court. Instead, local media printed and broadcast innumerable appeals to vote for Stroev, while there was little media discussion of economic problems facing the oblast. In the end, Stroev was re-elected with more than 95 percent of the vote. ... By offering almost exclusively favourable coverage of a campaign that offered voters no real alternative, the Orel media demonstrated that they place the interests of the authorities above those of their consumers.(44)
The idea of securing greater independence -- from political authorities, at least -- through greater advertising revenue and expanding constituencies is limited, not only by the scarcity of such revenue (especially in the regions), but by the mindset still prevailing at institutions long used to a symbiotic relationship with authority. Victor Davidoff of the Globus Press Syndicate recalled speaking
to the editor and publisher of a small town in Smolenski oblast. And he was saying that his readership is mostly pensioners: they like this newspaper and subscribe to it. However, because they're pensioners, of course there's not so much advertising. I looked at this newspaper, and really all they had there was [news] of interest to pensioners. Not a single person who is younger than fifty would read a newspaper of this kind. I think this is an example of how editorial policy affects the financial status of the newspaper. If they would include more information of interest to young readers, more entertainment; if they would produce some business information; then they might change their readership and attract more advertising.
Not that there is much to attract. The "collapse" of the still-nascent Russian advertising market in 1994, was "especially felt in the regions," according to Andrei Richter. The struggle for ad revenue in Moscow and St. Petersburg is simply not worth engaging in for thousands of regionally- and locally-targeted publications. This is how Victor Davidoff explains the otherwise curious phenomenon of some regional newspapers having "advertising rates that are either incredibly low or incredibly high. The reason is very simple: they don't care about [ad revenue], because most of the income they get is in the form of subsidies from local governments."
If subsidies are the main "carrot" that regional authorities can command, there is also no shortage of sticks. These may be comparatively subtle, such as the denial of access to sources described by Victor Davidoff: "In the regions, everything that's published, the authorities scan it and react to it. Very often it's enough for a newspaper just to put one line of negative remarks, and after that their correspondent won't be invited to a governor's press conference. That happens very often." More concerted strategies may involve stripping press institutions of local licenses or office space, and impounding material plant.
For the most part, the activities of municipal authorities can be viewed in tandem with those of the regions. There is one exception, though, related to the pre-eminence that Moscow holds in Russian economic and political life. "In terms of a Wallerstein-type analysis of the centre and periphery, Moscow represents the centre and exploits the periphery," said Boris Kagarlitsky, citing statistics showing that 80 percent of Russian capital was concentrated in -- the Russian capital. "And if you take the internal structure of the Moscow economy," Kagarlitsky added, "the main entrepreneur in the city is the municipal government. It owns almost everything, or a share of almost everything." Atop this structure, at the time of writing, sits Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. He is widely believed to hold presidential ambitions for the year 2000, and thus to be bent on using the mayor's office as a springboard to national power.(45) Luzhkov gave every indication that he had a vested interest in controlling mass media within his domain.(46) His rising power turned once-skeptical Moscow dailies into sycophantic publicists, as Dmitry Babich described it:
In 1990, when no-one owned the newspapers and they actually wrote everything they wanted, ... every 17-year-old journalist would consider it his duty to call Luzhkov a thief. Everyone wrote that Luzhkov is corrupt, about all these affairs with Moscow real estate ... And the editors encouraged the young people to do that, and sometimes did it themselves. Now these same editors are the first to kiss Luzhkov's ass! Now that he holds the power, now that he controls the money, now that they are entirely dependent on him, they're the first ones to write sickening articles about his administrative talents. ... The same people put Luzhkov on the front page, interviews with questions like, "What do you think about when you wake up in the morning?" "Oh, I think about the city." "Isn't it too difficult for you to think about such a big city?" "Well, it's true, I don't know how I survive, but still I think about it." You know ...
Moskovsky Komsomolets, cited by many commentators as one of the most independent of the national dailies if not the most independent, still acquired the nickname Luzhkovsky Komsomolets for its determined championing of the mayor.(47) And Luzhkov was not content to adopt an arm's-length distance from the media for appearance's sake. Rather, in the name of the Moscow city government, he amassed one of the largest media empires in Russia. The survey compiled by Laura Beilin in September 1997 depicted the municipality's recent or former involvements -- through shareholdings and subsidy schemes -- with Moskovsky Komsomolets, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Vechernayaya Moskva (through the Bank of Moscow), and the weekly Kuranti. Like most media players, Luzhkov was devoting himself even more energetically to the broadcast sphere. The city authority held a 67-percent share in Center TV, "which aims to become a network with nationwide broadcasting capabilities," and which also includes "a pool of Moscow cable networks." Moscow had shares in the independent TV-6, and provided unspecified "support" to the private REN-TV.(48)
The carnage wreaked within Russian press circles by mafia violence has been most evident in the regions, where criminal elements enjoy the closest ties with the political authorities - indeed, may have become the political authorities through old-style clientelism and rigged elections. Nationwide, however, it became "a very hot issue" in Russian press circles as of 1997, in Dmitry Soshin's estimation:
Many journalists have been killed in the provinces for reporting on mafia deals. There have been dozens of journalists killed recently: investigative journalists, journalists in Moscow. Yes, the mafia is trying to control the media. They realize it's a very profitable thing. And we're now in the process of turning from the Chicago kind of capitalism into something smarter. These guys are now switching from drugs and oil to something more legitimate. Clearly, there were cases in the provinces where the mafia tried to curb the media; also on the individual level, they tried to punish and suppress journalists who were writing about the mafia.
Soshin described the stark results: "There are journalists who are writing who are frightened by the mafia, being blackmailed; and there are an exceptional few who still do it, and risk being killed." Organized and unorganized crime, likely including off-duty or out-of-work members of the security forces, also does "freelance" services for other actors seeking to pressure the media, such as regional authorities and corporations. Often no clear pattern of authorship is visible in the resulting crimes, but the machinations of "the Chicago kind of capitalism," as Soshin called it, are at least a pervasive backdrop. Vitaly Korotich wrote in Ogonyok in 1997 that
the battle for control of the press has become just as merciless as the battle for political power. Almost all the chief editors of major Russian papers with whom I met this summer drive only in the company of their bodyguards and some have bullet-proof automobiles. Their apprehension denotes how dangerous the profession has become; during the last several months, three directors of prominent publishing houses have been killed. ... I asked the chief editor of a major Russian paper why that paper avoids certain sensitive topics. "Ten years ago, even five years ago that kind of reporting would have been possible, but now I would be fired immediately or even killed," he told me. Over the last four years I have consistently asked that question of many different editors and have always received the same response.
In precious few other countries worldwide is criminal intimidation of mass media (including assassinations of journalists and editors) so pervasive.(49) One would have to look to the Russian "near abroad" (Central Asia, the Caucasus) and to the Latin American "narcodemocracies" (Mexico and Colombia) for parallel cases. High-profile mafia-style "hits" have included Moskovsky Komsomolets reporter Dmitry Kholodov, blown up by a bomb in his office in 17 October 1994;(50) well-known TV journalist Vladimir Listyev, shot to death in March 1995;(51) and Vadim Biryukov, editor of a Moscow-based business publication, killed in 1996. A total of 24 journalists were killed in Russia and the CIS countries in 1996 - 130 since the breakup of the USSR.(52) Thousands of others very likely heard warning bells whenever they sat down to address potentially sensitive subjects and personalities.
To put it bluntly, there is a "Gazprom" line and a "non-Gazprom" line, which can never intersect.
-- Yelena Rykovtseva(53)
They [Gazprom] are interested in the publication of general information. We write very little about them. They're always interested in political stability. And we're a paper that already supports social peace, democracy, and social development. So we have a common understanding of things, and they [as investors] won't need to get involved in our editorial policy.
-- Vladimir Sungorkin, chair of Komsomolskaya Pravda, October 1996(54)
The range of press-related subsidies introduced by the Yeltsin regime in the first weeks of 1992 only partially mitigated the material crisis of the market reforms, as noted. The subsidies on newsprint and printing costs were quickly eroded by new regime directives. Decree no. 1233 of January 1994, for example, sent printing costs spiralling to 500-600 percent of their levels only a month earlier.(55) The price of a ton of paper rose from US \\$150 throughout most of 1992-93 to $540 in 1995.(56) Even some of Russia's most venerable press institutions seemed on the verge of bankruptcy. In late 1996, three of them -- Pravda, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and the regime's own mouthpiece (!), Rossiskaya Gazeta, were suspended for failing to pay their printing debts.
Advertising revenue were able to make up only part of the shortfall, and only temporarily. In March 1997, the total national market was worth between U.S. \\$1.5 and $1.7 billion, about a hundredth of that of the United States.(57) Under the circumstances, with neither the regime nor diffuse capital able to provide stable sponsorship, the press turned en masse to the only remaining option -- the para-statal corporations and financial-industrial groups who were the foundations of Russia's new quasi-capitalist economy. Not coincidentally, these actors were also eyeing the press and broadcast media with a new interest -- which only increased when the press was seen to play a critical role in the 1996 presidential elections. The result of the collusion, and often the collision, between newspapers and their corporate owners was a trio of controversies, revolving around Nezavisimiya Gazeta, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and -- lastly and most dramatically -- Izvestia. In the process, the hegemony of the large corporations over national media was, to most observers' eyes, confirmed.(58)
In many respects, the organization of the post-Soviet polity and economy around para-statal corporations was the most logical successor to state socialism. The matrix of material survival for a majority of the population revolved around industrial concerns, mostly extraction-based, that had constituted "the basic element of the state structure" in the Soviet Union, and still kept tens of millions of Russians fed, clothed, and housed -- however inadequately.(59) Boris Kagarlitsky compared the role of these giants to both the South Korean chaebols and American "company towns" of a century ago, citing the huge monopoly Gazprom (which supplied Europe with 88% of its natural-gas imports in 1997)(60) as "a perfect example":
Internally, it's a standard Soviet enterprise. It's the old Soviet gas ministry. It didn't change its ways of operating. It has all the corporatist arrangements with the workers, with the trade unions; it's a complete corporatist state. It doesn't have labour mobility: if you're in Gazprom, very much like in the large Japanese corporations, you will stay there for the rest of your life. ... Gazprom provides everything from the job to the pensions. Cradle-to-grave provisions. Not necessarily good - it's poor quality, but you do have the provisions. It's a privatized sector of the state.
It is hardly surprising, under the circumstances, that Viktor Chernomyrdin -- former head of the Soviet gas monopoly -- came to be chosen prime minister under Yeltsin (and nominated again, unsuccessfully, in 1998); nor that Chernomyrdin was widely considered the "representative" of the oil and gas concerns like Gazprom and LUKoil; nor that, when those corporations began to make their power-play in the media sphere in 1994, they were concerned to see those interests -- including Chernomyrdin's political interests -- defended in "their" press outlets. By late 1997, Gazprom owned 30 percent of the shares in NTV, and a controlling in the daily paper Rabochaya Tribuna. It also provided subsidies to Trud. In part owing to its own conservatism and complacency, it had been narrowly edged out by banking consortium Oneximbank in the battle for influence and control over Komsomolskaya Pravda. LUKoil, for its part, was engaged in a joint venture with Gazprom "to develop a network of 29 small, regional television stations based on the oil and gas sector network formerly existing in oil and gas-producing regions."(61) It had also acquired a controlling share in Izvestia through its backdoor bargain with Oneximbank in July 1997 (see the Izvestia case-study).
Banks such as Oneximbank, Obedinyionny Bank, and Menatep and Alfa Banks were also prominent players in the economy in general and the media in particular. Their para-statal character was established through intricate networks of cross-ownership and cross-pollination of directorial boards. As for the more arriviste financial-industrial groups, especially (for our purposes) Boris Berezovsky's LogoVAZ consortium and Vladimir Gusinsky's MOST Media,(62) these groups likewise sought to translate their "private" capital into "public" capital through establishing close ties with the formal political system. Such involvements could be direct, as in the case of Berezovsky, who served as a member of Yeltsin's inner cabinet or "security council" until November 1997. Or they could be indirect. In either case, press and other media acquisitions quickly came to be viewed as a vital ingredient in lubricating relations with the executive branch, as well as other key power-players like Moscow Mayor Luzhkov. Dmitry Babich cited the trend as yet another "legacy of our socialist past":
If you want to get rich, you must have good relations with the government. You can't be entirely independent from the government. You can't retreat to a country mansion or company headquarters and get your billions without getting government connections. You have to constantly mingle, you have to always be with Chernomyrdin or Yeltsin or some government ministers. If you relax for a moment, if you lose their trust for a moment -- if, heaven forbid, you conflict with them for a moment -- they will find a way to ruin you ... So you have to have a good relationship with the government. How do you do that? For better or worse, there are elections in Russia, and you have to influence public opinion. The best way to do it is through the press.(63)
A broad consensus, in fact, obtained among interview subjects when it came to the motives underlying the wave of corporate takeovers of media institutions between 1994 and 1997. Often implicit in respondents' framing was the self-serving manipulation of editorial "lines" and content by the new corporate sponsors:
What most people in the papers say, and what most people would say off the record, is that really these companies are buying papers because they've realized they are powerful political tools. Just the fact that you own a paper, when you're dealing with government officials, gives you power. You don't have to use it. You don't have to publish a whole bunch of compromising material about some politician to get them to sign the documents you need to create the right environment for your business. They just need to know that you could do that if you wanted to. ... They all realized how valuable that was, how powerful, during the 1996 presidential elections. It was after then that the real buying spree began. (Mark Whitehouse, business reporter, The Moscow Times.)(64)
Of course they don't expect profits. They're looking towards the elections, especially the presidential elections. That's why they're really interested in Izvestia -- among Russian newspapers, it probably holds first place; it's very influential, and has a lot of power influence in the regions, not only in Moscow. ... It can express its opinion, and that's very important for LUKoil. (Yuri Feofanov, senior law correspondent, Izvestia, and member of the Judicial Chamber on the Mass Media.)
All the major clans are trying to set up their media. And it's really related to politics. It's not just because they think it's profitable. (Eric Johnson, Internews.)
The reason why the banks and the people who control money invest in unprofitable newspapers is that they can influence politicians thereby. It's kind of a paradox: from one point of view, they depend on the politicians; from the other point of view, they want to influence the politicians. (Alexander Sychev, Foreign Editor, Izvestia)
Q. How would you compare the ownership patterns in Russia with what's been entrenched in the West? Well, in the West, I guess it's primarily still a business, and here it's mainly a political instrument. (Ivan Zassoursky, Obshchaya Gazeta.)(65)
Several subsidiary motives were also ascribed to the corporations and media magnates. Alexei Pankin of the Media Development Program pointed to the role of the press and other media as a tool of intra-elite communication: "There's kind of a special system of establishment groups sending signals to each other. They publish stuff, say, an exposé, which is taken by another group not at face value, but as a hint that they're either declaring a war on you, or holding back -- 'We have much more information that we could release,' et cetera." Financial gain, though sometimes a peripheral concern, was also cited -- especially for Gusinsky's MOST Media group, which Andrei Richter cited as "one major exception" to the emphasis on "political gain": "They want to make profits by investing in the mass media. I don't think that Gazprom or LUKoil are particularly interested in the mass-media business." Lastly, there was the simple fashion factor. "It's getting quite prestigious," Alexei Pankin said. "Every self-respecting company should be able to claim it has a newspaper or a radio station." "This guy bought a paper, so I have to buy one," added Dmitry Soshin."
This account of corporate motivations should not pass, however, without an important point being reiterated: that most newspapers played a key role in courting corporate investment, viewing it as the most reliable replacement for the state sponsorship they had once enjoyed. According to Mark Whitehouse: "The question for editors has not been so much one of complete independence, but of: 'Who's the best person to get into bed with?'" Ivan Zassoursky made a forceful case for viewing the newspapers as active agents in the relationship -- sometimes, as with Izvestia in Summer 1997, as participants in their own undoing:
You shouldn't mess around with abstract words like censorship, government, politics, press, mass media. You should look into the situation, and the situation is this. Izvestia is incapable of supporting itself through advertisements and making profits. So that's why, although it's a respectable and stable publication, it's still very weak in a commercial sense. That's why they look for political investment. It's not these vicious political investors, who like hungry wolves are crowding around Izvestia and trying to eat it. It's Izvestia who are looking for investment, for an inflow of politicized capital ...
Many of the problems that had arisen between corporations and newspapers Zassoursky blamed on the naïveté of the newspapers themselves -- again attesting to the enduring power of the Soviet model of media functioning. "The editors-in-chief are still not used to having an investor. They're not used to negotiating and making compromises. They used to have one investor, the Communist Party, the communist state. From the flow of events, they found out it was a bad investor. ... But you can't live without an investor, if you're promoting a creative project, you want to do something, [and] you don't have money."
The heavy-handed manipulation of the media through to 1997 certainly engendered considerable cynicism among the population. "Investigative reporting in particular is likely to be viewed as 'commissioned' by financial backers," wrote Laura Belin. "Newspaper circulation rates have, not surprisingly, continued to decline, as there is little interest in reading [the] thinly-veiled propaganda of a large bank or corporation."(66) Irina Petrovskaya of Izvestia agreed: "Now it's a really common situation for people to say, for example, not that Nezavisimiya Gazeta wrote about something, but that Berezovsky, the owner of the newspaper, told the newspaper to write about it."
But in part recognizing the danger to their own agenda of excessive press partisanship, corporations and media magnates may have made adjustments to the professional imperatives driving their media institutions. "They are increasingly intelligent businesspeople," said Eric Johnson:
Their approach to the media is increasingly sophisticated. It's not, "I want to buy you and tell you what to say"; it's, "I want to invest in you, I want to make money. I don't plan to have any editorial control, but it should be perfectly understandable that if you start espousing the views of some far-out religious sect or some really contrary political line, yes, I'm going to step in."
This suggests that rather than day-to-day control over editorial content, corporations were content to exercise a "veto power" over certain areas of coverage, and to mobilize their media at key moments, such as the 2000 presidential elections. (As Laura Belin points out, too, corporate influence is also likely to be "apparent in coverage of issues that pit financial groups against one another, especially privatization sales."(67)) Apart from this, though, corporate owners may recognize the advantages -- in terms of credibility, relations with employees, and potential profits - in keeping an arm's-length distance from their media. "When you invest for money," said Yassan Zassoursky of MSU, "at least you take care to control your account. If you're losing money, you change your information policies, you provide different news. If you disregard your finances, if you're rich enough to waste a lot of money, then you don't care much about the public. And you lose your credibility."(68)
Boris Berezovsky was cited by a number of interview subjects as a leading exponent of this more sophisticated, arm's-length relationship. His purchase of a controlling share of Nezavisimiya Gazeta in 1996 was perhaps the most closely-watched of the corporate takeovers. NG had long been considered one of the most professional and credible of the Russian dailies, and its editor, Vitaly Tretyakov, had jealously guarded its independence -- "refus[ing] to take any state subsidies or money from sponsors."(69) But that had meant a slow haemorrhage in the paper's material fortunes. By May 1995, it had shrunk to four pages from eight. When Berezovsky and LogoVAZ came to the rescue, many assumed the paper would simply become his mouthpiece -- including Ivan Zassoursky, who resigned from NG in part for that reason. In mid-1997, however, Zassoursky said his fears had been misplaced: "Nezavisimiya Gazeta, although Berezovsky owns it, remains very independent in terms of editorial policy. Actually, it's really developing ... To that extent I was mistaken about the prospects of Nezavisimiya Gazeta. It was kept absolutely independent."
"They say Berezovsky controls Nezavisimiya Gazeta. But it's very hard to notice," concurred Dmitry Babich. He added wryly: "It's sometimes difficult for people without any ideological convictions, like many Russians, to understand that money does not decide everything in the press." (And, one might add, for some western commentators as well.) Yassan Zassoursky also considered Berezovsky "more sophisticated. He keeps [Nezavisimiya Gazeta] on a long leash. He does not dictate every opinion in the paper. He is satisfied simply not to be exposed as a rascal in the newspaper."(70)
The more media-oriented of the large corporations have, at least, invested heavily in their holdings rather than simply displaying them like trophies or running them into the ground. To the extent that the western-style media magnate -- so far limited to Berezovsky and MOST Media's Gusinsky -- comes to predominate over more staid and detached corporate giants like Gazprom and LUKoil, commentators concerned with the professional functioning of the press might consider it a positive development. Yassan Zassoursky recalled writing an article for Pravda at the height of glasnost entitled, "Shouldn't We Learn from Mr. Murdoch?" -- i.e., Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch. "My view," said Zassoursky,
was that in order to develop our media, we should have the kind of corporations or media investors who could develop it. Without this, the media remain very poor; printing is very expensive; the distribution system is in the hands of the monopolies. ... Therefore, I think that with all its limitations, Mr. Gusinsky's MOST Media holding is a healthy development, because it is developing information capital which may invest in new media technologies and produce better newspapers.
"On the one hand, we need the corporations," summarized Zassoursky. "On the other hand, there should be a certain legal framework to enable journalists to defend their independence and their ability to be watchdogs of the state. At least to bark, if not to bite." Such a legal framework was one of the notable gaps of the press legislation of the early 1990s, which guaranteed journalists the right to choose their own editors-in-chief and formally protected them from political intervention, but which had nothing to say about the rights and responsibilities of newspapers versus their sponsors. The resulting confusion would feature in the most dramatic post-Soviet showdown between a press institution and its sponsor -- a story related in detail in the Izvestia case study.
The search for subsidies and outside investment represents one of the most common strategies Russian newspapers have implemented in order to survive. In a handful of cases, however, newspapers have managed to preserve some independence from both regime control and corporate ownership by targeting either a mass audience or a specific (usually elite) constituency. A search for stable and profitable constituencies has also, of course, been evident at newspapers with separate sources of sponsorships -- especially those whose sponsors are, like Berezovsky and Gusinsky, concerned to make their press holdings as profitable and politically influential as possible. What have been the dominant trends in this search for a post-Soviet constituency? What major obstacles have been encountered? Which publications have been successful in the struggle, and why?
Any newspaper seeking to establish or re-establish itself in the wake of the Soviet collapse had to reckon with a number of specific constraints:
1) Economic and political crisis, beginning in 1991 and reaching catastrophic proportions in July-August 1998. This dislocated the system of state-socialist production and distribution, crippled consumer spending, and turned the population inward to private, subsistence-oriented concerns.
2) The Soviet legacy of a segmented and task-divided national media, combined with the fragmentation of the intelligentsia. The mass readerships which the Soviet model generated were quickly dissolved by political collapse and mounting inequalities of wealth. But the basic configuration endured of regional and local press set against nationally-distributed "flagship" newspapers. The parochial focus of many regional publications inhibited the building of stable national constituencies, at least for print media.
3) The explosive growth of broadcast media, which established materially self-sustaining national constituencies. Together with the "knock and drop" publications, broadcast media crowded the printed press out of many poverty-stricken popular constituencies, soaking up much of the limited "adspend" in the process.
4) Public disillusionment with the press after the "golden age" of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Variants of these constraints will be familiar to anyone who anyone who has studied the transitional press worldwide. The basic strategies open to Russian newspapers, as in most of our other case-studies, were twofold: to preserve as much as possible of the traditional constituency;(71) and to expand the appeal to new ones. (The Izvestia case study explores the route taken by one of the longest-established of the Soviet and post-Soviet papers.) In general, not surprisingly, the more conservative and tradition-oriented papers placed the greatest emphasis on preservation of core constituencies. In the case of certain nationally-distributed papers (Pravda, Sovietskaya Rossiya), regime hostility and business boycotts may have left them with little choice. The (communist) political option with which they were usually affiliated was entrenched in an older cohort of readers who sought out the papers, despite their general impoverishment, for the links they represented to the Soviet past. The problem for Pravda staffers, in Boris Kagarlitsky's words, was "not that they don't know how to make the newspaper nicer; but they care about the readers, and the readers don't want the newspaper to be that different from the newspaper they had in Soviet times." As it transpired, Pravda could "branch out" into new constituencies only by fissioning into three separate papers.
The lure, but also the constraints, of traditional constituencies were also realities for "establishment" papers seeking a more "modern" and progressive orientation. Again the options here seemed twofold. Either these papers moved into "niche" markets, in which they enjoyed more or less unchallenged hegemony; or they sought a "lowest-common-denominator" route to a mass audience, often but not always built around a core component of sensationalism and "yellow journalism." The niche option included both small- and large-circulation publications. Smaller, weekly papers sometimes targeted sectors of the now-fragmented intelligentsia.(72) A more common approach for such small-circulation ventures, however, was the new corporate and political elite. The Kommersant Publishing House, which publishes Kommersant Daily (founded in 1990), Kommersant Weekly, and Dengi, among other titles, has accepted investment from Alexander Smolensky's Stolichny Savings Bank, among other corporate actors. But on its own initiative, it has also carved out a profitable, more or less unchallenged position atop the hierarchy of post-Soviet business publications.
However, the largest-circulation newspapers in post-Soviet Russia are those that have trodden the "lowest-common-denominator" path. Mass-circulation "success stories" include the weekly Argumenty i Fakty, once the holder of the Guinness Book of Records title for the world's largest distribution (34 million copies), and still boasting a decent bedrock constituency of three million readers. Yassan Zassoursky defined both Argumenty i Fakty and the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets as "qualoids," "a strange combination of a tabloid and quality newspaper." Argumenty, for example, countered the prevailing partisan tradition of Russian journalism by offering "just a lot of fakty -- news and interviews, very simple," according to Victor Davidoff. The Economist described it as "doggedly unpolemical."(73) Of Moskovsky Komsomolets, meanwhile, Celestine Bohlen wrote in The New York Times that the paper was "the only major Moscow-based daily to have discovered how to survive in a rough-and-tumble marketplace without government subsidies or outside investors, and with new ideas like advertising, profit, and the need to define a paper's relationship to power."(74)
More ubiquitous than the "qualoids," though, have been "trashy," tabloid-style publications like Speed-Info. "In the pages of Russia's most successful newspaper, there is not a word about the latest Kremlin intrigues or economic reforms," writes Bohlen. "'My libido frightens my husband!' screams a headline over a typically sensational article in Speed Info." Such newspapers tended to target depoliticized sectors seeking entertainment and sensation, rather than endless reminders of political squabbling and confusion:
In the Russian newspaper industry, the secret of success is simple: Avoid politics completely. Back in the 1980s, in the dying days of the Soviet Union, everyone was obsessed with politics. But today's Russians are disillusioned by years of broken promises and painful reforms. They don't trust politicians and they don't trust the intellectual journalists who produced the weighty newspapers of the glasnost era. ... "People are tired of politics," says Pyotr Selinov, the deputy editor of Speed Info. "Politics doesn't create anything except irritation and apathy. We try to bring in new plots, new subjects. Our photos are always beautiful. For our readers, it's like a flight to a different world. When they read our newspaper, they're drawn away from their economic hardships. Our newspaper is a friend to them."(75)
In response, many mainstream Russian dailies have taken a sensationalist turn, as staff at Izvestia frankly acknowledged, and as seemed even clearer in the case of Komsomolskaya Pravda. Dmitry Babich left KP in 1996 "because it was just getting too yellow," publishing "absolutely ... unchecked information." The adoption, whether partial or whole-hearted, of such strategies was based on a perceived appeal to mass tastes. The press worldwide, and perhaps the transitional press in particular, provides ample support for these expectations. But a number of interview subjects also spoke of a looming saturation, as Russians grew tired of reading about phenomena that were anyway part of their everyday life. As Evgeni Zaitsev of MSU put it:
The situation in our country is sensational itself! You can find all these problems with your own eyes on the street. When you're reading newspapers, you want to find out something new. Many people, when they read newspapers, they want quiet, cultural news. Life in your country [Canada] is very stable, very quiet. ... So you want to add to your quiet life some sensation while reading the newspapers. And when we are living this sensational life, we try to add some quiet.
With the increasing conviction that such coverage conceals behind-the-scenes manipulations by corporate forces or political factions, it is indeed possible that the hunger for the "forbidden fruit" of sensationalism may be on the wane in Russia (another common feature of transitional media environments). But the lowest-common-denominator tastes the tabloids cater to are not likely to disappear from Russian, or human, society anytime soon.
In evaluating the professional progress and regress of the post-Soviet press, it was unclear what would best serve as a benchmark. Hegemonic western conceptions of professionalism ran up against post-Soviet journalistic models tracing their lineage back to the 19th century. Wider traditions of literature and rhetoric were powerfully felt in Russia as in most of the Central and Eastern European countries. The ideal of impartiality and dispassionate "objectivity" avowed by most western journalists may be "fundamental[ly] different" from the Russian approach (Eric Johnson). Dmitry Soshin, a journalist more familiar than most with western journalistic practice, saw its influence beginning to pervade some areas of news-gathering and editorial writing. Like other interview subjects, though, he was doubtful that this could be easily reconciled with long-established practices:
The Russian agencies and the Russian services of the foreign agencies are now writing in a very English Russian -- in a Russian without adjectives, giving a very straight position. But if we're talking about the wider range of publications, people are now trying to learn a new style, to discard the old Soviet clichés, to get some drive, some dynamic style from the western media; some skills. But language-wise, you really cannot reshuffle Russian, because it's a very specific language.
Despite such shifts in style and tone, "overall the attempt to introduce a news-driven journalism that would be fair by North American standards failed," according to Andrei Zolotov. "It's now clear that the Russian press is going to be different. It will be partisan." Where there is partisanship one would expect to see the spectre of self-censorship. Dmitry Babich brought a useful cross-cultural perspective to the phenomenon, suggesting that a partisan style could counter self-censorship, in one respect at least:
It depends what you consider self-censorship. In matters of style, western journalists are a lot more self-censored than Russians. Because a Russian journalist can call a politician whom he doesn't like an "idiot," without any problem. This is serious television, serious programs. In America, you can't imagine anyone in the serious press calling a politician an idiot, even if he hates him. In Russia, you can make statements that would be outrageous by western standards, and stay afloat. ...
But a freedom to engage in selective name-calling (a practice Babich decried) is a far cry from the freedom to write evenhandedly about corporate power in the new Russia, or diverse political factions, or the role of local functionaries in bribery scandals and corporate kickbacks. As we have seen, the broad range of mobilizing imperatives and "meta-environmental" constraints that Russian newspapers encountered often limited their ability to behave in a "professional" manner -- and not only in the estimation of western observers. The declining public interest in the press, too, seemed to reflect a perception that the press had ceased to play the vital "watchdog" role it once seemed destined to.
There were failures, too, in journalists' ability or willingness to defend their collective interests. "I would say that unfortunately we have very little solidarity," said Dmitry Babich:
I see a lot of young people from my generation who ... think that individualism is a solution for all problems, like many people in post-communist society. I'm for private initiative, I'm for being responsible for yourself, but that doesn't exclude the fact that you have to help your friends and colleagues sometimes.
The divisions among journalists obstructed internal attempts at self-regulation, and thus may have made outside intervention more likely. "The journalistic community is so different, so splintered" that self-regulation would be unlikely to have much effect, according to Eric Johnson. "No matter what kind of platform you put forward, you'd have a small group of journalists who would be very vocally for it, and a small group very vocally against it, and the vast majority would say, 'Oh, that's nice.'"(76)
But there were offsetting developments -- including commercial competition -- that had pushed Soviet journalism forward in important professional respects, according to Dmitry Babich:
I see a lot of good reporters now. And I see there is more respect for the journalists on the part of their employers. ... There are newspapers which are buying the journalists from one another. You couldn't imagine anything like that in communist times. On the one hand, it's not very nice, because people hop from one job to another; there is less of a sense of community. It's more like a business. But on the other hand, if journalists can get respect in this way, fine! ... A good journalist should get a lot of money. He's doing hard work.
Dmitry Soshin, another young journalist, touched on all these themes in offering perhaps the most optimistic assessment of transformations in post-Soviet journalism:
In the 1980s, during perestroika, the media were playing the role of a tutor, a sort of guide. Teaching people how to act, what to do, what position to take. But I think the information departments in all the papers have improved. They've become more objective, more up-to-date, with more in-depth information. They got more assimilated to society's needs. They've realized the market economy is coming, and they've opened up economics departments giving business data and banking information. ... The role of the media now is not to teach the people, the society, but to orient people -- to give them the objective day-to-day information they need. ... Overall I see this as a very radical turn to the real needs of the people.
Did outsiders have a useful role to play in the transformations? The models they provided, both of ownership patterns and journalistic craft, were certainly influential. Ownership patterns, according to Alexei Pankin, were "moving into the world pattern." He expected to see "various types of companies, not necessarily media-related -- like Gulf + Western, or General Electric" featuring, along with "strictly media companies, like MOST Media -- the standard international pattern." In the spheres of marketing and design, too, Boris Kagarlitsky saw western media technologies as influential:
The Russian tradition was very much about content. There was little interest in style, outside of the literary style -- but [not in] the visual style, design, making things sound nice. This kind of marketing. So this technology came in from the West and was immediately incorporated. These [media owners and managers?] were talented and educated people, so they picked it up. Even if you go to Pravda, which is not the best-marketed newspaper, you can see that they have very sophisticated computers, the latest Mac software. ... Technically, they have all the skills there.
Western agencies by 1997 had played a significant role in establishing aid and professionalization programs with a reach extending across the Russian landmass. Internews, headed by Eric Johnson, was involving itself in "projects which help independent TV: co-productions, news exchanges, development of networking associations, a Web site ... We get subscriptions for them for Western TV journals, help them organize their own journalism schools and defend their rights, put them in contact with western stations, help them find investors ..." Alexei Pankin's USAID-funded Media Development Program promoted, according to Pankin, "institution building and business development." It sought "to establish various institutions, professional associations, or research centres which can support the whole [media] industry." Among them was a National Association of Telebroadcasters, which "practically copied its charter from the National Association of Broadcasters" in the U.S., according to Eric Johnson.
Still, a number of respondents questioned the extent and efficacy of this western influence. Aid agencies, said former dissident Victor Davidoff, could assist greatly with the nuts and bolts of management: "financial analysis, forecasting, helping the media companies in Russia to prepare business plans and establish sound accounting. In Russia the accounting that's done doesn't even deserve the name. But," Davidoff added, "I doubt they're going to do it. Like all government institutions, they tend to spend money on projects which are straightforward, like giving away computers or doing training. It's helpful, but it doesn't really help the media to become independent." As for the training programs and seminars offered in the west, said Dmitry Babich, "real journalists ... rarely go. They have no time." Russian journalists, said Andrei Richter, "are not likely to accept retraining; and if they do accept it, probably they just pay lip-service to their tutors, and use the opportunity to travel to the States or Germany." Even more uncertain was the infiltration of western models of professional journalism, as already discussed. Their influence was already evident on any number of levels. But offsetting factors cautioned against any easy assumption that the press, in post-Soviet Russia or any other transitional environment, would model itself holus bolus after western models of media functioning.
Overall, what is happening in the Russian media is that the concept of the "free press" is being reconsidered at a new level, which is a practical level. In the first stage, it was very idealistic. People fought for freedom from government control or party control; journalists thought they could publish newspapers on their own, and be a very strong element of the society by themselves. That basically the politicians would be seeking their support, rather than them seeking somebody else's support. And all of these illusions collapsed because of the economy, because of the nature of publishing here, where there is still practically no serious publication that makes money.
-- Andrei Zolotov, reporter, The Moscow Times
If the post-Soviet press is a classic case, it is also sui generis. The world offers no example of the type of media environment prevailing in the dying days of the USSR and the first year in the life of post-Soviet Russia. While the formal outlines of the regime's mobilizing imperative remained in place between 1988 and 1991, they were no longer enforceable, and were ignored. Journalists stood at the vanguard of the extraordinary debates and revelations that pushed glasnost beyond the control of the Gorbachev regime. Nearly every word journalists wrote was pored over by millions -- sometimes tens of millions -- of Russians. But crucially, the material infrastructure of state sponsorship -- the newsprint, printing facilities, office buildings, national distribution networks, and salaries -- remained largely in place. One is reminded of the Wile E. Coyote character in the "Loony Tunes" cartoons who, unaware that he has just left the edge of the cliff, enjoys a brief but illusory "golden age" in mid-air. In the cartoon, realization quickly dawns, and gravity takes over. So too with the Russian press. Newspapers enjoyed a final few months of seeming freedom after the August 1991 attempted coup. But they were already feeling the pinch of economic upheaval, and the market-oriented reforms and largescale privatization introduced in early 1992 sent them crashing to the ground with a suddenness rarely, if ever, duplicated in recent transition processes.
If the crisis was both more sudden and more severe in scale, though, it was also typical in many ways of other transitions considered for this study. As elsewhere, too, a rapid "winnowing" of press outlets occurred when the impetus of liberalization dissipated. In post-Soviet Russia the winnowing, though severe, was perhaps not as extensive as might have been expected -- through to the economic catastrophe of July-August 1998, at least. The survival of a dozen daily papers with national pretensions in Moscow alone was unusual if not downright unrealistic. It could endure only because the press itself engaged in a rollercoaster ride of shifting sponsorship. But that was a game in which the press was anyway bound to be swept up - given the machinations of powerful new figures on the landscape, such as the Yeltsin regime and the regional or corporate actors who interacted with and interpenetrated it.
There were success stories: publications that secured mass readerships despite the shattering blow dealt to discretionary income, and thereby avoided undue dependence on corporate and other forces (Moskovsky Komsomolets, Speed-Info). There were "niche" publications, especially aimed at economic elites, that earned plaudits for incisive business coverage (Kommersant Daily). And some publications found the right alchemy between sponsor and staff to produce a product that many interview subjects and other observers found positive and palatable (Nezavisimiya Gazeta, Obshchaya Gazeta). In the broadcast sphere, independent television stations were "certainly becoming self-sufficient," according to Eric Johnson. "The vast majority of stations we [Internews] work with are covering their costs with revenue." Professionally, new models were being considered and often adopted, with results that many, including this author, found promising.
But there was reason to share Laura Belin's assessment in late 1997 that "Russian media appear markedly less free than they did two years ago, and the mood among journalists is gloomy." Nowhere was this so evident as in the written press, which was still catching its breath after the corporate power-plays that radically altered the ownership and sometimes the professional activities of the publications in question: Izvestia, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and Segodnya (less so, apparently, Nezavisimiya Gazeta). The result was hardly a return to the Soviet era of micro-managed editorial content. But it left gaps, sometimes gulfs, in the coverage that any one newspaper chose to provide. Alexei Pankin called the result "a pluralism without limits. Because the interests that either own the media officially or subsidize it in a hidden way are so diverse that if you read twenty papers, you will get a rather comprehensive picture of just about everything that's going on."(77) But how many people in Russia had the money to read even two newspapers? The question was not purely rhetorical -- the answer is probably "more than you might think." But mass media reflect mass trends. There was no doubt at the time of fieldwork in mid-1997 that the trend was increasingly away from print media and towards their broadcast counterparts. Most daily papers had come to serve, and be seen, as outlets for corporate bickering and associated political factionalism. Under the circumstances, a number of interview subjects pointed to an incipient "shakeout" in the Russian press.(78) According to Iosif Dzialoshinsky, this (further) winnowing would lead also to a more sharply-polarized product:
You have four kinds of newspapers [at present]. One is for elites; then it's quality publications, mass publications, and the yellow press. Only two kinds will survive: the ones aimed at the elite, and the mass newspapers. There will be tabloid papers of the kind that Komsomolskaya Pravda wants to be. And ultimately we'll have just a few publications for intellectuals, and many, many tabloid papers.
To this market-oriented perspective had to be added the implications for press functioning of the "new underdevelopment" afflicting post-Soviet Russia. Newspapers found it difficult to deliver to subscribers at profitable rates -- and, given delays and breakdowns in distribution, even then. Social dislocation, furthermore, had spawned trends that press workers found worrisome : declining literacy, for example. "I really think the younger generation reads less than the older generation," said Irina Petrovskaya. "And not just less, but worse. I have a daughter in the fifth grade, and I've seen that kids the same age can hardly read. They really have problems, and they're ten years old!"
If the number and diversity of Russian newspapers seemed set to decline, it hardly seemed questionable that one of the survivors would be Izvestia. The second-oldest Russian press institution had perhaps the rockiest ride of all the mainstream dailies in the early 1990s - exceeded only by its more fissiparous brother, Pravda. The corporate takeover and defenestración of its chief editor in 1997, followed by the economic crisis of 1998 that forced it to shed half its staff and merge with Russkiy Telegraf, were only the most recent rounds in the Izvestia saga. But they brought the paper, and many others in Russia, to the brink of disappearance as a recognizable institution. A closer analysis of Izvestia's post-Soviet experience clarifies many of the more general issues and controversies that have occupied us in the first part of this monograph.
1. The title is a play on V.I. Lenin's pamphlet, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (1904).
2. Anthony Beevor cites a macabre example of Stalinism's porousness, drawn (appropriately) from the battle of Stalingrad. In November 1942, Soviet forces encircled the German Sixth Army and various Axis forces in a great pincer movement, cutting them off from the rest of Army Group Don. "The most surprising aspect of this time of [Soviet] triumph," writes Beevor, "is the number of deserters from the Red Army who continued to cross the lines to the surrounded German Army, thus entering a trap." According to one Soviet secret-police officer, "These Russians were most astonished to hear from the Germans the same story that had been put out by their own propaganda. They had not believed that the Germans were encircled." Beevor, Stalingrad (London: Penguin, 1998), p. 286. Beevor attributes the error to "a mixture of ignorance and mistrust." Enforced ignorance is certainly an accepted feature of the Stalinist system. And if Stalinism was "totalitarian" anywhere, it was on the Soviet battlefronts in World War II. But the reference to "mistrust" points to the cracks in the Stalinist propaganda system. Alternative channels of communication sustained skepticism about regime policies and messages; alternative (in this case erroneous) depictions of reality circulated; and low-level collective action -- in the form of desertion -- apparently resulted.
3. There was near-unanimity among interview subjects about the characteristics of this classical model, though greater division over its prominence today in the face of mounting western influence. Iosif Dzialoshinsky, Russian-American Press and Information Centre: "The main difference is that for Western Europe or the West at large, journalism is a profession. In Russia, this is a mission. A Russian journalist in a small village could make as little as \\$30 a month, but he'll write daily, and continue writing, thinking he can change the world somehow. ... This missionary feeling which you often find among Russian journalists you won't find in the West." Victor Davidoff, Globus Press Syndicate: "Until now, Russian journalists have seen themselves as a missionary, as a teacher who ought to teach readers what is good and what is bad: to give his opinion. They don't see themselves as information-providers." Andrei Richter, Media Law and Policy Centre, Moscow University: "They [journalists] believe they have the right and the knowledge to formulate public opinion and to shape the public's mind." Yassan Zassoursky, Dean, Moscow School of Journalism: "Most of our journalists think that they should point to what you should do, how you should view [something]. They wouldn't say, 'Mr. Yeltsin today concluded an important treaty.' They would always and obligatorily say, "Mr. Yeltsin did it well or did it badly." ... I think an American journalist would say, 'Just say it, say it!'"
4. Vitaly Korotich, "The High Cost of a 'Free' Press," Perspective, 8: 1 (September-October 1997).
5. For overviews and case-studies of the Soviet and post-Soviet press, in addition to the sources cited in the preceding note, see: Elena Androunas, Soviet Media in Transition: Structural and Economic Alternatives (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993); Jamey Gambrell, "Moscow: The Front Page," The New York Review of Books, 8 October 1992; Doug Haddix, "Glasnost, the media and professionalism in the Soviet Union," Gazette 46 (1990), pp. 155-73; Peter Krug, "Civil Defamation Law and the Press in Russia: Private and Public Interests, the 1995 Civil Code, and the Constitution," Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, 13: 3 (1995), pp. 847-79, and 14: 2 (1996), pp. 297-342; Paul Lendvai, The Bureaucracy of Truth: How Communist Governments Manage the News. (London: Burnett Books, 1981); Brian McNair, Glasnost, Perestroika and the Soviet Media (London and New York: Routledge, 1991); Ellen Mickiewicz, Split Signals: Television and Politics in the Soviet Union (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988); Anne Nivat, "The Vibrant Regional Media," Transition 2: 21 (18 October 1996); Reino Paasilinna, Glasnost and Soviet Television: A Study of the Soviet Mass Media and Its Role in Society from 1985-1991 (Helsinki: Finnish Broadcasting Company, Research Report 5/1995); Angus Roxburgh, Pravda: Inside the Soviet News Machine (New York: George Braziller, 1987); George Vachnadze, Secrets of Journalism in Russia: Mass Media under Gorbachev and Yeltsin (Commack, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 1992); and Ivan Zassoursky, "The First 5 Years of the New Russian Press," unpublished English translation of article originally published in Svobodnaya Muisl' no. 10 (1996), pp. 3-18.
6. There are various ways of transliterating from Cyrillic to Roman alphabets. I have tried to harmonize usage, including materials quoted from scholars' work and other published sources. The departure from strict adherence to the text seems to me offset by the convenience of uniform spelling. The plethora of names being spelled, moreover, may be daunting to readers unfamiliar with the dramatis personae of Russian media and politics. I thus recite institutional affiliations at regular points throughout.
7. Ivan Zassoursky also graduated from MSU, and described receiving "a very conservative form of education which more resembles a philosophy faculty than a school of journalism. And that is the right thing, actually. Because you're not trained to be a professional. You're given some basic rules on how to behave, and some basic advice; but you're turned into an educated person who can form his or her own opinion."
8. Richter: "I would divide the classes taught here into more practical classes and more theoretical classes. The practical classes have not been changed. New technologies have been added, but that's it. Fact-finding and reporting and camera-work and stuff like that. As for the theoretical ones, to a large extent the faculty speaks about the same problems as they did ten years ago. They do change rhetoric, but it's basically the same thing. And the students are typically bored of such courses. There are exceptions, but it's more likely than not that it will be old stuff that has not changed in the last ten years."
9. Andrei Richter claimed that "responsibility became the last word in the lexicon of journalists" at precisely the time the power of the authorities was most diminished: "Before that, it was 'responsibility' owing to party repression, and since that time journalists have had almost no fear. So responsibility was dropped, and unfortunately not many journalists have believed in it since. ... Journalism has become more formal since 1992, and more predictable; but I wouldn't say it has become more responsible."
10. "And now the new owners too don't like objectivity much," Zassoursky added.
11. "The joke that was doing the rounds last summer was a definition of pluralism. Pluralism, they say, is two ideas in one head." Rowland Lorimer, "What's the News in Russia?," Canadian Forum, June 1994.
12. Dmitry Babich: "In communist times, you really could write a letter to a newspaper and then some big boss, or even Brezhnev, would come to the city. They'd show him the newspaper where a woman had written, 'I'm handicapped and I can't get to my fifth-floor apartment,' and Brezhnev would say, 'Get busy with that. Do something.' The next day she moves into a new apartment. That was an unnatural situation, an absurd situation. It couldn't continue, and it doesn't continue."
13. Boris Kagarlitsky, The Thinking Reed (New York: Verso, 1987).
14. This intellectual homogeneity in some respects perpetuated patterns that were evident in 19th-century Russian intellectual life. A constant, for example, was the role of the tolstyi zhurnal ("fat journals"). "This kind of publication came into vogue with the easing of censorship after 1855," writes Richard Pipes. "Typically, it consisted of two parts, one belletristic, the other devoted to public concerns in the broadest sense of that word (politics, to the extent allowed by censorship, economics, sociology, science, technology and so on). Each journal espoused a philosophical-political line and appealed to a particular clientele. The polemics between them, waged in coded or 'aesopian' language to get by the censors, became for Russians a surrogate for open political debate. ... The 'fat journal' performed a unique service in the development in Russia of public opinion. It broadcast throughout the vast empire information and ideas which otherwise would have remained confined to the two capital cities, and by so doing created multiple networks linking widely scattered individuals inhabiting provincial cities and rural estates. ... Within a year after he came to power Lenin shut down all the non-Bolshevik 'fat journals,' no doubt because his keen political sense told him what danger they presented to absolute authority." Pipes, Russia Under the Old Regime (London: Penguin, 1995), pp. 264-65. The institution did, however, carry over to the Soviet era, where Novy Mir (which published Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962, among other coups) was perhaps the most widely-read and respected intellectual publication.
15. This passage is adapted from Chapter 1 of Adam Jones, The Press in Transition: A Comparative Study of Nicaragua, South Africa, Jordan, and Russia (Ph.D. dissertation, University of British Columbia, July 1999).
16. "They remained instruments," said Zassoursky, "but they were used by Gorbachev and the Communist Party to restructure Russian society and political life, to democratize it. So they were instruments, but instruments of democratization." Frances Foster likewise notes that "Even at the height of Gorbachev's glasnost reforms, the approved functions of the press were to communicate and facilitate central communist party and state directive[s] and ideology. Soviet leaders derived significant authority from control of information and greeted calls for the most minimal relaxation of restrictions with suspicion and hostility." Foster, "Izvestiia as a Mirror ...," p. 678.
17. Dmitry Babich: "I wouldn't say that the press destroyed [Gorbachev's] regime. His regime just ran out of everything. When, at the end of the twentieth century, you can't provide a city like Moscow with potatoes, that means your government must fall. Even if you have excellent relations with Margaret Thatcher, even if Reagan loves you and you are a Nobel Prize winner and a multimillion-bestselling writer -- if you don't provide the potatoes at the end of the twentieth century, you go!"
18. Golembiovsky quoted in Moskovsky Novosti, 8 March 1992 (CDSP, XLIV: 11 , p. 11).
19. Androunas puts it pithily: "'Collective newspapers' cannot be more efficient than the collective farms ..." Androunas, Soviet Media in Transition, p. 48.
20. Richter, like many other commentators, found the arrangement deeply unsatisfactory. "It's like a military regime, you know, when the generals want to run both the army and the country. And military regimes typically fail at economics. So probably there'll be the same consequence with the journalists: they will fail in the economics of the newspaper, and have to cede the economic powers to the civilians, so to speak. To the economists."
21. I do not mean by this that Russian newspapers were never produced under more arduous conditions (e.g., during the civil war or the world wars); but that the "establishment" press was always assured access to what state resources were available. The crisis of the post-Soviet era, and newspapers' quest for private sponsorship, are without precedent.
22. Foster, "Izvestiia as a Mirror ...," p. 685.
23. Korotich, "The High Cost of a 'Free' Press."
24. Rowland Lorimer, "What's the News in Russia?" Canadian Forum, June 1994, p. 5.
25. Paul Goble, "Former USSR: Analysis from Washington: Trends in Post-Communist Media," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty dispatch, 30 December 1996. Izvestia chief editor Oleg Golembiovsky said the circulation was "a little bit more" than 600,000 at the time of fieldwork in June 1997.
26. Dzhintsa derives from dzhintsy, Russian slang for "jeans": a reference to the de facto currency of many black-market deals conducted in Soviet times.
27. The pace of events in post-Soviet Russia sometimes militates against stability in the patron-client relations underpinning the system. Not only is the mobility of journalists greater than under the Soviets, but the sponsor of a given publication may change overnight. In such cases, further entrepreneurial effort may be called for. A journalist can act as a broker for old patrons seeking new clients, according to Boris Kagarlitsky: "What the journalists do is, they continue to work with the same clients [i.e., patrons], but this time as intermediaries. So somebody who works for Komsomolskaya Pravda calls the guy who works for Pravda Pyat, the new private communist paper, which is next door. They say, 'Guys, you know, I have a client who wants something to be printed, for such-and-such money. But my paper can't do it. Can you do it, and give me my ten percent of the payment?' So they switch it to Pravda; it's published there; and everybody gets his little share."
28. "End of a road for Russia?," 5 September 1998.
29. Vachnadze, Secrets of Journalism in Russia, p. 89.
30. In both countries as well, the forces of the state-turned-opposition were important determinants of at least some transitional press functioning: the Sandinista Front, obviously, in the case of Barricada; the Communist Party, as the dominant bloc in the Russian parliament, making its play for Izvestia from March to October 1992.
31. There are echoes here of the institutionalized role of tribal notables (and, less officially, system-friendly Islamist leaders) in the Jordanian regime. See the supplementary case-study.
32. Said Andrei Richter: "The policy of subsidies and tax relief is to a very large extent left to the discretion of the state authorities. By supporting certain newspapers, or ceasing to support other newspapers; by freezing bank accounts or redirecting the money or postponing the payments, they can punish the chief editor and make him understand that he's printing the wrong stories and should change his policies."
33. Foster, "Izvestiia as a Mirror ...," p. 720.
34. Foster, "Izvestiia as a Mirror," pp. 722-23.
35. Murray wrote scathingly that "The pretensions to objectivity, the declared aspirations to achieve high standards, and the sanctimonious protestations at outside interference characteristic of the 'democratic' media are hard to take seriously in the light of their voluntary betrayal during the election campaign of the most basic of journalistic ethics." John Murray, "No Truth in the News? Coverage by Izvestia of the 1996 Presidential Elections" (draft article, privately supplied).
36. Laura Belin also notes that "NTV earned a reputation for bold coverage during the Chechen war and was valued for its credibility with viewers. Before the [1996 election] campaign, NTV wore its opposition to the authorities as a badge of honor." Belin, "Owners Attracted by Power of Media", in "Politicization and Self-Censorship in the Russian Media."
37. Lorimer, "What's the News in Russia?," p. 6.
38. Andrei Richter: "There was an advertising boom around 1994 with all of these mainly pyramid schemes advertising themselves. They started collapsing, and with them this type of market collapsed."
39. On the "knock-and-drops" (the term is drawn from the South Africa case study, where such publications have similarly drawn "adspend" away from the daily press), see the comments of Victor Davidoff: "The Russian press is suffering a lot from newspapers given away for free and put in people's mailboxes. These newspapers get a lot of advertising money, and those that are smart include some information and basic news. This basic news satisfies, let's say, the news demands of 50 percent of the population."
40. "Taxation and Custom Duties", in "Media Regulation in the Russian Federation." Emphasis added.
41. For example, some of the glossier and better-funded Russian monthlies, based in Moscow and St. Petersburg, have chosen to print outside the country, usually in Finland. The quality of paper stock, printing, and transportation provided by the foreign firm tends to be beyond anything available nationally. This option is not open to any regional publication, to my knowledge.
42. Said Victor Davidoff, who has travelled extensively in the regions through his work with Globus Press Syndicate: "I think that very often, newspapers get this strange idea that they don't have to cover anything but local events. I think it derives from the old model of communist times, when a family was subscribing to two newspapers, a local newspaper and a central, Moscow newspaper. Right now, they subscribe to only one newspaper, usually a local one."
43. Laura Belin's assessment is similar: "The media in the Russian regions are as a rule more restricted than Moscow-based media outlets. ... Political elites keep journalists largely subservient through 'carrots' (offering loyal journalists subsidies and access to high officials) or 'sticks' (such as libel lawsuits or sending tax inspectors to investigate the owners of 'inconvenient' media outlets. ... Journalists have faced physical intimidation from the authorities in some regions, including the Republic of Tatarstan and Primorsky Krai. The media environment in some areas, such as Kabardino-Balkaria in the North Caucasus, has been compared to that found in the extremely restrictive Central Asian regimes." Belin, "Regional Media Even Less Free", in "Politicization and Self-Censorship in the Russian Media".
44. Belin, "Regional Media Even Less Free."
45. Perhaps convenience plays a role here: only a short move would be required from the mayor's offices overlooking the Moscow River, to the Kremlin nearby.
46. Andrei Richter: "Luzhkov and the mayor's office occupy a unique position in Russian economics and politics, because of the wealth of Moscow and the opportunities of the Mayor's office to gain enormous wealth. Luzhkov obviously has presidential ambitions, and therefore he tries to control the Moscow press in order to promote his candidacy, when need be, for the Kremlin job."
47. Belin, "Politicization and Self-Censorship," endnote 31. She notes that the chief editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets, Pavel Gusev, "was the city's minister of information from January 1992 to October 1997."
48. Laura Belin, "Russian Media Empires", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, updated 26 September 1997. In St. Petersburg, Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev has established a similar hold over the press, in the eyes of some commentators. See, e.g, Aleksandra Nevskaya, "Deprived of Speech and Sight," Novye Vremya, 6 April 1997 (CDSP, XLIX: 13 , p. 17).
49. Nicaragua under Somoza and South Africa during the last years of apartheid may provide a faint historical comparison.
50. Helen Womac, "Angry crowd mourns murdered reporter," The Vancouver Sun (from The Independent), 21 October 1994.
51. Malcolm Gray, "A nation in mourning," Maclean's, 13 March 1995.
52. Reuters dispatch in Moscow Times, 19 December 1996.
53. Yelena Rykovtseva, "Mass Media: In Anticipation of A Boom," Moskovsky Novosti, 15-22 June 1997 (CDPSP, XLIX: 25 , p. 12). The editors add: "The [putsch] reference is to Obshchaya Gazeta (Joint -- or Community -- Newspaper), a joint publication issued during the August 1991 coup attempt against Gorbachev by the staffs of 11 newspapers and magazines shut down by the short-lived coup government."
54. Quoted in Sophia Coudenhove, "Gazprom Buys 20% State in Top Daily," The Moscow Times, 5 October 1996.
55. Jean MacKenzie, "Editors Issue Ultimatum With a Threat to Strike," The Moscow Times, 5 January 1994.
56. Natasha Mileusnic, "Costs of Paper, Printing Pose Problem for Press," The Moscow Times, 7 February 1995.
57. Stephanie Baker-Said, "TV Advertising Sales, Ad Time Up in 1996," The Moscow Times, 4 March 1997.
58. For good appraisals of corporate influence over the press, see Anne Nivat, "Money, Power, and Media," Transition, 2: 21 (18 October 1996); Patricia Kranz, "Moscow's Media Czars," Business Week (International Edition), 10 February 1997; Marshall Ingwerson, "A Bear's Tale Makes Russian Media's Fur Fly," Christian Science Monitor, 11 February 1997; David Hoffman, "Powerful Few Rule Russian Mass Media," The Washington Post, 31 March 1997; Mark Whitehouse, "The Money Behind the News," The Moscow Times Business Review, 1 April 1997; Phil Reeves, "Russian Press Facing Threat to Free Speech," The Independent (UK), 18 April 1997; Floriana Fossato, "Russia: Press Freedom Vs. Shareholders' Rights -- Analysis," RFE/RL Newsline, 23 April 1997; Paul Goble, "Russia: Analysis From Washington -- Who Controls A Free Press?," RFE/RL Newsline, 23 April 1997; Yelena Rykovtseva, "Big Changes in Store for Russia's Newspapers," Post-Soviet Media Law & Policy Newsletter, no. 37 (13 June 1997); Vitaly Korotich, "The High Cost of a 'Free' Press," Perspective, 8: 1 (September-October 1997); Floriana Fossato, "Russia: Media, Money and Power -- An Analysis", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 26 September 1997; and Neela Banerjee, "Russia: Big Business Takes Over," Columbia Journalism Review, November/December 1997.
59. This was part of a broader pattern: in the Soviet Union (as in China and other state-socialist countries), "the workplace was a service-distribution node, not only for meals, but also for housing and medical care, in a way totally unfamiliar in the West." Downing, Internationalizing Media Theory, p. 115.
60. "Still most awkward partners," The Economist, 9 May 1998.
61. Belin, "Russian Media Empires".
62. As of late 1997, Berezovsky's LogoVAZ held a controlling share in Nezavisimiya Gazeta, and a stake in Ogonyok, as well as 37 percent of the shares in the independent TV-6 and a smaller stake in Russian Public Television (ORT).
63. The comments of Alexander Sychev, Izvestia foreign editor, were similar: "In the West, the person who does business in newspapers and the media is more or less independent from the government. Russia doesn't have this kind of businessman. Usually, the owners of a newspaper are bankers or oil magnates. And those businessmen are really dependent on the government. They subsist on government contracts and credits; they depend on preferential treatment from Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin, and the others."
64. In his excellent feature for The Moscow Times on "The Money Behind the News," Whitehouse wrote: "The new shareholders usually see newspapers either as a vehicle for self-promotion or, more subtly, as a powerful tool of influence which can be called into play should the need arise."
65. In a feature article on "The First 5 Years of the New Russian Press," Zassoursky argued: "For the people who controlled the process of concentration in the Russian press, the possibility of influencing public opinion was often sufficient cause to invest in one enterprise or another. ... Political influence gave them access to the distribution of resources (privatization) on such a scale that by comparison, the modest profits to be made from the Russian mass media seemed unimportant." Zassoursky, "The First 5 Years ..."
66. Belin, "Prospects for Development", in "Politicization and Self-Censorship in the Russian Media."
67. Laura Belin, "How Financial Dependence Slants News Coverage," in "Politicization and Self-Censorship in the Russian Media" <http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rumediapaper/financial.html>. Belin offers a dizzying example: "The auction of a 25 percent stake in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest sparked a 'bank war' that has been fought in competing Russian media outlets since July . Russian Public Television and Nezavisimiya Gazeta, under the influence of Boris Berezovsky, unleashed furious attacks against First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. They also attacked Oneximbank, which led the winning consortium for Svyazinvest. The network NTV and the newspaper Segodnya, both owned by Vladimir Gusinsky, did the same. Berezovsky and Gusinsky were reportedly involved in the losing bid for the Svyazinvest stake. Meanwhile, newspapers partly owned by Oneximbank vigorously defended Chubais and Nemtsov and retaliated with attacks against Berezovsky and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, who was considered close to Berezovsky ... When Yeltsin sacked Berezovsky from the Security Council in November 1997, the media reaction was entirely predictable. Commentators on Vremya and Itogi [news broadcasts] depicted Berezovsky as a departing hero and hinted that the dismissal could lead to grave consequences for Chubais and Nemtsov. In contrast, state-controlled Russian Television and newspapers funded by Oneximbank (Izvestia and Komsomolskaya Pravda) welcomed Berezovsky's ouster as a long-overdue step."
68. Dmitry Babich advanced a similar argument: "In some newspapers [control] is crude, but in many newspapers it's subtle. And many companies are getting clever enough not to be too aggressive about it. Because if you are too crude with the journalist, if you force him to write the articles that he doesn't want to, you will sooner or later ruin the newspaper's image in the eyes of the public. And you will waste the money that you've spent on the newspaper."
69. Belin, Media Squeezed by Market Realities", in "Politicization and Self-Censorship in the Russian Media."
70. Boris Kagarlitsky: "It's true! Berezovsky doesn't control Nezavisimiya Gazeta. He can veto certain materials, that's all. He cannot simply say, 'Publish this or that.' Because Tretyakov is a very strong editor. And he knows that whatever happens, he has to maintain the image of his newspaper. ... The very fact that Nezavisimiya Gazeta is basically independent, but somehow you can still apply your influence -- that makes it very important also. He [Berezovsky] can manipulate that."
71. If it existed; that is, if the newspaper in question was not part of the blooming of new publications under conditions of liberalization.
72. Of Nezavisimiya Gazeta, for example, Boris Kagarlitsky said: "It doesn't have that many readers, it has a limited circulation, but it has a huge number of writers. And the readers, who are mostly intellectuals, are very enthusiastic readers." Kagarlitsky, like other interview subjects, spoke highly of Nezavisimiya even under Boris Berezovsky's sponsorship. He mentioned specifically its responsiveness to its constituency: "The opinion of these readers shifted in recent years from being very, almost ultra-liberal [i.e., 'neo-liberal'?], to more left-of-centre. And the newspaper shifted with the audience, which for me is almost an ideal case."
73. "Where no news is bad news," The Economist, 20 September 1997.
74. Bohlen, "'Young Communist' Wins Readers Under Capitalism," The New York Times, 27 January 1993. Tigran Vardanian buttressed Bohlen's assessment: "Those guys [at MK] are so confident in themselves that they do not give any serious discounts, even to advertising agencies. Which means they are so good, or have so much advertising, that they don't need advertising agencies to work for them."
75. All quotes from Geoffrey York, "Goodbye Pravda, hello Speed Info," The Globe and Mail, 16 November 1996.
76. "I just don't see how it can be done," agreed Dmitry Babich. "Because everyone has his own standards. Who's going to be the judge? ... I don't want to give the people who control the media another tool to control it. Let it be the way it is now, rather than adding some organization to the list of organizations which already try to control the media. ... I just can't imagine what it would be like if there was an association which tried to set standards. A lot of people would immediately say that this is the enemy; some others -- a minority -- will say it's a friend; it will just be a big mess."
77. Laura Belin also writes: "Since no one political or financial group has a media monopoly, there is, in the view of one Russian journalist, 'a peculiar freedom of information.' If one reads half a dozen newspapers a day and watches a variety of television networks, one gets a fairly accurate picture of the news." Belin, "Politicization and Self-Censorship in the Russian Media" ("Prospects for Development").
Copyright Adam Jones, 1998-2000. Excerpted from The Press in Transition: A Comparative Study of Nicaragua, South Africa, Jordan, and Russia, Ph.D. dissertation, University of British Columbia, July 1999.