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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

The power of TV

Relationships get complex between government and the media in Russia.

Photograph of President Vladimir Putin
"In post-Soviet Russia, state-aligned television has played a pivotal role in the creation of a new national identity."

State-aligned media play a central role in constructing Russian national identity. Studies of this process by Professor Stephen Hutchings and Professor Vera Tolz have helped NGOs and policy-makers to re-evaluate the interaction between freedom of speech and the representation of political, cultural and ethnic diversity within Russia, and to raise awareness in the British public about the complexities of these issues.

NGOs and Western governments respond to studies on state-media relations and multiculturalism in post-Soviet, state-aligned Russian TV

Our research challenges over-simplified accounts of media, diversity and free speech within a country where the government is often portrayed as exercising complete control over the Russian media environment.

Our insights reveal complex relations within the media and between the media and the Kremlin, and several striking parallels, as well as notable differences, between Russian TV and content broadcast by the BBC and France 2. The research has informed policy-makers and the public through a mixture of workshops, briefings and debates.

Red Square, Moscow, Russia with caption 6 million radio listeners
6 million listeners tuned into the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme about the Moscow Metro bombings.

Key impacts

  • Insights to the US State Department on the role of new media technology in promoting Russia’s political agenda.
  • Better contextualisation for BBC Monitoring analysts around TV coverage of ethnic tensions, immigration and the role of nationalism in Russia’s political opposition.
  • Insights to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on ‘what shapes how ordinary Russians think’ based on research analysis of Russian TV reports on ethnic relations.
  • Briefings and presentations to NGOs, journalists and public broadcasters on freedom of speech, ethnicity, terror and democratic culture in post-Soviet Russia, raising public awareness and engaging high-profile reporters such as Vladimir Pozner of Russia’s Channel 1 and The Independent’s Chief Editorial Writer, Mary Dejevsky, in dialogue.
  • Informing diversity management policy at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
  • BBC Radio 3 documentaries on the Beslan tragedy and migrant identity in Russia.
  • Prime time interviews with the BBC and Al Jazeera on the 2006 Litvinenko murder, the 2011 Moscow airport bombing and the Boston Marathon bombing, providing deeper public understanding on the complex cultural roots of terrorism.
Feet of marathon runners with caption 1.5 million viewers
1.5 million people watched the BBC Breakfast interview about the context behind the Boston bombing.

Our research

By analysing an extensive collection of Russian television news recordings, our researchers were able to document the extent of coverage on certain issues and how news agendas changed. We also carried out 'discourse analysis' on the role of television as an ideological gatekeeper in post-Soviet Russia.

Our researchers have challenged the widely held belief that since 2000 the broadcast media in Russia have become totally submissive to overbearing state control, and to the brutal suppression of facts relating to the crushing of separatist movements in the Islamic North Caucasus.

Key findings

  • Far from the top-down 'management' associated with state-controlled media, Russian national television delivers a variety of perspectives (official, sub-official and unofficial).
  • 'Maps' of the Russian media reveal that state broadcasters varied their output, negotiating between shifting populist 'left' and 'right' discourses.
  • The process of how non-official (nationalist and liberal) voices are both excluded and 'mainstreamed'.
  • Significant parallels, and key differences, between Russian, BBC and French TV in the depiction of Muslims and their relationship to domestic terrorism.
  • Islam's prominent role within public debate on national security is less the result of media Islamophobia than of the complex inconsistencies in the national value systems. broadcasters represent, further complicated by different understandings of the 'War on Terror'.

Lead academics