August 28, 2017

GOROKH | On Free Press in Russia

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When the Iron Curtain fell and waves of Russian emigrants washed upon the American shore, a famous musician you’ve never heard of wrote a song titled “Good Bye America.” It is about the America that existed in the collective unconsciousness of the deprived Soviet population, a country that achieved happiness via abundance and freedom. It is about how this imaginary kingdom collapsed once faced with its real-world counterpart.

Sometimes I think Americans never experienced this healthy disillusionment in regards to their Cold War buddy: few of them ever traveled East, and russian pop culture never made it into the states, unable to compete with Hollywood. In their views on modern Russia, U.S. citizens don’t have much to go on other than event- and gore-driven journalism.  For example, you may have heard in that 30-second segment on The Daily Show that a journalist was killed or blogger was sent to prison. It sounds bad and, indeed, every such occurrence is a disgrace to the nation. But how much can one infer from those incidents about an issue as systemic as freedom of press? I want to take this particular example and dispel some potential misconceptions.

When thinking about the issue of free press, we must address two separate issues: firstly, how much effort does it take for a motivated individual to get access to reliable information and diverse opinion; and, secondly, how informed the typically unmotivated population really is.

When it comes to availability, I submit that Russia does not lag too far behind the West. You can buy a boring newspaper that can output an in-depth 30-pager on the corruption schemes at a top university and Putin’s daughter’s involvement in it.  You can subscribe to social network groups with millions of followers that produce more digestible tweetlike news bits and mock the government with the power of the meme. One of the biggest radio stations in Moscow casually invites most outspoken opposition to blast Putin and his underlings, all available to you during your insufferable morning commute, if you are willing to listen.  All of these organizations will occasionally clash with government officials, but it is extremely rare for the state to aggressively interfere with their operation: all the sources I use personally have stayed afloat and untouched even as the screws of censure have tightened steadily since  2011.

You might have noticed that one item I am leaving out of this summary is television, the medium of the passive and disinterested. Controlled by the government, television tragically has a near-monopoly on facts and thought:  for 60 percent of Russians (versus 25 percent of Americans), TV is the preferred and often the only way of finding out what is going on.

But government-controlled TV may not be what you think it is. Perhaps you are picturing Orwell’s Ministry of Truth public announcements or Hugo Chavez ranting live for hours straight on the villainy of American imperialism. I want you instead  to think of Fox News. The analogy is surprisingly apt and I suspect not coincidental.

The similarities are numerous. In news reports, anchors never really have to outright lie when relaying facts to the population. Careful and subtle omission is the only tool required to perform a remote lobotomy, and only amateurs resort to reporting factually false information. Then there is a Bill O’Reilly-type show where the host would give his personal take on the recent events in a pseudo-intellectual manner that makes you feel you’re smart for following his convoluted conspiratorial explanations.

But a personal favorite TV gimmick of mine is the  panel discussion — whoever invented this genre was a genius! You can present your radical viewpoint as moderate by inviting to the show someone outright insane and you can pretend you are being fair to the other side by inviting them to participate, and then cutting them off after five seconds. You don’t need to act unprofessionally by making unbased claims — you can instead let your guests do the job. Finally, what can be better for ratings than the engrossing drama of spit-n-shout arguments which are oftentimes misconstrued  as debate? The crazy thing is, if you listen long enough, even while disagreeing with every word and making fun of moderator’s style choices, you will walk away with your point of view nevertheless ever so slightly shifted; like uranium radiation, propaganda poisons you regardless of whether or not you choose to believe in it.

The bottom line is that information in Russia is abundant but unwanted. And the main obstacle to improving freedom of press is not the imprisoned bloggers but the pathological and irredeemable ignorance and addiction to television exhibited by  my compatriots. Chances are, neither of those things sound foreign to you, reader.


Artur Gorokh is a graduate student studying applied mathematics at Cornell University. He can be reached at Radically Moderate appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

  • bobruyskiy

    westerners who think they have “freedom” in the west
    all the while russians are suffering under tyranny of stifling dissent and propaganda
    are living in a fantasy world

    here is thought experiment:
    1. state-owned “1st channel” on russian tv or RT, for that matter,
    and let’s say
    2. cnn/msnbc or VOA/BBC

    you think the latter are telling the truth and only truth, and their journalists and editors are completely free?

    i mean, dear westerners, if you name-calling russian media outlets “propaganda” and are claiming that russia does not allow “freedom of speech”, let’s be fair and look at your own reality:
    1. likes of VOA or BBC are controlled by the state (taxpayers government) and thus are propaganda by default
    2. corporate media is beholden to its owners/shareholders: it is the same either in the west or in russia
    3. media in russia may not be “free” by western standards, but western media – being controlled by liberal-progressive-pro-globalism political correctness and cultural-marxism-social-justice agenda – are, of course, not free either

    so, yes, russia may not be free: but it is better to be ruled by OUR people, than by western corporations or governments

    yours truly, ordinary russian citizen
    thank you

    • Airman48

      Nobody’s media East or West is free of Bias and the sublities of political manipulation. I see it all the time on CNN, CNBC and Fox when I bother to watch it which is not that often because as someone who has been intensely interested in Politics and History for many years.

      I rely mostly on my own aquired knowlege from many decades of study from different sources so I’m not easily exploitable as so many other seem to be.

      I know better than to rely on just one source of information OR one media, particulary when sources like Television broadcast news is so extremely easy to manipulate since so many hundreds of Millions of people watch it.

      I grew up in an age where you had to actually go to Libraries and READ to get in depth knowledge and information and I haven’t abandoned that old habbit of mine just because information is so easy to get via the Internet or Satellite or Cable News. Indedd. I’ve learned that the more EASY it is to get information, the less likely it is to be accurate or entirely truthful. Most ot the time valid information is not easy to get and has to be sought for and researched however in Viewing Russian news I experienced a revulsion that is hard to describe.

      The Blatant LIES and obvious Disinformation propagated by Russian media that we see in the West such as RT (Russia Today) Sputnik etc is breathtaking. It reminds of the Soviet Propaganda I used to litsen to from Radio Moscow on Shortwave radio 35 years ago. Vladimir Posner was the announcer back then and he used the same methods of propaganda used today. The difference is that the Russians have brought these methods into the Information Age using the Internet, social media and satellite communications.

      The Russian Dictator in the Kremlin is his own worst enemy. Russian propaganda is so mind numbingly STUPID and UNBELIEVABLE that people just shake their heads in amazement. And for desert he throws in Russian trolls with their pathetic attempts to impersonate and pose as citizens of Western countries with those fake names that are obviously made up to corrupt any meaningful public discourse and debate with Russian propaganda that I see on a daily basis on the comment sections of Western news media. That , as the Russian propaganda of 35 years ago is a recipie for failure.

      yours truly, ordinary American citizen
      thank you

      • bobruyskiy

        “The Blatant LIES and obvious Disinformation propagated by Russian media that we see in the West such as RT (Russia Today) Sputnik etc is breathtaking.” —- examples please!

        i am a russian citizen and i love and respect putin for making russia great again, because compared when he only assumed power russia is much much stronger:
        1. military is stronger
        2. we defeated georgians
        3. crimea is ours
        4. donbass seceded from ukraine
        5. we are winning in syria
        6. american won’t dare to to anything thing against our allies – iran, dprk and venezuela
        7. and what is also important our GOLD RESERVES doubled

        + we still have a permanent seat at the UN + the biggest nuclear arsenal (we are the only country that can turn america into a nuclear ashtray!!!)

        feels good man

        • Airman48

          By all reputable sources (Non Russian of course) the Russian people are supportive of Vladimir Putin, his policies and actions. Indeed a recent Pew Research Center report indicates this.

          “Russians Remain Confident in Putin’s Global Leadership
          Majority says Russia has improved its international standing, but views of the economy are mixed and corruption is a concern

          It starts by saying

          “President Vladimir Putin’s handling of foreign affairs gets high ratings from most Russians, in contrast to more tempered views of his economic policies and anti-corruption efforts at home. Confidence in Putin’s global leadership has been consistently strong over the decade-and-a-half that Pew Research Center has polled in Russia. Trust in the Russian leader has remained high since an increase in 2014, shortly after the conflict with Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea.

          Today, however, Putin earns lower marks (63%) than he did two years ago (83%) for his handling of relations with Ukraine. Support for the Russian president has also declined when it comes to his approach to relations with the EU, China and the United States.

          That’s why I have NO sympathy for the Russian people as this time they FREELY support their Despotic Fascist Dictator Vladimir Putin and his actions.

          Instead of a European style Parliamentary Democracy they freely choose Fascism and Dictatorship so as a consequence they deserve the inevitable fall that will occur just as it did under Communism. Instead of learning from their MISTAKES of the past they have chosen to repeat them

          The age old saying “Those who don’t learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them”seems to have been written with Russia in mind.

          P.S. Crimea is NOT yours. Crimea is legally the territory of Ukraine. It is now and it will eventually be returned to its rightful status as sovereign Ukainian territory. The International community of civilized nations that respect the Rule of law and internationally binding treaties will not recognize the illegal Russian annexation of the sovereign Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Occupied Crimea as it is now will always make Russia illegitimate in the eyes of the World.

          • bobruyskiy

            you ukraininans are just envious our military might, nuclear weapons, permanent seat in the UNSC, and growing gold reserves

            tough to be miserable you:
            crimea is no longer your, donbass is rebelling, poland is seeking revenge for bandera’s atrocities, you have to buy coal… FROM america lol!

          • Airman48



            Why do you think that I’m a Ukrainian? I am not a Ukrainian and I know the truth from a LIE and all I see on Russian media are either outright LIES or more subtle form of Disinformation. Heard it before 35 years ago like I said on Radio Moscow via shortwave radio. Same lying techniqe, different day.

        • Airman48

          examples please!

          Easy. The Brutal shoot down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 on July 17 2014 and The Russian State sponsored doping scandal in the Olympic Games

          The fact is that Russia has been caught in SO MANY Lies and fabrications of the Truth in just this year alone.

          On September 28 2016 the Dutch led Investigation Team concluded that the BUK missile that was used to shoot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Eastern Ukraine on July 17 2014 came from Russia even though the Russians have perpetually insisted (Lied) that the missile that shot down the Aircraft was of Ukrainian origin. The FACTS of the painstaking and comprehensive Investigation led by the Dutch Safety Board that took over 2 years to complete has concluded otherwise. The missile that shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 on July 17 2014 killing 298 innocent passengers and crew came from and was operated by personnel from RUSSIA.

          On December 5 2016 the final part of the McLaren report detailing the Russian conspiracy of State Sponsored Doping and Cheating in International Sport including the Summer and Winter Olympic Games was released comprehensively proving Russian complicity in this conspiracy.

          The Russian head of the defunct so-called Russian Anti-Doping Agency Anna Antseliovich ADMITTED that Russia in fact engaged in this despicable conspiracy of State sponsored doping and cheating in Olympic competition dating form 2008 and perhaps earlier.

          AND THEN they backtrack and decide to LIE AND DENY again that they committed what they ADMITTED to just the day before.

          This insane, pathetic collage of fantastic Lies and Disinformation on the part of the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin has made the civilized World SICK AND DISGUSTED to the point that NO Word uttered by the Russian so-called “Government” can be trusted or relied upon to be factual.

          Russia stands apart from the World community of Civilized Nations as a PARIAH State and one whose Word cannot be trusted. About on the Same level as North Korea and that’s about as LOW as you can go.

          • bobruyskiy

            malaysian plane was shot down by ukrainian fighter jet who thought putin was inside. period.

            enjoy your SJW vs DEPLORABLES civil war, my dear american frendo

          • Airman48

            I sugget you READ this article again Komrade. You have just proven the authors closing remarks true my dear Russian friend

            “The bottom line is that information in Russia is abundant but unwanted. And the main obstacle to improving freedom of press is not the imprisoned bloggers but the pathological and irredeemable IGNORANCE and ADDICTION to television exhibited by my compatriots”

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  • Airman48

    It seems bazaar that Russians would be willing to buy the obvious fabricated lies that the regime of Vladimir Putin feeds them ESPECIALLY after 75 years of Communist Lies before the fall of the Soviet Union

    (Note: I Don’t give Putin’s regime the underserved respect of referring to it as a Government)

    But as the Author of this article said, this is not a matter of forced coercion because of lack of alternative sources of factual Information as was the case during Soviet times with closed borders, Offfical censorship of Foreign news and the jamming of shortwave radio signals like the BBC, VOA, RFE etc

    Russians today CHOSE freely to believe the Lies, disinformation, Propaganda and Fake News they are fed by Putin’s propaganda apparatus. I’m not a Social scientist but it would appear that jingoistic Nationalism and Patriotism that its manipulated by the Russian State controlled media is used to cover feelings of gross inferiority would be one of the Prime suspects and a desire to be a “Great Power” again that is feared and respected OR more realistically, they want the ILLUSION of being a Great Power again as they believe the Soviet Union once was

    One could point to early 1930’s Germany as an historical parallel example of how a manipulative Dictator uses internal propaganda to give people an illusion of Lost Greatness backed by resentment and a sense of Loss.

    Vladimir Putin has successfully exploited the “Resentment” of Russians for the collapse of Communism and loss of Superpower status just like Adolf Hitler exploited Germany’s loss of WW1 with the “Stab in the Back” line and their resentment of the harsh terms of the Versailles treaty. Hitler used the Jews as the object of resentment, Putin uses the West however the West did not impose any unjust terms on Russia for the Collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Russia is not a Global Superpower as the U.S. is nor can its heavily sanctioned economy support its Global Superpower aspirations but it appears that the illusion of being one is enough for them and Putin, just like a Drug Dealer is more than happy to give them this illusion.

    For a price of course.

    Vladimir Putin’s price is total and unlimited power in Russia and sadly, Russians appear willing to pay this price at the expense of their country’s future.

  • disqus_dqCzXMuPsc

    Just wanted to say that, I really love that song. So somebody has heard of that musician! And the reference made my day.

    Goodbye America, oh,
    Where I will never be.
    Will I hear the song,
    Which I will remember forever?