On Television Brainwashing

It’s one thing to talk about censorship and a lacking freedom of the press – it’s altogether another item to talk about aggressively using media for the dissemination of propaganda. In today’s Washington Post, Masha Lipman has an interesting discussion about how the forms and methods of state media use have changed under the Putin regime, and what it means for the public’s perception of current affairs in Russia. She also argues that Medvedev and Putin may eventually come to a struggle over the power of TV…

During Putin’s tenure, television broadcasting was honed to perfection — as a tool to shape public opinion. Coverage of political and public affairs is now tightly controlled through a coordinated effort of the national channels’ top managers and Kremlin aides. The result is that any event, person, group or movement may be boosted or played down in the public eye in a way that would best suit the Kremlin’s desires and designs; anyone deemed an adversary of the government may be discredited or vilified.

Polls indicate that the public is highly responsive to television brainwashing — whether the campaigns are against Georgia, Ukraine or the West, or are intended to influence voting preferences. In contrast to Soviet times, the government’s most effective media tools are also highly profitable. Each of the two biggest channels reaches almost all Russian households. While stations don’t compete in news coverage — news shows differ little from channel to channel — other competition for viewers and advertisers is fierce. The result: first-class soap operas and other entertainment programs that keep people glued to their screens. Advertisers, attracted to large audiences, eagerly commit their budgets to state-controlled television.This business model and the controlled political content are inseparable and mutually beneficial. The Kremlin-designed television diet is easily digested: Bland information is supplemented by exciting entertainment shows. As he completed his second term, Putin granted special letters of commendation to the top managers of the national channels.The government has radically curtailed broadcast freedom, but it does not totally control speech. Some broadcast, print and online outlets with smaller audiences have maintained relatively independent editorial lines, which serves to let off steam. These outlets may create an appearance of media freedom, but they are tightly insulated from national television, effectively marginalized and kept politically irrelevant.