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The Mass Media


The mass media is perhaps one of the most developed and effective structures of civil society in today’s Russia. Its liberalization was initiated by Gorbachev’s glasnost and was finally institutionalized by the Law on the Press of 1990 that, effectively, ended the era of censorship. Freedom of speech, uncensored thought, pluralism of opinions, and the right to search for, exchange and publish all the information that is of interest to citizens – these liberal principles that yesterday were considered completely unthinkable in Russia are now gradually taking root here.  

Photo: nashpoezd.narod.u

Kiosks are full of the widest variety of printed matter – from serious to comic, political, and erotic —for the most refined taste and the fattest wallet. The informational panorama is now incomparably much fuller and broader than it was under communism. At the same time, however, readers are bogged down with a plethora of useless, empty and socially insignificant information.

It is hard to estimate the number of publications accurately, since many newspapers and magazines die out soon after they appear, while the circulation volumes of others rise or fall. According to official statistics, by the start of the twenty-first century there were about 21,000 newspapers, more than 10,000 magazines, 2,500 non-state and about 100 state-run television and radio companies, 2,000 radio stations, and over 630 Russian Internet information outlets. 

But the new horizons that have opened up are not without clouds. New times give rise to new problems, and freedom of media outlets remains constricted by their financial dependence on their owners or sponsors, such as state structures or private financial and industrial corporations. In the 1990s monopolization of the media by the government was replaced by monopolization of them by large financial and industrial groups, each of which wanted to have its own powerful informational-propagandistic mouthpiece – a press organ, and sometimes even a television channel. In the harsh clan fighting over the division of property and power, the press was used to advertise or discredit, promote or neutralize political figures and ideological concepts.

Ironically, printed materials during the Soviet period had often greater clout and were often more efficacious than the post-Soviet media in helping citizens to resolve problems. Criticism in Soviet newspapers was strictly regulated and dosed, but if articles appeared “revealing isolated shortcomings,” then the authorities always took measures to severely punish the guilty parties.

Today’s critical newspaper articles in most cases do not produce any consequences, with the exception of the problems that arise for journalists who are forced to defend themselves in court on charges of calumny and personal insult. Nevertheless, the role of the press in the reform process is extremely significant, and without today’s sharp, caustic, and at times shocking newspapers and magazines, with their sensations and revelations, it would be hard to imagine contemporary Russia.

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