The Absence of Theory in the Russian Media
Chris W. Allen
School of Journalism
University of Missouri
179A Gannett Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
(314) 882-5057 (office)
(314) 442-0319 (home)
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Submitted to the Internation Division of the Association for
Education in Journalism and Mass Communication for its 1995
Conference, Washington, D. C.
Russia has undergone political and economic changes that have had a
profound impact on all facets of Russian life and institutions. One of
biggest changes has been to the press system, which has been freed from
Communist control, but now finds itself in severe financial trouble,
the target of attempts at political control. The most dominant theory
Russian press, the Soviet Communist Theory, is no longer operative.
neither is any other. In an examination of the legal, political and
ic conditions which Russian media face, the conclusion is drawn that
press theory operates in Russia right now, and may not for years.
Russian Press Theory Page
The Absence of Theory in the Russian Media
A decade ago, Russia was ruled by a corrupt, iron-handed autocrat, and the
press published only what he or the people whom he appointed wanted it to.
Russians were fed a daily diet of party-colored news, censored tidbits of
world events, and a large dose of communist boosterism. It was easy to
explain the press in the Soviet Union: The government/party owned the
presses, which printed only party/government-approved items (the term
"news" generally being inoperative under Western definitions).
But since 1986, it has all changed. There is no longer a single party
ruling Russia in the name of the people, but a variety of political,
and economic viewpoints each trying to rise above the din they are all
Russia's new market economy and ballooning inflation have led to chaos for
many formerly state-owned businesses, including the media. They must now
deal with issues of efficiency, innovation and competition, which were
nominally important under the communist leadership.
The people themselves have more liberties. They can speak more freely in
criticism of government officials.
Finally, the media, if not the government, have adopted a more Western
concept of press freedom, and they are now learning to exercise it.
These changes present a unique opportunity to watch a social and economic
change, and to watch a press system change. These changes have
resulted in the demise of one dominant theory of the press the Soviet
Communist theory of the press proposed by Siebert, Peterson and Schramm
their ground-breaking Four Theories of the Press. This has lead
theorists to look for other ways to explain how the press operates in
post-Soviet Russia and to predict what may be to come.
This paper will examine where the Russian media system sits at the end of
1994. The research question to be answered is: What theory or
combinations of theories can be used to explain the current media system in
One good gauge of the press' status in a society is the types of laws that
deal with media, and this paper will look at the laws governing and
otherwise affecting the Russian media. Occasionally it will compare
Russian laws to American laws, but this is only to help better understand
the Russian system; it is not the intent of this paper to compare the
The second area to explore is the government's influence on the media
beyond the laws. This "extra-legal" analysis is another way to get a
of the government's attitude toward the press, especially if competing
forces stymie efforts to pass laws concerning the press.
Finally, the paper will explore the economic forces at work on the media,
and what effect the move to a market economy is having on the press.
Taking these three things together, then, this paper will explore where
the media stand in Russia in transition from a highly centralized
politico-economic system to a democratic, market-driven politico-economic
To reach this end, articles from Russian newspapers will be examined for
their stories on the laws, government pressures and economic factors
influence the media. The paper relies on the English language Moscow
a publication that sprang up during the glasnost era. It also uses the
many publications condensed and translated in Current Digest of the
A note about terminology: The terms "press" and "media" are used
interchangeably. Both refer to newspapers, magazines, radio and television
as a whole. Examination of cinema, theater and other forms of mass media
are beyond the scope of this paper.
A number of authors have suggested ways in which the world's media systems
can be understood. The most prominent of these has been Wilbur Schramm's
Soviet Communist theory of the press. In this system, Schramm
that power resides in the people, manifest in the government, which
its power by organizing the masses. The government sees itself as the
people's general staff, the people's guide into action. But in
the government as its guide, the people must also accept the
control. Thus the media are owned by the state, and are used as
instruments of the state. The media follow Lenin's three purposes of the
press: to be an instrument of agitation, of propaganda and of
organization. They are not to be used for recreational purposes, but
instruments of social change and patriotic support of the Soviet
Although this theory has been criticized over the years, it and the other
three theories proposed by the authors have remained among the most
taught explanations of press operations around the world. One reason
this is that the theories are easily condensed and they are defined.
Another reason is, simply, that they each have a name and distinct
characteristics, and most press operations around the world can be fitted
into one of the four categories, albeit sometimes with a shoehorn.
other three theories advanced by Siebert et al. are: libertarian, in
the media are virtually free of all government interference and any
responsibility to society; authoritarian, in which a privately-owned,
commercial press is allowed to operate by license (or at least tacit
permission) from the government, which in general eliminates any
press; and social responsibility, in which a media system is free from
government control, but operates under pressure from society to uphold
Picard criticized the four theories in 1970. He said their biggest
weakness was that they were models of Western orientation, and worse, and
that they were developed during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was
viewed as the enemy. Further, he pointed out that they make no
for media systems in transition, and fail to take into account the
factors of a country or society.
Merrill and Lowenstein proposed a different orientation for examining
press systems. Their analysis would be along a continuum that has as
dichotomous extremes authoritarian tending and libertarian tending.
old communist media system in the Soviet Union would clearly fit at
authoritarian tending end of the continuum, which they define as
and intellectual arrogance by a small elite group having a deep-rooted
suspicion of the masses." Merrill and Lowenstein proposed a
method of examining the press system of a country. The first level of
analysis is the ownership of the media in a country. They set forth
types of ownership: private ownership, meaning in the hands of
individuals; multi-party ownership in which competing political parties own
the media, and government ownership, as under the Soviet Union (although
in truth the Soviet system was a combination of single party and
ownership). The second level of analysis is the press philosophy of a
society. Here they come closer to Siebert et al. by borrowing some
and concepts, but with modifications. One philosophy is
which a country or government exhibits a negative control over the
squelch criticism of the government. The second is the social-centrist
philosophy, which is a positive control on the press to attain
nationalistic goals. The third is a libertarian philosophy, in which
are some controls to keep the media free to achieve libertarian goals.
Significantly, Merrill and Lowenstein say a media system will reflect and
support the governmental philosophy, which often is manifest in the
economic system as well.
The advantage to all of this is that these can be mixed and matched to
more accurately describe the media system, instead of trying to force a
system into the defined categories of the Four Theories. Using this
analysis, the Soviet system was government-owned (largely), and in truth a
combination of authoritarian and social-centrist. The media were not
allowed to criticize the government, but were free to proclaim the
of the workers and the state to advance socialism and the glory of
And if, as Merrill and Lowenstein propose, the press system reflects the
government's philosophy, then Russia's media will be tightly
subject to central economic planning and strictures, and entirely for
"good" of the Soviet state.
Another set of theories is proposed by Altschull. He returns to a more
rigid analysis like Siebert et al., using three typologies. The one
concerns the Soviet system he calls the Marxist model. Media
under a Marxist system must educate the citizens in a political way.
media are also used to demand support for socialist doctrine, and are
supposed to mold and change behavior. He joins Merrill and
saying that the media system will most closely reflect and support the
philosophy of the economic legs of the press: "The reality . . . is
the content of the press is directly correlated with the interests of
who finance the press." Here he also proposes three models: the
official, the commercial and the informal patterns. In the official
pattern, media content is determined by rules, regulations and decrees,
whether the media are owned by the state or operate under license from
state. The Soviet media are clearly reflected in this pattern.
The reflective corollary proposed by Merrill, Lowenstein and Altschull
will be important later in analyzing what is happening in Russia today.
Merrill returned to press theories in 1990 by proposing to examine a
country's media in terms of the interaction of cause and effect. He
contends that the media alone do not cause a society to change, but that
they interact with other forces to cause change, and to be changed
themselves. To illustrate, he links the level of conflict in a society to
the degree of freedom with which a media system operates. A society
much conflict generally has a large amount of political and press
in which the conflict flares, points are argued, and opinions are
Societies with little conflict, on the other hand, generally have
no press freedom. The press is not allowed to publish or air stories
critical of the rulers, and dissention is invisible.
Merrill sets up three stages of national development that describe how the
media system interacts with society. The first is a tradition society, in
which no mass media system operates. The communication channels are
informal and personal, which is to say word of mouth; almost gossip.
is by design, to bring stability to the society. Conflict exists
the top, among leaders, who do not want the conflict to spill out among
the masses. In the transitional society, ideas compete for dominance.
media are used mainly as agents of propaganda to gain support for an
idealogy, or at least a philosophy. Under this stage, the media have
most freedom as competition and pluralism thrive. It might almost be
described as anarchy among the media. The third stage, the modern
has two phases. In the early phase, press freedom, pluralism and a wide
discussion of ideas are still valued in order to move society along.
direction has emerged as dominant, but it can be modified through d
issention and alternative views. In the later stage, discussion is
discouraged and society moves toward a monolithic political ideology. The
government moves to reduce political and ideological conflict. Here,
media are used for internal social control and to promote harmony.
press is also used for propaganda.
Clearly, Western media fall into the first stage of the modern society,
and Soviet Russia into the later stage. This is interesting because
follows exactly the course Marx set out for socialism to succeed. He
capitalism must develop before socialism can succeed. In Merrill's
a free press, as under many Western capitalist and/or democratic
must develop before a heavily controlled and directed press, such as that
found in most Communist societies, can.
In one of the latest views of a post-communist press, Ognianova argues for
a transition theory. She looks at post-communist Bulgaria, which never
had a press system exactly like Russia's. She rejects current
because they either deal with first and second world countries, as in
case of Siebert, et al., or with developing third world countries, as
Altschull does. Ognianova describes Bulgaria as a "middle-class
country" with a high literacy rate, which third world countries do not
have (emphasis is Ognianova's). But except for the literacy rate,
is beyond most countries that are typically classified as "developing.
She describes the current Bulgarian media system as transitional,
three of the four theories advanced by Siebert, et al.: Communist,
Libertarian and Socially Responsible. The problem with using the Four
Theories is that they fail to take the influence of the country's
These are a few of the theories, some of which can no longer be applied in
the former Soviet Union, others of which allow for a transition.
Russian media, as part of the Soviet Union, operated under strict rules
for nearly 70 years. Lenin and the Bolshevik leaders nationalized the
presses, required all advertising to go through the government, and
all opposition and counterrevolutionary publications. Broadcasting
a factor in Russia until 1925, the year after Lenin's death.
Androunas says the Russian media were part of a state monopoly that
"influenced all aspects of [Russians'] activities:
*Financial monopoly -- centralized allocation of resources from the top
to the bottom
*Cadre (personnel) monopoly -- centralized appointment of
higher-ranking officers and editors
*Administrative monopoly -- centralized distribution of paper,
equipment and other resources
This system served the interests not of the audience, not of the society as
a whole, but of the party-government elite.
The first significant reform of media laws since Lenin's Press Decree of
1917 was passed in 1989. It gave Russian citizens and their
organs (reporters and media) broad rights of access to information. The
main objectives were to establish the relationship "between the media
(a) the Party and state machine, (b) the founding organizations to
they are affiliated, (c) the journalists who work for them, (d) the
population as a whole, and (e) the international communication
The media no longer operated only with permission of the government.
Organizations independent of the government could now draw up a charter
explaining their goals for a publication and submit it to the relevant
state committee, which could reject it only for "abuse of personal
such as advocating the overthrow of government, inciting violence and so
While journalists may have strained against some of its limitations, the
fact is that the law was a vast improvement over the previous
In June, 1990, the Soviet legislature passed a law declaring the "press
and other media" free. This was a huge step for the Soviet Union,
government leaders from Stalin on had argued that the press was
freedom in the constitution. The idea of passing a law to reaffirm
already guaranteed in the Constitution carries some deep implications. On
the other hand, since the Constitution had been so handily ignored, what
was to ensure that a simple law would be obeyed?
Freedom of expression grew in fits and starts, but it grew nonetheless.
There appeared a diversity of opinions, more media voices and
In August of 1991 a conservative faction of ministers trie to overthrow
Mikhail Gorbachev while he was on vacation in the Crimea. Boris
the President of Russia, emerged as a strong leader in defying the
defending Gorbachev, and staring down the junta. In just three days,
Gorbachev returned to Moscow, still general secretary of the Communist
Party, but now essentially powerless. Yeltsin's strength grew as the
Soviet Union crumbled. Communism was declared void, and a new era began.
Russian press in the post-Soviet era
In the post-Soviet era, the media system operates in a totally different
environment, for good and for bad. This creates an opportunity to
media system as it evolves from a completely oppressed,
system in which it had to please no one but party officials, into one
which the media have nearly total freedom to print or broadcast what
wants, must support itself or find investors, compete for circulation
gathering subscribers, and please only its audience.
But just how true is that statement? That would largely describe a
libertarian media orientation, and Russia certainly has not come that far
in the last three years.
This paper now turns to examine the development of the Russian media
system after the coup attempt. Three areas will be examined. The first
the press and the law: how the legislative process and executive decrees
and appointments have affected the Russian media. Next, how
its officials regard and influence the press beyond the legislative
process. Finally, the effect of the economic climate on the media system
in Russia will be examined. From these, some conclusions will be
out the state of press theory in Russia.
One might already perceive that the laws relating to the Russian media are
as chaotic as the economy there. Russia's newest constitution, like the
three previous ones, guarantees press freedom. Article 29, Section 5,
could not be clearer: "Freedom of the mass media shall be guaranteed.
Censorship shall be prohibited." But in sections just before that,
constitution bans any language that incites social, racial or religious
hatred. Yet another section sets forth a provision to keep state
This contradiction is not unusual in Russia. Despite guarantees of a free
press Russia has never been afraid to establish government agencies on
the premise that they are looking out for the press while in fact they
control it. In Russia there are two governmental bodies that have
influence over the media. At the executive level, the Russian State
Committee on the Press has a variety of duties that deal with the media,
and the Duma has its Committee on the Press.
As the communist rule came to an end in 1991 the government created the
position of inspectorate within the Russian Ministry of the Mass
Deputy Minster Mikhail Fedotov told journalist Vladimir Shevelev that
purpose was to see that the laws on press freedom are observed.
American journalists, of course, this would be a terrifying development.
Any government agency that deals so closely with press freedom may at
glance sound like a good thing. But Western journalist fear the role can
be reversed too easily. Fedetov said the inspectorate's main duty is
make sure those who violate the law or press freedom are prosecuted.
included those who illegally withheld information from the press or
violate the criminal code by preventing journalists from "fulfilling
professional duties," as well as publications that violate rules
them to provide "output data" and send sample copies to the correct
address. The inspectorate also made sure the law on state secrets was
followed. But Fedotov said that the actual law on state secrets had not
been passed, and that the list of state secrets was secret. This
is one of
those quirks which on the surface sounds silly, until one realizes that,
by keeping the list secret, government officials keep the list out of
reporters's hands. This can have two effects. On one hand, it may
journalists away from some stories for fear that it will be a
subject. On the other hand, the government can bring charges against a
publication and its reporter for violating the list, and no one will
if the subject was actually on the list or not.
The ministry and its inspectorate were examples of government agencies
that no one outside the media would likely get upset about, but which
continued a long tradition of extending government over the media system
the pretext of assuring fairness, which can easily be corrupted. There
are other examples.
By decree in early 1994, Boris Yeltsin extended the life of the Judicial
Board for Media Disputes, which oversaw the information guarantees for
candidates in the 1993 elections. In extending its life, Yeltsin
it the Information Arbitration Tribunal. The stated purpose is to
president guarantee citizens' freedoms, particularly the freedom of
speech. But like the ministry, the board's powers extend over the press
well. In addition to issuing warnings to publications for violating prin
ciples of accuracy and objectivity, the board can file suit to have
licenses revoked. On the other hand, officials who violate press law can
be reprimanded at most. The difference in penalties was explained by
tribunal chair Anatoly Vengerov, who said a reprimand is a severe penalty
for a government official, since it can often end a career.
Olga Bychkova struck exactly on the fine definition of terms the
have used when she wrote that "the board's field of activity lies in
social, not the legal, assessment of information." The Tribunal
broad, but poorly defined, powers.
The basic functions of the board shall be:
to assist the President of the Russian Federation in protecting rights and
freedoms in the news media;
to ensure that reports are objective and accurate;
to uphold the principle of equal rights in the news media;
to ensure the protection of the moral interests of children and young
people in the news media;
to uphold the principle of pluralism in news and public affairs programs on
radio and television;
to resolve disputes over the allocation of radio and television airtime
among factions created in the Federal Assembly;
to correct factual errors in news media reports that affect public
in the absence of a Russian Federation Ministry of the Press and
Information, to issue warning to news media outlets in accordance with
Article 16 of the Russian Federation Law "On the News Media". .
The problem with all of this should be evident. There is no definition of
standards for any of these. For instance, how should objectivity and
accuracy be measured? Against what standard should equal rights be
measured? Just what are the moral interests of children and young people?
The law left a lot up to the whims of the members of the tribunal.
The same decree that extended the life of the tribunal, expanded the
duties and changed the name of Judicial Board also dealt with the rights
citizens to information. It was in effect a "sunshine law" that opened
state agencies to the public and the media. The law required that
activities of state agencies, organizations and enterprises, and public
institutions and officials must be carried on in the open. But the
contained no enforcement mechanism and did not say who decided what is
the public interest. In commenting on the decree, Nikita Vainonen
"Without a clear legal answer to these questions, there can be no
that these powers will be appropriated by the government bureaucrat,
is, the person who possesses the information. And having appropriated
them, he will use them in his own interests. And you and I will never
out what he classifies as not having public significance."
Despite Yeltsin's insistence that agencies be open, the Council of
Ministers almost immediately turned around and declared that henceforth
only a reporter for Rossiiskaya gazeta, formerly owned by the Russian
Federation, will be admitted to cabinet meetings. Much of the Russian
government's policy is set at the cabinet level, and one journalist
the new closed-door policy of the Council of Ministers to the Soviet
Politburo. The action of the ministers seemed to fly in the face of
Yeltsin's decree, and may be an indication of the turmoil the government
While all of this was happening in the executive branch of Russia's
government, the State Duma passed a law setting up its own television
service to prepare a daily half-hour program to allow each Deputies'
time each week to talk to constituents. The Duma intended to go to
stations, still owned by the Russian Government, for an allocation of
The stations would likely be fearful of reprisals if they refused. The
Duma was roundly attacked. In a bitter and cutting article, Sevadnaya
called the program a "chance to conduct political agitation among the
voters, regularly and free of charge and, moreover, without making
exhausting trips to the regions." Yeltsin's press secretary called the
measure an infringement on free press. The president of the All-Russia
Television and Radio Company, one of two state-owned broadcast media
companies, called it a claim to "information exclusiveness" and predicted
each branch of government, including the courts, might eventually
its own television service.
It did not take the upper chamber, the Federation Council, long to strike
down the Duma's proposal. Senators objected that the law violated
29 of the Constitution, and that the goal is to create independent
newspapers, radio and television stations, from which the government could
then buy whatever space or time it thought it needed.
Undeterred, the Duma proposed another law that would mandate television
coverage of "appeals and statements by the Russian president, the
of the Federal Assembly and the Cabinet of Ministers, the naming of
head of state, the opening of the first session of the State Duma and
Council of the Federations after elections, and the opening of the first
meeting of a new government." The Federation Council rejected
to mandate media coverage as well.
Not only do the media have a near-ministry in the executive branch to deal
with but parliament also has a committee on information policy and
communications. It is chaired by Mikhail Poltoranin, who was appointed to
the position after he stepped down as Minister of the Press and was
to parliament. Poltoranin had been an ally of President Boris Yeltsin,
but now, as one Russian journalist put it, "they would like to kill
Poltoranin agreed with the Federation Council's assessment. He saw the
government's job as expanding the right of citizens' freedom of speech
also creating more independent media outlets. On the other hand, he
saw the government's job as protecting people "from deliberate
disinformation from information racketeering and gangsterism."
And he said
Russians were tired of "boundless freedom for impudence and slander, of
freedom for investigation and political foppishness." The problem
to get worse, Poltoranin said, as circulation of newspapers dropped
they became more desperate to hold onto readers. The government will
to adopt amendments to the criminal code to deal with those media and
reporters, he said.
Over the years, from Lenin through Stalin and on into the post-Soviet
years, a pattern for dealing with the media has developed, and current
Russian leaders are following that pattern. Poltoranin characterized
recently rejected law "On the Manner in Which State-Owned News Media
Cover the Activities of Government Bodies" as a protection of those media,
and not as censorship. He said the law would save the media from
reprimands for not covering various government bodies equally, and he could
not understand why workers at Ostankino and the All-Russian State
Television and Radio Company were trying to represent it as an infringement
of rights. He also maintained the law would in fact have little effect,
since for all practical purposes Moscow had no state-owned
existing in name only, encumbering a large part of the government
but not allowing government participation in decision-making. But
parliament may be excluded from decision making, the directors are
state appointed, and the parliament still holds the purse strings of
broadcast agencies, giving the government a huge influence over them.
became evident when the management of Ostankino Television barred two
journalists who had been critical of Boris Yeltsin from entering the
studio, and taking them off the popular news program they had
The problem is almost one of schizophrenia, summed up by the director of
the International Press Institute:
Time and time again, the IPI has appealed to the governments of Eastern
Europe and Russia, to abolish the old state-owned broadcasting
and to replace them with an editorially independent public
system. Editorial independence cannot be left to the benevolence
government of the day. It must be clearly defined in the
statutes of the
broadcasting authority and in the Constitution of the
Although the Russian Constitution does guarantee press freedom, it becomes
obvious most government officials do not take it seriously. It also
becomes obvious that, while the press opposes efforts to control it,
is no mention in news columns about the citizens' attitude toward
So while it may appear at times that the government is making an effort
to let the press have its freedom, at other times that the various
adopt the attitude, "That's a nice law, but it does not apply to me."
There is another aspect of government control that is just as effective
but not so overt: by strictly enforcing or relaxing existing laws, by
harrassment, even by making certain pronouncements, the government can
influence what is in the news columns, on the analysis pages, or on the
As the political metamorphosis was beginning because of glasnost,
conservatives, led by Russia's number two man, Yegor Ligachev, disagreed
with the reformers on three points: 1) They disliked the criticism,
the media should showcase the achievements and experiences of
2) they continued to believe the media should not present a diversity
viewpoints, but should instead mold opinion to the party ideology; and
they believed the media should continue to be state-owned.
They, of course, lost their battle, but attitude is still key to operation
of the media. In 1991 the deputy minister of Russia for the Mass Media,
Fedotov, admitted that the possibility of the newly formed
growing into another government censor existed. Much of the ministry's
powers were based on the remnants of the Soviet censorship agency
The deputy minister pointed out that the inspectorate cannot shut down a
publication or even levy a fine, only prosecute. But it has been
documented in Western media that even threats of prosecution can have a
chilling effect on media content. Then in one telling statement,
revealed a government attitude that went beyond what was contained in
law: "We hope that journalists will have neither a guard nor
a helping friend, albeit a strict friend." It said a lot about the
attitude the office would take toward the press.
Journalist Sergei Drozdov alleged that the government was using more
direct pressure to influence media content and performance by carrying
official investigations whenever an objectional article was published.
government went beyond investigation the journalists, and began
investigating the sources for the stories.
Government enticements and punishments take various forms. Russia's
politicians, who have always believed in the power of the press, have used
the "whip and cake" approach to bring the independent media into
Censorship has been imposed and then lifted. Newspapers have been
then opened, with some having to change editors, at least on the
Democrats in Russia often have used the media as a scapegoat for their
failures, influencing public opinion toward the media, which in turn
influence the media, especially when it is struggling. After the 1993
elections, which went against him, Boris Yeltsin fired the head of
When laws to curb the press fail, the government can try the "whip and
cake" approach with unevenly applied economic policies. The whip is a
percent increase in the price of newsprint, a 150 percent increase in
cost of printing services and a 70 percent increase in subscriptions;
cake is subsidies. (Economic effects are explored more fully in
following section.) The price of Lituraturnaia gazeta rose 80 percent,
from one ruble to one ruble 80 kopeks. The editors found this an
inordinately high increase, but had no say in the matter. They were forced
into the increase by the government owned distribution agency Soyuzpechat,
which has a monopoly on distribution. But journalist Arkadii Udal'tsov
charged that even with the increase, the question of whether
gazeta got to the newsstands did not rest with Soyuzpechat in the
Ministry of Communication, but with "those carefully self-concealed
that wish to bring the entire press (let us say it right out: both the
right-wing and the left-wing) to its knees . . ." and allow only
and government established publications to stand.
Sometimes simple harassment will do. The Press Publishing House stopped
printing Sovetskaya Rossia on March 31, 1994, because of the
financial status. But the editor countered that the newspaper was
compensated the 1.3 billion rubles the courts ruled it had lost as the
result of being shut down by the Ministry of the Press from October to
The extra-legal influences are not always obvious. During the Soviet
regime, politicians, spies and party members all watched the media
for indicative phrases, telling photographs and carefully worded
to learn who was in and who was out, what new policies might be coming,
and what mood of the government was. Politicians still use the media
send messages. In a St. Petersburg broadcast in 1994, Government
Services head Valentin Sergeyev urged the Russian press to write more
news. He wanted more news of "victories," presumably economic and
victories, and less "political blather." Although this is more
many of the veiled messages politicians and party leaders have used in
past, it was nonetheless an indication of the government's attitude
The media themselves have created some of the problem. Journalists have
long held suspicions about one another's motives for pursuing certain
stories. A journalist who showed a politician in good light was accused
being on the take. Those who criticized found themselves in trouble in
the past. The competition among media has erupted in vitriol, and
newspapers criticize each other, credibility suffers overall.
Publications criticize in strong language other publications that do not
share their beliefs. In this light, with all of the intrigues of
government, it is nearly impossible for the media to fulfill their
One of the more interesting examples of press manipulation occurred in
the summer of 1994, as suspicions of the MMM joint-stock company grew.
shares were sold to the public with the promise of huge dividends. The
government made threats about MMM and suggested the media refuse to
advertising for the stock. At the time MMM was the largest advertiser
Moscow, and a vital means of support for publications. MMM responded
the media to the government's charges that if the officials took any
against it, they would have to face MMM's 10 million shareholders.
Journalists charged that the officials had gone to the press instead of
courts to threaten MMM because they were too timid to sue, and that
anything they did against MMM would incite the stockholders if the company
did not perform well.
Government influence comes in other forms, as well. A segment of the
television program "Politburo" that contained an interview with the
ex-president of Azerbaijan was deleted from the program after the
Azerbaijani ambassador complained to Ostankino Television about the
ex-president's appearance. Ostankino in turn told the program's producers
to remove the offending segment, and threatened to take the program
air if the producer refused. This indicates that pressure comes from more
than just the Russian government, and that, at least in Ostankino's case,
managers are willing to bow to foreign embassies.
That some Russian officials still cannot abide a press that is free to
criticize can be seen in the case of Klin-TV (KTV), which operates in
Moscow Province town of Klin. It is a private, 24-hour broadcast
whose 15-minute newscasts are often critical of local officials. In
of 1994, Klin's district administrator closed the station for "failing
comply with the procedures established by current legislation for
for the use of the premises . . . and violations of the rules for
television broadcasting equipment . . . and of health rules." In a
demonstration of support the next day, citizens gathered 4,000 signatures
demanding the station be reopened, and the officials complied.
had also seized KTV's financial records in April, but the records were
found to be in order.
It is clear, then, that any theory developed to deal with Russia's
emerging media system must consider not only the legal status of the press
but the attitude of government toward the press outside strictly legal
Even if the Russian Government had adopted a libertarian attitude toward
the press from the outset, the economic problems would have prevented
development of a libertarian press. Imagine the media system resting
balance. At one end of the balance is advertising and subscriber
of the media, as in the United States. This carries with it some
implications and obligations: the publication or broadcast has to be
attractive enough that it will draw an audience so advertisers will be
willing to buy ads. Some media avoid printing or airing certain subject
out of fear that the audience or advertisers will cancel.
At the other end is state support of the media. This, too, carries
certain burdens: the publications will be afraid to criticize the state
its leaders out of fear of losing the state money.
As market support of the media increases, the influence of the political
parties decreases. Because of this, Hoyer, Hadenius and Weibel say
economic system becomes the most important influence on the press. But
withdrawl of the political press results in fewer media voices.
the economies of modern technology, only one American city has four
newspapers (two of which are losing money), and no other has more than
Of course, Soviet media were at the state supported end of the balance
for 70 years or more before they split into independent publications.
were soon back for subsidies, and one editor said that was when the press
in effect signed its own warrant. Kseniya Ponomaroyova, editor of
Kommersant, said the government will not take things away from those it has
not given to, and that by accepting money from the government, the press
is now in danger of becoming subject to either a sudden cut-off of
In the beginning most of the media wanted to be free of government
support. It was their intention to sell subscriptions and advertising.
But Russia's conversion to a market economy was difficult.
The media turned to the government for subsidies as the economic crisis
deepened. From 1992 through 1994, circulation deteriorated with the
economy, and newspapers already struggling with a new way of doing
found themselves in trouble.
Here is a partial list of the publications receiving subsidies in the
second quarter of 1992 (in rubles):
Komsomolskaya pravda 666,522,000
Argumenty i facty 359,726,000
Selskaya zhizn 151,990,000
Lituraturnaya gazeta 57,871,000
Rabochaya Tribuna 41,234,000
TV Review 10,867,000
Vesyolye Kartinki 9,964,000
Nash Sovremennik 7,284,000
New Times 4,536,000
To the government's credit, however, Sovetskaya Rossya, an opposition
newspaper as its name suggests, got 30 million rubles in subsidies in
first quarter and 68 million in the second quarter. So a reliance
subsidies does not necessarily mean elimination of unfriendly
but there is also no indication how much the newspaper had asked for;
perhaps the subsidy was far lower than what it had requested, or perhaps
the government simply put the desire for diverse voices above politics
granted the request.
In an array of confounding statistics, Moscow News reported early in 1993
that circulation of Moscow dailies had shrunk an average of 2.5- to
3.5-fold. Especially hard hit were the former pillars of Russian
Izvestia and Trud (Labor), both off 3.5-fold, and Komsomolskaya
7-fold. The reason was primarily huge cost increases -- 26.5-fold in one
year, some 90 times higher than two years before. The crisis in
can be traced by looking at the numbers. During the first quarter of
year, 346 newspapers and magazines got subsidies. In the second
number rose to 560. In order to get the money, the publications must
apply, and a commission of deputies and representatives of the Ministry
the Press make sure the publication is indeed losing money, and that
complied with the laws on mass media. Thus here is a point where economic
hardship and government regulation on the press cross, and could have
tremendous influence on media operations.
By 1994, the Russian government was spending a huge amount to prop up the
media system. Megalopolis Express reported that between 1992 and the
quarter of 1994 subsidies totaled 32.8 billion rubles. But the
distribution has been uneven. Thirty percent of the money has gone to four
publications -- Komsomolskaya pravda, Trud (which was not among the first
to get subsidies), Argumenty i fakti and Ogonyok. At the bottom end,
publications received a total of only two percent of the
that same quarter, the newsstand sales of Russia's ten largest
looked like this:
Komsomolskaya pravda 2,600,000
Rossiiskaya gazeta 1,067,000
Rossiiskiye vesti* 524,000
Moskovksaya pravda 205,000
Sovetskaya pravda 110,000
*The smallest of the publications listed, in existence less than two years when
The beginning of 1994 was significant for Rossiiskiye vesti. It
proclaimed on its front page that it began the year independent from any
government body, had increased its circulation 12-fold and was
its first 16-page edition.
Even with the large subsidies, publications like Komsomolskaya pravda and
Trud received only about one-third of their request. Sergei Gryzunov,
vice-chair (now chair) of the State Committee on the Press, which
the ministry, said publications like Izvestia, Moskovsky komsomolets
Moskovskiye novosti have comparable circulations but have requested no
subsidies, proving that publications can survive without help from the
government. (From the circulation figures, however, it would appear
the publications are much smaller than Komsomolskaya pravda and Trud.
Izvestia has turned to foreign sources of money, which has resulted in
grave problems.) In May of 1994, the Russian Government allocated an
additional 64 billion rubles in press subsidies. Gryzunov said most of
money went to publications with "universally recognized" names, leaving
many of the small and start-up publications, those that add the
voices the government claims it wants, dying. To deal with the crush
subsidy requests, which now number more than 800 newspapers and more
400 magazines, the State Committee on the Press has set up a
allocate the money. And in another example of how economics may have
effect on media performances, the commission has received direct
from politicians to whom editors have pleaded for special
Estimates are that the press will need a trillion rubles in subsidies to
survive. Newspapers that must lease space are paying (U.S.) $300 per
square meter for floor space, while executives of "traditional papers"
own their own buildings have leased up to half of their space to
commercial enterprises. But there is no indication that money is being
used to expand production or improve workers' pay. Inflation has
in huge price increases, making day-to-day survival difficult for some
newspapers. Megapolis Express received two appropriations from the
government, one for five million rubles and the other for seven million,
each just enough to cover one issue of the publication. Even an
publishing company has been hit. In early 1994, Hearst and Izvestia
suspended publication of their joint effort, We/My, because of rising
and a new system of taxation and foreign trade that cut advertising.
Not surprisingly, the subsidies have caused dissention in the government
and in the press. State Committee on the Press Vice-chair Gryzunov,
has since been promoted to chair, took a Darwinian approach to the
and disliked the subsidies. He said the death of some newspapers was
tragedy, but merely a phenomenon, like the death of factories and mines
He said newspapers were dying all over the world, and that the
papers would survive. But he admitted that some subsidies are
save publications which he said "in no way deserve to perish," among them
Novy mir. The editor of Kommersant said those publications
from the government were not saved, they merely got time to take a breath
while they decide their destiny. He also said the parliament had no
on the press that it does not subsidize, but that a press surviving on
someone else's money must recognize its master's interests.
Some of the media are turning to outside investors for help. Gryzunov has
said the Russians have nothing to fear from commercial interests investing
in the press. He called it a natural process that will not jeopardize
reporters' freedom. "I believe in the honest of the new Russian
and entrepreneurs," he said. His only concern was that the
fall into "unconstitutional" forces.
But outside help has brought to its knees one of the newspapers that
epitomized the Communist Party, Pravda. Desperate for cash, Pravda turned
to Greek tycoon Yannis Yannikos, who with his wife formed the Pravda
International joint-stock company in 1992. The move only temporarily
Pravda, and in the long run may have irreparably damaged it. Early in
1994, Pravda suspended publication when the Press Publishing House
to print the paper because of confusion over who was paying the bill.
was the second time that had happened.
In return for bailing out the newspaper, Yannikos demanded transfer of
editorial control to him. Editors called this a "political action"
calculated to help the politicians.
Yannikos had restricted the money infusion, and two weeks before the
editorial board had decided to back editor-in-chief Viktor Linnik and
off with Yannikos. But a faction led by Linnik's first deputy, Aleksandr
Ilyin, ousted Linnik and put out the paper by cooperating with
saying that was the only way the paper would get published.
Linnik's faction attempted to raise money to start publishing its own
Pravda, which they said would be authentic. By late 1994, Pravda's
circulation had fallen to less than 70,000.
It is not surprising, perhaps, that Russian media have had to turn to the
government or to foreign sources of money to stay alive. Although
hindsight is perfect, one could probably have had at least 20/30 foresight
if one had taken the time to think about it.
But the economy has had one unexpected result. Poltoranin, the chair of
the Duma's Committee on the Press, pointed out that there has been a
turn around in the media use pattern. The total subscription
for the Moscow newspapers for the last half of 1994 is 10 million, and
the regional papers 21.3 million. As few as two years ago, Moscow
were the dominant media throughout the country. Now that has shifted,
Poltoranin said, and the regional media have become more important. Few
the Moscow publications circulate outside of Moscow anymore. 
Poltoranin attributed the change to the sensationalization he saw in the
Moscow press. He praised regional publications and broadcasters for
dealing with serious topics.
The regional newspapers have been followed to the front ranks by the
regional television companies, whose journalists are not squeamish
getting liquid manure on their feet along with dairymaids or
on all fours along low-ceiling drifts with miners."
Gryzunov of the State Committee on the Press found a different reason for
the rise of the regional press: a total lack of economic support in
past. He said that forced the smaller press to survive on its own and
learn to operate efficiently, while the central press relied on
too long. The shift to a regional press is frightening to many
politicians, because the regional press, scattered across the countryside,
is not as easy to control. He saw that as the reason politicians are
willing to subsidize the central press. Whatever the case, the
circulation always causes problems for newspapers, first because loss
the subscription price hurts, but also because with fewer readers,
advertisers are either unwilling to advertise or want lower rates. The
Moscow media suffered a big blow to their revenues and had to turn to
government for help. The change has become so profound that the
media may hold more influence in the 1996 elections than the Moscow
something unique in Russia's history.
Finally, the economy has hurt reporters. Russian reporters are among the
lowest paid workers except at publications like Sevodnaya or
publications, those sponsored by large commercial ventures. The pay is
bad it became a topic of discussion in the Duma, which expressed the
that unless something is done Russia may find only a handful of media,
owned by large corporations that do not have society's best interests at
heart. But the public has expressed no similar concerns, apparently
uninterested in media economics.
If, as Altschull, Merrill and Lowenstein have said, the media system of a
country will generally reflect the philosophy of the economic
the government (which in the case of Russia is often the same thing), one
might conclude that the press theory in operation is "confusion."
this may sound laughable at first, it should not be dismissed out of
A transitional press theory is unsatisfactory. It merely indicates that
things are in a state of change, and one does not need a theory to do
Trying to create a new theory out of the existing ones also is unworkable.
None of the categorical theories, those with names and definitions as
Siebert et al. and Altschull have proposed, combine in a satisfactory
to lead to a new theory. The Russian situation presents an
challenge for Merrill's stages of societal development. Russia has
through each stage, perhaps rapidly through the transitional society
And it might be that Russia has returned to a transitional stage.
Certainly one of the criteria fits: the media are used for propaganda to
gain support for an ideology. But the other criteria, that the media
the maximum freedom, does not.
None of Altschull's three theories will fit. His developing nation theory
is posed for a society far less literate, technologically advanced and
economically developed than Russia, and his market theory requires that
society be so secure no laws are needed to assure press freedom, and
the press be free from all outside influences. Conceivably, one could
bits and pieces of each to mold together a new theory, but that seems
merely like jerryrigging a theory to fit the purpose. A theory should
something one can count on to explain and predict for quite a while.
That being the case, perhaps it is safest to say that no "Russian" press
theory can be developed right now. The operation of the media system
difficult to explain and too changeable to develop a workable model.
Furthermore, if one believes a theory should predict as well as explain,
might be best to hold off on any theory; Russia itself is too
unpredictable right now to lend itself to theories.
Development of the Russian media system, and the media systems in the rest
of post-Communist Eastern Europe, should be watched and studied. It may
take a decade for a theory to emerge. It will require some sort of
stability in the political and economic systems, as well as a cultural
analysis, before a workable theory can be developed, and before the
system can be explained with any degree of accuracy.
 Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm,
Four Theories of the
Press (Urbana and Chicago: University o
f Illinois Press), 106-146.
 Schramm, "The Soviet Communist Theory of
the Press," in Siebert, et al., 106-146.
 Ibid., 117.
 Robert G. Picard, "Revisions of the 'Four Theories of the Press
Communication Review 9 (Spring 1982/83): 25.
 John C. Merrill and Ralph L. Lowenstein, Media, Messages
and Men (New York:
David McKay Co., Inc., 1971), 175.
 Ibid., 186.
 Ibid., 173.
 Herbert J. Alts
hcull, Agents of Power: The Role of the News Media in
Affairs (New York: Longman, 1984), 284.
 Ibid., 254.
 John C. Merrill, The Imperative of Freedom: A Philosophy of
Journalistic Autonomy (New York: Freedom House, 1990), 49.
 Ibid, 50.
 Ekatrina V. Ognianova, "Post Communist Upd
ate on Press Concepts: Bulgaria's
Transitional Press Syste
m," paper presented in the Professional Education Section,
International Association of Mass Communication Research, Seoul, South Kore
a, July 3-8,
 Ibid., 13.
 Elena Androun
as, Soviet Media in Transition: Structural and Economic
rnatives, (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993), 107-8.
 Brian McNair, Glas
nost, Perestroika and the Soviet Media (London and
Rautledge, 1991), 105.
 Ibid., 106.
 Androunas, 45.
 Constitution of the Russian Federation, Lawrencevill
e, VA and Moscow:
Brunswick and Russia's Information Agency --Novosti, 1
 Remember, too, that the Soviet leadership has always defi
ned freedom differently
from the Western concept. Freedom
is not freedom from regulation, it is freedom to
nd promote the communist system.
 Vladimir Shevelev, "A New Watchdog
for the Press," Moscow News, 13 November,
1991. (NOTE: Arti
cles from Moscow News were found in a search of
which does not indicate the page number of the original
 Olga Bychkova, ""Tribunal goes to
Board," Moskovskiye novosti, 9-16 January,
1994, sec. A, p. 6
, condensed in Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press,
ebruary 9, 1994): 24-5.
 Ibid., 25.
 "Decree of the President
of the Russian Federation: On a Judicial Board for Media
Disputes Under the President of the Russian Federation," Rossiiskaya gazeta
January, 1994, excerpted and translated in Current Dige
st of the
Post-Soviet Press 46 (February 9, 1994): 25.
Nikita Vainonen, "Will Things Become Easier for Readers?" Rossiiskiye ve
10 January, 1994, p. 1, excerpted and translated in Curr
ent Digest of the
Post-Soviet Press 46 (February 9, 1994): 24
 Valery Vyzhutovich, "By Closing the Door to the Press, the Govern
ment is Depriving
Society of Information About its Work," I
zvestia, 4 February, 1994, p. 1,
condensed and translated in
Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, (March
2, 1994): 22-3.
Natalya Gorodetskaya, "Airwaves: 30 Minutes of the Duma in Every Home Ever
Sevadnaya, 28 May, 1994, p. 2, condensed and translat
ed in Current Digest
of the Post-Soviet Press (June 22, 1994)
 Yelena Tregubova, "Upper Chamber: Senate Reje
cts Media Law," Sevadnaya, 2
July, 1994, p. 28, condensed and
translated in Current Digest of the
Post-Soviet Press, (Augu
st 24, 1994): 19.
 Vyzhutovich, "State Press Ordered to Become Pocke
t Press," Izvestia, 8 July,
1994, p. 2, translated in Current
Digest of the Post-Soviet Press (August
3, 1994): 18.
"Poltoranin: Policy Should Stress Independent Media," Rossiiskiye vesti
August, 1994, p. 2, translated in Current Digest of the
(September 21, 1994): 7.
 Evgeny Gol
ubev, general director, Union of Journalists of Russia, Journalists'
Fund, personal interview, Columbia, Missouri, December 12, 1994.
 "Poltoranin: Policy Should Stress," 7.
 Julia Wishnevsky, "The Russian Media After the State of Emergency,
Research Report 3 (February 11, 1994): 3.
ohann P. Fritz, "Russia Must Find Framework for Managing Triangle of Media
IPI Report 43 (July-August, 1994): 27.
 McNair, 97.
 Shevelev (emphasis added).
 Sergei Drozdov, "Ho
w Much do Subsidies Cost Us?" Moscow News, 22 July, 1992.
 Leonid Za
galsky, "A Penny for Your Dumas," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
, 46 (March/April, 1994): 9.
 Linda Malash, "St
ranglehold on the Press is Growing Tighter and Tighter,:
polis Express, 11 October, 1994, p. 12, excerpted and translated in
Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, (April 27, 1994): 19.
Arkadii Udal'tson, "If a Free Press Fails, This Means the New Regime has
Russian Politics and Law 31 (Spring, 1993): 70. T
he original text
appeared in Lituraturnaia gazeta, 12 Februar
y, 1992, p. 1.
 "Sovetskaya Rossia Ceases Publishing," Pravda, 2 Apr
il 1994, p. 1,
condensed and translated in Current Digest of
the Post-Soviet Press (April
27, 1994): 20.
 Nil Kozl
ov, "Rejoinder: Write About Victories!" Rossiiskiye vesta, 2
February, 1994, p. 1, condensed and translated in Current Digest of the
Post-Soviet Press, (March 2, 1994): 23.
 Zoglasky, 9.
 Mikhail Berger, "A New 'Field of Dreams' in Russia --
The Contest Between the
Authorities and Lyonya Golubkov," I
zvestia, 28 July, 1994, translated in Current
Digest of the P
ost-Soviet Press, (August 24, 1994): 1.
 Yelena Korotkova, "Politbu
ro Loses Mutalibov," Moskovsky komsomolets, 7
, p. 3, excerpted and translated in Current Digest of the
t-Soviet Press, (October 12, 1994): 22.
 Mekhman Gafarly, "Conflict
: Private Television Under Pressure from Bureaucrats,"
naya, 21 September, 1994, p. 1, condensed and translated in Current
Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, (October 19, 1994): 22.
 Svennik Hoyer, Stig Hadenius and Lennart Weibel,
The Politics and Economics
of the Press:P A Developmental Pe
rspective, Sage Professional Papers in
Sociology (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1975).
 Kseniya Ponomaroyova, "The
State Will Not Take Anything Away From Those Who Have
Borrowed Anything From It," Moscow News, 22 July, 1992.
 The text of the publication uses the term "fold." It is u
nclear whether it refers
to a percentage decrease, an algeb
raic decrease (the common definition), or a multiplied
 Sergei Veselov, "Newspaper Market: Crisis Deepens, Rivalry I
News, 20 January, 1993.
 Irina Fro
lova, "Press," Moscow News, 18 August, 1993.
 Malash, 17.
Subscriptions: Rossiiskiye vesti is Among the Top Five National Daily
Newspapers," Rossiiskiye vesti, 13 January, 1994, p. 1, condensed
translated in Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press (F
ebruary 9, 1994):
 "To the Readers of Rossiiskiye
vesti," Rossiiskiye vesti, 4 January,
1994, p. 1, excerpted
and translated in Current Digest of the Post-Soviet
bruary 2, 1994): 14.
 Sergei Chugayev, "How is Press Faring in Mark
et Competition?" Izvestia, 15
July, 1994, p. 4, translated in
Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press
(August 17, 1994):
 Davydov, 11.
 Chugayev, 14.
 Valery Davydov, " Th
e Press: Minimum goal is Survival," Nezavisimaya gazeta, 6
y, 1994, p. 6, condensed and translated in Current Digest of the
Post-Soviet Press (June 1, 1994): 11.
 Malash, 19.
lication of Me/My Newspaper Suspended, 12 February,1994, p. 1,
excerpted and translated in Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press (Marc
9, 1994): 23.
 Davydov, 11.
 Ibid., 14.
 Chugayev, 15.
 Yevgeny Kuzin
, "Mass Media: There Can't Be Two `Truths,'" Novaya yezhednevnaya
, 8 February, 1992, p. 2, condensed and translated in Current Digest
he Post-Soviet Press (March 9, 1994): 23.
 "Dear Friends, Subscribe
rs and Readers of Pravda," Pravda, 22 January, 1994,
p. 1, tr
anslated in Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press (February 16,
 "Dear Readers," 22.
 "Poltoranin: Policy S
hould Stress," 7.
 Chugayev, 14.
 "Poltoranin: Policy Should Stress," 7.