Publication: Prism Volume: 7 Issue: 5

By A.I. Kolganov

The development of democratic processes in Russia, including freedom of speech and of the press, has had a checkered history. Media rights and freedoms and the place of the media in Russia’s political system are as yet unfixed values. The results of surveys conducted in 1995 and 2001 by Sinus, commissioned by the Moscow branch of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, provide an opportunity for a better assessment of these fluctuating values.


Of those surveyed (a total of 252 people), 77 percent are heads of media outlets or subdivisions, and 23 percent are journalists and correspondents. One hundred and forty-one of them work in Moscow or St. Petersburg, and 111 in the provinces. Many of the respondents (48 percent) came to journalism from other occupations (35 percent used to be teachers or academics; 17 percent were blue-collar workers; 13 percent were party, Komsomol or trade union officers; and another 13 percent were engineers). Since 1995 the general level of knowledge of foreign languages has fallen somewhat (and perceptibly greater preference is shown for English today). Whereas in 1995 one-third of those surveyed had experience of working abroad, in 2001 this figure is only 17 percent.

Opinions on the prerequisites for a career in the media have changed significantly. While a considerable proportion of respondents considered study or a job placement specifically within the media to be such a prerequisite both in 1995 and in 2001 (46 percent and 42 percent respectively), opinions on the need for a university degree in a humanitarian discipline have changed dramatically. While 59 percent thought this was essential in 1995, in 2001 only 26 percent do. Opinion on the need for talent has changed equally greatly: This was cited by 24 percent and 9 percent of respondents respectively. Significantly, in 2001 21 percent of those surveyed cite “contacts with the right people” to be a necessary condition of a successful career in the media.


The media elite has a predominantly positive attitude to its own profession. In response to the question as to whether they would approve if their children expressed a desire to enter journalism, 55 percent answered positively in 1995, and 59 percent in 2001. However, they offer a considerably lower assessment of the social prestige of journalism as a profession. In 2001 respondents gave high assessments of the prestige of various social and professional groups as follows:

— Orthodox priests: 72 percent

— actors and artists: 65 percent

— academics: 60 percent

— directors of large companies: 59 percent

— mayors of large cities: 56 percent

— doctors: 54 percent

— governors: 46 percent

— officers in the intelligence services: 44 percent

— bankers: 37 percent

— war veterans and disabled soldiers: 38 percent

— journalists on state TV and radio stations: 37 percent

— journalists on independent TV and radio stations: 36 percent

— directors of small and medium businesses: 35 percent

— teachers: 35 percent

— press journalists: 31 percent

The younger the respondent, the more likely they are to attach prestige to their profession. It should be noted that in 1995 the prestige of journalism was evaluated considerably more highly: Journalists featured immediately behind artists and approximately on the same level as doctors and academics.

In their own work, the media elite attaches greatest importance to those functions that are related first and foremost to professional journalistic criteria. Providing information as fully and objectively as possible is perceived as important by 95 percent of respondents; reflecting reality as it is–94 percent; and rejecting reports which are not backed up by facts–90 percent. Journalists consider the social functions of the media to be slightly less important. Championing the less fortunate was cited as an important function by 81 percent; criticizing faults–76 percent; disseminating positive ideals–57 percent. Social control and critical functions are even less popular. Exerting control over politics, the economy and the social sphere was acknowledged as important by 52 percent; adopting a position contrary to that of official (political) authorities–35 percent. This latter function is not even considered important by a majority of journalists.

There are perceptible differences in interpretation of the social functions of journalism between representatives of different age groups and different political orientations. (The journalist elite has divided itself into “Westernists” and “Eurasians” depending on whether their priority is for Russia to be incorporated into European civilization, or to adopt a special role as a country that belongs to both East and West.) Thus, among social aims, championing the less fortunate is deemed important by 96 percent of journalists born in 1945 or earlier, but only 69 percent of those born in 1960 or later. 75 percent of Westernists consider this aim to be important, compared with 89 percent of Eurasians. There is an even more noticeable difference regarding the function of disseminating positive ideals. This is considered important by 73 percent of respondents born in 1945 or earlier, but just 45 percent of those born in 1960 or later. This same aim is deemed important by 44 percent of Westernists and 70 percent of Eurasians.


Of the journalist elite surveyed, 58 percent consider freedom of the press in Russia to be limited, 9 percent believe it is practically nonexistent and about one-third think it is more or less ensured. Asked whether there is a threat to freedom of the press in Russia from certain authorities, 86 percent of respondents answered in the affirmative. Those who did so also cited specific sources of this threat. The state, the government, the presidential administration and the Kremlin were cited by 49 percent of them as a source of threat; private capital and the oligarchs by 32 percent; local and regional authorities and governors–24 percent; intelligence services and power structures–19 percent; the ministry of the press and information and the minister himself–12 percent.

In their understanding of this threat, there is a fairly perceptible divergence in views between Westernists and Eurasians. Westernists are inclined to see the threat as coming first and foremost from state and political structures, while Eurasians perceive it to lie in the power of the oligarchs and private capital. Thus 57 percent of Westernists named the state, the government, the presidential administration and the Kremlin as a source of threat, compared with just 39 percent of Eurasians. Conversely, private capital and the oligarchs are perceived as a threat to press freedom by just 20 percent of Westernists and 44 percent of Eurasians.

At the same time, on a whole range of issues the journalist elite is not persuaded of the need for the media to be fully independent of the state. However, 94 percent of respondents agree that glasnost and liberalization of the media under Gorbachev created the conditions for democracy in Russia. A substantial majority–79 percent–agrees that Russia needs a strong independent television service, which fosters objectivity in program content. However, only 37 percent agree that television should be free of state influence, and just 32 percent agree that there should be no state subsidy for television.

Almost half of those journalists surveyed–47 percent–agree that advertising on Russian television should be sharply curtailed. And, finally, 26 percent believe that excessive press freedom is damaging to economic and political stability in Russia. As regards ownership of the print and electronic media, the journalist elite is fairly unanimous in their view that there should be both state and private media outlets. This view is held by 69 percent of respondents with regard to print media and 79 percent with regard to electronic media.

Some divergence of views between Westernists and Eurasians is perceptible on the question of the form of control of the electronic media. The view that the electronic media should be under public ethical control or under the control of public bodies is shared by 37 percent of Westernists and 52 percent of Eurasians. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Westernists and just 24 percent of Eurasians believe that there should be no interference from anyone in the activities of the electronic media. A mere 2 percent of Westernists are in favor of state control of the electronic media, compared with 16 percent of Eurasians.

Every second respondent believes that pressure is exerted on his or her professional work at least occasionally. In the electronic media, 40 percent of respondents cite pressure from proprietors, management and bosses, and 22 percent from political authorities. The level of pressure is slightly lower in the print media, where 20 percent of journalists feel pressure from proprietors, management and bosses, and 17 percent from political authorities.

Pressure is felt by a similar number of journalists in the progovernment media and in those that adopt a critical or neutral attitude towards the government (34 percent and 35 percent respectively), although this pressure differs in nature. In the progovernment media pressure is mainly exerted by proprietors, management and the bosses–this is cited by 33 percent–while only 11 percent note pressure from political authorities. The situation is reversed in media outlets neutral or critical towards the government: Seventeen percent of respondents cite pressure from proprietors, management and the bosses, and 28 percent from political authorities.

In comparison with 1995, the sense of a threat to personal safety has grown. Whereas in 1995 27 percent of media workers feared that something might happen to them personally, in 2001 the figure is 35 percent. The sense of danger depends little on which type of media the respondents represent; however, fear for personal safety does differ between those who work in progovernment media (29 percent of respondents sense a threat) and those who work in media outlets neutral or critical towards the government (43 percent).


In 2001, just as in 1995, 59 percent of those surveyed say that the media outlet where they work favors a certain political tendency. Typically, older journalists (born in 1945 or earlier–75 percent) more frequently cite a specific political position in the media outlet where they work than younger journalists (born in 1960 or later–52 percent). Among those who, by their own assertion, work in media outlets with a specific political orientation, sympathies are divided as follows:

— President, government, Unity: 17 percent

— Union of Right Forces (SPS), Russia’s Democratic Choice (DVR): 19 percent

— Yabloko: 11 percent

— Fatherland-All Russia (OVR): 7 percent

— Communist Party (KPRF): 5 percent

— Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR): 2 percent

It is interesting to compare these figures with the distribution of votes by party list at the parliamentary elections in 1999:

— Unity: 23.4 percent

— SPS: 8.7 percent

— Yabloko: 7 percent

— OVR: 12.6 percent

— KPRF: 24.2 percent

— LDPR: around 6 percent

There is a striking difference in levels of support for the communists in society (one in four electors vote for them) and in the media (one in twenty of journalists surveyed works in communist-oriented outlets). It should not be concluded from the figures cited that the president, the government and the pro-presidential Unity movement enjoy less influence among the media than among the electorate. The point is that the 41 percent of respondents who say that the media outlet where they work does not adhere to a particular position nevertheless describe the political orientation of their editors as progovernment or propresidential (21 percent) or as liberal and democratic (37 percent). Thus, on the contrary, we see in the media a predominance of progovernment and particularly right-liberal feeling compared to how political preferences are distributed in society as a whole. From this perspective, if the media does represent a mirror of the political processes in Russian society, then it is an extremely distorted one.

This factor plays a major role in political life in Russia. After all, the journalists surveyed assess the influence of the media on the formation of policy in Russia very highly. The strongest influence of the media, journalists believe, is on the popularity of individual politicians: 99 percent of respondents assess this as fairly strong or very strong. Correspondingly, they also see fairly strong or very strong media influence on the results of presidential or parliamentary elections (90 percent and 93 percent respectively). Generally, journalists do not consider the influence of the media on the formation of domestic policy as very strong (14 percent), although 67 percent see it as fairly strong. The situation is similar with the process of democratization in Russia. The level of influence of the media on economic policy is assessed as even lower (very high–6 percent; fairly high–52 percent). Meanwhile, considerably less than half of the respondents (between 23 percent and 40 percent) describe as fairly strong or very strong the influence of the media on such areas as law, military and social policy, foreign policy and the activity of the State Duma and the government.

From what perspective do the media influence political processes; how do they evaluate the policies of the president and the government on various issues? Judging by the distribution of political preferences, we would expect this attitude to be mainly positive. And so it is. Moreover, levels of support for the policies of the government and the president have grown considerably since 1995. In 1995 30 percent of media outlets spoke out against the president’s policies, but in 2001 just 8 percent do. Support for these policies has increased correspondingly from 26 percent to 53 percent. Support for the government’s policies has also risen in all areas: Support for its economic policy has increased from 34 percent to 50 percent, for foreign policy from 39 percent to 45 percent and for social policy from 18 percent to 44 percent.

These changes have resulted in the proportion of progovernment media outlets increasing from 30 percent in 1995 to 44 percent in 2001, and of neutral outlets from 37 percent to 43 percent, while the proportion of media outlets critical of the government has fallen from 24 percent to 8 percent.

[An upcoming article will cover in more detail the political positions of the media elite on various issues of domestic and foreign policy.]

Andrei Kolganov is a doctor of economics and a senior research fellow at Moscow State University.