Seminar: Active Media Spaces: Dialogues on Russian Media, Culture and Institutions, St. Petersburg 19-20 January 2017

The seminar discussions concentrate on the existing as well as new emerging fields and forums for freedom of expression from new generation online platforms to hybridized cultural and media institutions to semi-legal or sub-cultural media practices such as hacking. What kind of media agency and authority is promoted though these fields and forums and how they are regulated? The programme includes a roundtable ”Media Literacy and Media Education in Russia Today”, which brings together media professionals and academics. The official seminar language is English, but questions can also be raised in Russian.

Venue: The Finnish Institute in St. Petersburg (Ul. Bolshaya Konyushennaya 8)

Thursday 19 January 2017

13:00 Start of the seminar: welcome words

13:30-15:00     Panel I

Anna Litvinenko (Freie Universitet, Berlin): User Comment Sections on Leading News Websites in Russia: Results from a Comparative Study of 15 Post-Soviet Countries

Markku Kangaspuro (University of Helsinki): My History Exhibition and Russian Identity

15:30-17:00 Panel II

Marina Galkina (Moscow State University): Media Foresight in Russia: Changes and Challenges

Valery Nechai (Ekho Moskvy, St. Petersburg) and Dmitry Goncharov (HSE): Censorship in Russia: How Russian Twitter Sees It

Svetlana Bodrunova (St.Petersburg State University): Discussions About Migrants on Twitter: Russia in Comparative Perspective

17:00-18:00 Discussion with Margarita Kuleva (HSE, St. Petersburg): St. Petersburg creative field and new spaces of expression (via Skype)

Friday 20 January 2017

9:30-11:00 Panel III

Vlad Strukov (University of Leeds): Transgressive media: Towards a re-consideration of Russian media

Jussi Lassila (University of Helsinki): Sputnik i Pogrom: Oppositional Nationalism and Alternative Media in Russia

Saara Ratilainen (University of Helsinki): City Magazines and the Politics of the Platform

11:15-12:45 Panel IV

Liudmila Sivetc (Univeristy of Turku): Three Stories about the Roskomnadzor

Katja Lehtisaari (University of Helsinki): Media Policy and Social Media in Russia

Kamilla Nigmatullina (St.Petersburg State University): Local media in Russian Cities as a Tool for Creating Local Communities

14:00-16:00 Roundtable: Media Education and Media Literacy in Russia Today

Diana Kachalova (Novaya Gazeta, St. Petersburg)

Valery Nechai (Ekho Moskvy, St. Petersburg)

Nikolai Donskov (Saint-Petersburg Humanitarian University)

Mikhail Tyurkin (Rosbalt, St. Petersburg)

16:00-16:30 Closing Discussion

Political Capital and Room for Manoeuvre in Todayʼs Russia

Jussi Lassila
Oct 18 2016

Russiaʼs political situation does not provide much hope for the countryʼs democratic development in the near future. As the Ukraine crisis evolved into a serious international crisis since 2014, the Kremlinʼs hardened stance towards dissent voices became tangible. Indeed, from the viewpoint of Russian domestic politics, the annexation of Crimea can be seen as a pinnacle of the authoritarian counter-strike that the Kremlin implemented after the mass protest movement of 2011-12. And, as the data of President Putinʼs public ratings demonstrate, it was the Crimea which ultimately recovered the declining legitimacy of the regime.

Russiaʼs political and societal development is an irrevocably moving target, not least because of its growing dependence on one man. Thus, it is challenging to provide estimations on what will happen if there will be no more Putin. Will there be more freedom, or is Russia moving towards a new militant authoritarian regime for which Putin is simply paving the way? In terms of the data concerning Russiansʼ weak trust in societal and political institutions except the president, we can certainly assert that changes will happen when the major political instance of trust is gone. At the same time, Russiaʼs deepening international isolation and declining economy keeps the target moving. Russiaʼs latest parliamentary election in September demonstrated that under the current presidential authoritarianism the role of Duma will be even more symbolic than in the previous term preceded by the mass protests. Now the major headache for the regime was an extraordinarily low turnout. While it is generally important for authoritarian regimes to keep people away from politics, it is equally important to demonstrate the regimeʼs popular support. In this regard the regimeʼs election performance was not very convincing.

It is the regimeʼs popular support which becomes intriguing in the situation of declining economy. Since the previous avenues for improving cosumerism are deteriorating, the Kremlinʼs hardened authoritarian stance, media propaganda against the West as well as budgetary prioririties for the sake of military at the cost of social and education sectors can be seen as central means in legitimizing the current political line with the help of a war mentality. However, as the turnout of the parliamentary election showed, the given mobilization appears to be sparse for demonstrating active support for the regime. On the other hand, this support should not be too active either.

The same kind of chop and change can be seen in the regimeʼs attitude towards numerous patriotic and nationalistic volunteers in the case of Crimea and Ukraine. After the period of patriotic and nationalistic euphoria of 2014 it appears that by 2016 all independent-like actors of the pro-Donbass issue have been marginalized. In other words, the period of patriotic mobilization of 2014 has returned to the stage of de-mobilization. In terms of the latter, it is the Russian official state media which has been the central tool of this intended de-mobilization; keep the peopleʼs minds mobilized for the regime but de-mobilized in terms of any independent nationalistic manoeuvres that the state propaganda might signal. A further challenge is the time; for how long people are willing to stay de-mobilized along with the official propaganda. What will be after Ukraine and Syria?

I would argue that it is the Kremlinʼs uncertainty which largely explains the existing plurality and dissent in the Russian public discussion left for the Internet. Of course, in light of arrests of bloggers, lawsuits and of closing various websites one could say that the regimeʼs control over dissenting voices is becoming more systematic. Yet, the existence and activity of the oppositionʼs front man, Alexei Navalʼnyi, on the web – not to mention the obvious harm that his numerous corruption revelations have caused for the Kremlin – raise interesting questions. It seems that the Russian court has hitherto appeared to be an ineffective tool of his political elimination in light of numerous lawsuits against him. Or, perhaps the regimeʼs inability to silence him via court shows some positive signs of creeping autonomy of Russiaʼs legal system.

Whatever the case may be, recurrent lawsuits and other forms of administrative violence demonstrate that Navalʼnyiʼs exclusion from the official political participation is not enough for the Kremlin. While having 1,66 million followers on Twitter and being the most cited blogger in Russia in September 2016 (53 000 references to his blog in a month), the Kremlin has good grounds to be dissatisfied with his marginalization from political participation. The dilemma is that Navalʼnyi is simply too big for a smooth elimination. And anything which appears to be less smooth for the Kremlinʼs status-quo is a risk which should be avoided.

It remains an open question whether Navalnyiʼs political capital is big enough for the Kremlinʼs political risk in silencing him against the worsening economic and social situation. As a mirror image for the regimeʼs dependence on Putin, a problem for Russiaʼs opposition is its visible reliance on Navalʼnyi and his political capital.

Seminar: Russian Media Today, 2 May 2016

Side Event of the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day at the University of Helsinki Main Building, Auditorium XIV, Unioninkatu 34

The seminar focuses on freedom of expression and its limitations in Russian media from the perspectives of academic research and journalistic practices. Special attention is paid to the existing practices and new forms and modes of expression and media regulation in the context of changing political conditions and public discourses. The speakers are scholars of Russian and East-European media, culture and society and experienced journalists from Russia and Finland.

12:00-14:00 Session I
Chair: Markku Kangaspuro (University of Helsinki)
Dmitry Yagodin (University of Tampere): Social Media and Freedom of Expression
Katja Lehtisaari (University of Helsinki ): Freedom of Speech and Media Regulation
Saara Ratilainen (University of Helsinki ): ”Quality Media” vs Amateur Media

14:00-14:15 Coffee

14:15-16:30 Session II
Chair: Jussi Lassila (University of Helsinki)
Nikolai Donskov, Journalist, University Lecturer, St. Petersburg
Valerii Nechai, First Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Radio Ekho Moskvy, St. Petersburg Branch
Kerstin Kronvall, Foreign Correspondent, the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE

Register at:

Contact information:

Media Regulation and the Position of Commercial Media in Russia

Katja Lehtisaari
Oct 3 2016

The Russian media environment is influenced by global tendencies like the rise of digital media and changes in media use, and by more specifically Russian developments in media markets and media policy and regulation. As many researchers have stated, the Russian media model can be divided into two main formats: commercial capital and capital owned or manipulated by the state. At the beginning of the 2000s, it seemed that the position of privately owned media and media as business strengthened compared with the position of government-owned or subsidized media. At that time, the country was among the most rapidly growing advertising markets in the world. It seems that the equilibrium has after the years of marketization track in the beginning of the 2000s shifted towards the stronger position of the state-controlled side of the dichotomous model. There are both market and political factors influencing this development.

The political factor includes media policy and regulation. Media regulation is based on the 1991 Mass Media Law. Once introduced, the law was regarded one of the most liberal press laws in the world. At the same time, several other laws restrict media freedom, among them the anti-terrorism legislation and regulation on children’s information security. According to some estimates, the volume and restrictiveness of media legislation in Russia has increased in 2010s. Policy interventions introduced uncertainty into the commercial media’s operational environment because of several rapid, unexpected changes. Among these are the law on advertising on cable TV channels in 2015 and the law on foreign ownership that came into force in 2016. The first one bans advertising for those cable channels that do not show at least 75 % domestic productions. According to the second one, the foreign ownership share of media companies is limited to no more than 20 % of total shares. In response to this law, some foreign owners started to reduce their share in Russian companies in 2015. Withdrawals can have also had economic motivations, as in the case of Finnish Sanoma, which, during recent years, diminished its shares in Russian media companies.

When it comes to market factors, especially the traditional print media industry has suffered from the downturn in economics, mainly due to shrinking figures in advertising. In 2015, according to the figures of Russian association of communication agencies (AKAR), the advertising in media in overall fall by 10 %, compared with 2014, while the fall in newspaper advertising was as high as 29 % and in TV, 14 %. Thus, while remaining the central media platform, also TV suffers from the loss of advertising revenues. Internet was the only media sector with the growth of advertisement in 2015 (+ 15 %).

The newspaper market, which, in recent decades, has become more diverse in terms of the number of outlets, is under pressure also due to digital transition and changing media use. The reading of paid, traditional papers has fallen the most radically while free newspapers such as Metro have strengthened their readership numbers. Newspapers are still relatively important sources of local and regional information even as their role at the national level has diminished. The rise of digital media represents a mixed picture, in part because of growing political pressures and because the Internet has proved to be a challenging environment for finding new sustainable business models.

Based on the market and political development, the operational environment has become more challenging for small, independent commercial media and for foreign-owned media, while large media holdings continue to grow, partly through mergers and acquisitions. Part of the media business is owned by the so-called oligarchs or business tycoons, who may have other business and political interests besides the media.

It seems that the development in Russian media is towards increased manoeuvring by the state or stakeholders near to it. Based on expert opinions and recent research reports, the latest developments in the media market and media regulation seem to lean towards the continuation of ownership concentration on the hands of wealthy Russian owners while the number of non-instrumental commercial publishers, especially foreign investors, is diminishing. However, much depends on how the government and other political actors, including influential oligarchs, decide to move forward and how the economic situation affects the media market in the long term.

In this media environment, online media has both the potential to become a stronger arena for public discussion or to become more restricted. In economic terms, however, this media sector has the best prospects regarding advertising income at least in the short term.

This entry was published in Baltic Rim Economies, issue 2/2016, 20 May 2016. Available at