Russian Media in the Post Soviet SpaceJanuary 15, 2014
There’s a minor excitement today after the refusal of the Russian government to grant a visa to David Satter of RFE/RL. I’ve no idea if there’s a connection but Satter authored a report published last week by the Center for International Media Assistance on The Last Gasp of Empire: Russia’s Attempts to Control the Media in the Former Soviet Republics
This looks at the impact of Russian media in most of the states on the periphery of Russia. Satter argues that in most of these countries even including the Baltics Russian media continues to play an outsize role and is frequently used to exert pressure on recalcitrant leaders or to support cooperative ones. More broadly the popularity of Russian media affects local perceptions of the world. In some countries Russian media seems more reliable than local media outlets that are dominated by authoritarian leaders.
Satter doesn’t think that this is a good thing but apart from a couple of paragraphs in the summary of the report he doesn’t have much in the way of policy suggestions.
Apart from the propensity of Russian operators to make life difficult for those that oppose them there are structural issues at work. Many people in the post Soviet space speak Russian even if they’re not members of the Russian diaspora and in a situation where an adjacent big country and a small country share a language you would expect the big country’s media to attract a large share of attention because it’s likely to have better programming. This is basic media economics. Interestingly Satter points to cases where Western channels have cut deals that appear to give Russian channels a monopoly on their programming in the former Soviet space. One response would be Western controlled Russian language entertainment channels but I don’t see that any governments are going to put their hands in the their pockets for that the moment particularly when we can assume that Russia will do its best to keep these channels off terrestrial and cable systems.