How the Russian Media Are Treating Putin and Crimea
Before starting to write this article, I sat in front of the TV and began to switch back and forth between Channel One, TVC, RTR and NTV, which are the main television stations in Russia, with a combined audience of 98 per cent of the country’s population. That means they are state controlled, of course. The same news, the same views. Putin is striving for peace, Obama is a hypocrite, the Western media are misinformed, Crimean locals are giving out sandwiches to Russian forces.
Tired of the kaleidoscope of events, I fell asleep sitting in front of the TV with the remote control still clasped in one hand and never woke up until the midnight news. Nothing had changed. Putin still was responsible for the peace of the world, Obama was two-faced, the Western media were hysterical, happy residents of the Crimean peninsula posed for photos with Russian soldiers.
I stared at it for some time and suddenly I remembered a photograph of the Western Ukraine greeting the Red Army in 1939 with flowers and smiles. That was 1939, I believe. So Russian official propaganda has not changed significantly since the Soviet era. I turned the TV off.
Father of the Nation
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stirred a political uproar recently when she compared Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine to actions taken by Adolf Hitler leading up to World War II.
She was wrong. In the eyes of the Russian people, Putin is associated with a quite different historical personage. For them, he is Stalin today, just as Stalin was Lenin in the last century. Time and time again, it seems dictators come and go, to and from Russia, in a constant succession of reincarnations. One smokes a pipe, another has a judo black belt.
Certainly Putin is breaking Lenin’s and Stalin’s records of popularity among the common citizens, although his personality cult is not based on mass repression, but on mass zombification. There are many Russians who are still convinced that they need to be led by a strong hand, and as it is impossible to raise Generalissimo Stalin from the dead, they are content with the ex-KGB colonel as a replacement.
And what is more, the whole world watched with amazement as this short, plain man with the dull eyes has become, as if by magic, almost as famous as James Bond. In last October, he was named the Most Powerful Person on the Planet by Forbes magazine. In December, he has been named International Person of the Year by Britain’s The Times newspaper.
This year, it should be a special award for the construction of the best propaganda machine of our time.
Ministry Of Truth
The Heritage Foundation estimated that Russia allocated $1.4 billion for international propaganda in 2010 alone. These expenses are roughly twice as much today.
Expanding its influence abroad, Russia has created an unprecedented media empire within its borders.
Did anybody know that the Russian film industry is financed by the Ministry of Culture or Federal Agency for Cinematography? As a result, the official List of Topics for the National Cinema includes such pearls as “Russia is a multicultural country,” “Military glory of Russia,” “The living memory of the war in Afghanistan,” “Historical pages of the Great Patriotic War” and “Our eternal values: family, tradition, love and loyalty.” Films of this kind are cheap and intended for a television audience consisting almost entirely of pensioners and other non-working citizens such as homemakers and jobless -- who are the basic electorate of Putin.
In addition, there are billions of Russian newspapers and magazines filled with the eternal values, and those values are also available on the shelves of bookstores crammed with biographies of President Putin. The books may be varied in size and design, but they are identical in content. Putin lived, Putin lives, Putin will live.
The situation with radio is somewhat different, but there are over 1,000 stations working in Russia and, in fact, most of them at least broadcast short news reports throughout the day.
Can you guess who is the main character in the air? You are correct. Neither Superman nor Batman.
The Internet is the most free and open information source in Russia. According to various statistics sites, it is used by 45 to 52 percent of the people here, with probably 3 to 5 percent of the visitors looking for political events or commentary. Nevertheless, Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth began, long ago, to take advantage of the Net, by means such as creating extremely loyal information websites. Love and loyalty are very important things to care about. But TV is the most popular medium in Russia, with around 80% of the population watching national television channels routinely.
Virtual Heaven vs. Virtual Hell
According to the statistics, Putin is the most mentioned person on Russian television. Any action of the President is treated as the main event of the day -- from catching pike in Siberia to calming a leopard in Sochi. In Russia, lucky viewers can see him seven days a week as the lead item of the early morning or late evening news.
In the Kremlin Palace, all lit up in gold and glowing marble, this man looks like a real king. But his kingdom simply appears to be rich and powerful; it is situated only within the ring road around Moscow. Russia is just a beautiful television image that has very little to do with the reality in which viewers actually exist.
The makers of TV news will never show you the armies of Russian street children, addicts and alcoholics, tattooed criminals and impoverished peasants. The studio audience of popular television shows never asks who gains wealth from selling the enormous resources of oil and gas that should make Russia one of the richest countries in the world. In Russia, even the children know the cause of their misery.
The Soviet style clichés still dominate Russians’ minds. It is the “foreign enemies” who are to blame. The bad Americans in particular. They cannot be trusted, they are guilty and they are a threat. It is obvious that the Russian nation is consolidated on the basis of the principle “us against them,” and the USA is considered as the main villain.
That’s why the Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is openly demands that the USA surrender Alaska. While another MP, Nikitin, writes that the “main battle of World War III is under way in Ukraine. The aggressor is Western civilization, which includes the US and Europe.”
A Taste of Crimea Pie
Does Putin actually believe in his own propaganda? Has he really “lost touch with reality,” as German Chancellor, Angela Merkel said? Or, using the words of the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, is Putin simply “delusional?”
I don’t think so. This man has a cold, calculating mind and he sees very clearly what he’s going to achieve.
He will never give up Crimea. He just can’t stop himself from putting on another laurel crown. If he will bring Crimea (or the whole Ukraine) back, his voters will be grateful. All dictators ought to win the victories if they want to be in power forever. And Putin wants that -- it’s plain to see.
Let’s wait a while then. Highlights ahead.