For a period, during the 1990s, the Russian
media, freed from decades of communist control, was an excellent source of
military news from Russia. Too excellent for many Russian political and
military leaders, who wanted to institute some "control". The war in Chechnya
was not going well back then, and it was painful to see accurate news coming
out of the Caucasus. So when former secret police boss Vladimir Putin got
elected president of Russia in 2000, he began to return the mass media to
government control. Not exactly back to the old communist days, but back to a
form of state control.
The new censors had to be careful, not
just because most Russians would not tolerate a return to the sterile, lying
and annoying news media of the communist days, but because Putin was not able
to shut down Russian access to Internet news, an alternative news source that
the communists never had to deal with.
The solution has been to make Russian
media more like Western media, a process that was already underway in the
1990s. But the new state controlled media was selective in what it adopted from
the West. They put as much, well produced, happy news as they can get away
with, and keep that accurate, and enough tragic stuff (if it bleeds it leads),
to hold the audience. But lighten up on anything that makes the government look
really bad, and beef up any good news on the government, as much as you can get
away with. News directors of the "New Russian Media" lose points, and
eventually their jobs, if they get shown up too often on the Internet.
An example of how this works can be
seen in how Islamic terrorism deaths are reported, particularly those killed in
the Caucasus. Actually, most of these deaths occur down there, usually in, or
near, Chechnya. What the enterprising new directors do is, whenever possible
(when no contradictory news is out there), identify each dead terrorist as an
"Amir" (leader) and foreign terrorists (especially Arabs) as al Qaeda leaders.
Recently, news editors have been warned to be more careful about this, as people
on the Internet were counting, and the numbers from the Russian mass media were
not adding up.
Another gambit, which is less in danger
from Internet based analysts, is blaming the United States for anything that
goes wrong in Russia. This plays to the pessimism and paranoia that is so
common in Russia, especially when you have an autocrat in charge.