May 12 2017
Written by Marina Galkina
Russian media managers see the state’s increasing attempts to control the media as the main trend in communications in Russia. The restriction of and influence on media companies’ activities take place not only through direct political influence, but also by means of economic policy (e.g., import substitution, state support).
How will the state support the media industry and how is the media legislation likely to change? These were among the questions we asked leading media companies’ top-managers in the project “The Russian media as industry of production and transmission of digital content”. The project was carried out in 2015-2016 by the Department of Media Theory and Economics of the Faculty of Journalism of Lomonosov at Moscow State University. About 50 top managers of the largest Russian media companies representing different segments of the industry took part in the expert interviews.
Eighty-five percent of the top managers considered that state regulation of different media segments will change during the next 5−10 years. Top-managers noted several different areas where strengthening of the state influence on media could take place. Qualitative analysis of the respondents’ answers shows that they considered influence coming from both political and economic factors. Political factors affecting media regulation concern both external and internal policy.
Firstly, there are limitations related to protecting the domestic media market as a reaction to the current geopolitical situation and economic sanctions. For example, the Foreign Investments to Media Act adopted in 2014 and put in force in the beginning of 2016 limited the share of foreign investors in any Russian mass media company to 20%. Furthermore, it prohibited foreigners from founding mass media organizations or companies in Russia. According to the respondents, in addition to preventing the administrative influence of foreign owners to Russian journalists, these changes can limit mass media freedom and competition in the media market. Several respondents believed that limiting foreign investments in mass media would also affect glossy magazines and entertainment segments in the future.
The respondents’ assumptions made in 2015 proved to be correct. In the summer of 2016, the State Duma discussed the possible adoption of an act preventing foreigners from measuring the channels’ audiences. De-facto, this would mean prohibiting the activities of one single company, TNS (included in the Kantar group, a research division of the British holding WPP), whose ratings both television channels and advertisers use.
Secondly, top-managers identified goals related to the promotion of state interests. As the system of informational support of a country and its citizens is a part of the defence system, respondents believed that the state will address these issues. This does not imply direct regulation and control of all the media content in the country, but it does mean granting some media (TASS, VGTRK) relative priority and exclusive rights to state information. According to the respondents, the state is likely to continue to actively create and promote its own information resources. This can be seen in the state’s increased participation in the internet news presentation. For example, Moscow city government, according to one of the respondents, “has arranged a crazy number of web-sites” and district papers and began to produce journalistic content regarding its own affairs. Thus, the city government changed the agenda of Yandex news and other news aggregators. Overall, media representatives see themselves as reacting to media-political decision-making in a “state-driven media policy” (Vartanova 2012), instead of viewing themselves as active agents in the sphere of media policy.
The third direction concerned the implementation of journalists’ liability for information distribution. The respondents considered that the state would strengthen its control over information distribution by journalists. The consequences of this were mixed; on the one hand, this would, according to the respondents, lead to less false information. On the other hand, the respondents believed that the state control would become more pronounced. These prognoses have partially been proven to be accurate. For example, the editing managers of the largest independent Russian media holding RBC were fired in May 2016. Multiple informed sources claimed that the Kremlin’s dissatisfaction with RBC’s publications was the reason behind this action, particularly with respect to investigations regarding Putin’s relatives and the “Panama papers”.
Fourthly, the interviewed media managers mentioned combating extremism and terrorism. Nowadays, the prohibition (or limitation) on distribution of extremist information or information unsuitable for certain age groups can be considered as one the main restrictions for the media. Respondents considered that such restrictions would be strengthened. This has already been seen in practice; a bill regarding banning propagation of suicide has been suggested to the State Duma. The bill was drafted as a response to material encouraging teenagers to commit suicide in the social media site VKontakte in the spring of 2016. The bill suggests adding to the Russian Criminal Code a new article 110.1, which would set forth liability for propagating suicide by means of persuasion, bribery, fraud, formation of attractive representations of suicide, including via mass media and the Internet.
At the same time, technical developments undermine such restrictions. According to some respondents, this fight of the government is a wasted attempt to control what “already cannot be controlled”. For example, an oppositional media website, Grani.ru, was banned in March 2014 upon the demand of the General Prosecutor’s Office due to materials and appeals to illegal actions and participation in non-approved mass events. However, Grani.ru is still available thanks to mirror-pages.
In contrast, when it comes to economic factors, the respondents assess the possible strengthening of state regulation positively. The respondents singled out the following directions of the economic regulation.
- State support of federal and regional media (primarily, the print media) in the form of grants and subsidies.
- Import substitution could, according to the respondents, positively influence the advertising market, as “new trademarks will need promotion, the audience will get used to paying for this, and the legislation on protection of intellectual property will actually start working”.
- Restrictions on foreign investments may have a positive effect; according to many respondents, income from taxes on advertising of media co-owned by foreign investors will increase the budget funds. At the same time, respondents agree that the state restrictions should consider both general tendencies of the market as well as tendencies in consumer priorities.
According to legislation amendments and responses of the media top managers, protection of the domestic market and promotion of the state interests are important elements of the state media policy. No other important actors can be singled out on a political level; the media market players react to the ready solutions provided by the state, but cannot influence or determine the “issues”. Thus, the media industry maintains its reactive role.
Galkina, M. & Lehtisaari, K. (2016). Прогноз изменения государственного регулирования российских СМИ. In: Mediascope 4/2016. http://mediascope.ru/2243
Vartanova E. (2012). The Russian media model in the context of post-Soviet dynamics. In: Hallin D. & Mancini P. (Eds.) Comparing media systems beyond the Western world. NY, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 119–142.
Marina Galkina is a Researcher at the Problem Research Laboratory for Integrated Studies of Current Issues of Journalism, Lomonosov Moscow State University.