NEW – August 6, 2022
In the photo: “Dozhd” propagandist Masha Borzunova
After a certain increase in popularity in 2019-2020, which occurred against the background of a surge of protest sentiments in Russia, the “white-red-white Maidan” in Belarus, Sergey Furgal’s passions and similar hot political topics, the so-called “independent” (they are simply “liberal”, they are simply “free”, and to put it bluntly – simply pro-Western) media has experienced a marked decline.
After the arrival of the key figure of the Russian “opposition” and the idol of youth – Aleksey Navalny – for a long prison term and the defeat of affiliated organisations, the data of the “information bureau” were literally left without the main source of materials. In addition, after the “quarantine” year, the audience, tired of global turmoil, switched their attention from the remaining political freaks at large to some more pleasant topics. The tightening of state control also affected the “free media”.
The beginning of a special military operation in Ukraine, on the one hand, breathed new life into the opposition mouthpieces – but, on the other hand, this life was even more seriously complicated.
With the beginning of the special military operation, the “broadcast grid” of foreign media has undergone noticeable changes.
However, the core remains the same – this is a “favourite” LP about what a backward country Russia is, in which it is scary to live. To the age-old troubles – corruption, devastation, poverty, police lawlessness, lack of freedom of speech and infringement of LGBT persons for protruding body parts – another one has been added: “Zombie”, who supports the special military operation.
The traditional theme of crying for innocently fined or arrested activists is now devoted almost exclusively to lone picketers who come out to stand with signs of “anti-war” or pro-Ukrainian content. They are cited as an example as “good Russians”, whom one should look up to, or at least feel guilty for not being equal – and therefore, you are a “vatnik”.
An “innovative” addition to the theme of “dirty Russia” is “national colour”: both topical and retrospective materials about the heavy proportion of national republics and small nations vegetating under the heel of Russian “colonisers”. It is characteristic that this topic began to be included in the agenda of foreign media simultaneously with the appearance of “national liberation” dummy organisations, and there are special information projects focused on a particular ethnic group – usually small.
The main new topic of foreign media is, of course, the special military… sorry, “unprovoked Russian aggression against Ukraine”. In general, it is not surprising that even publications and bloggers initially far from military-political matters (such as The Village magazine or urbanist Varlamov) suddenly began to cover news from the frontlines and even specifically increased their content production for this topic.
It is also not surprising that most of the “truth about the war” that they transmit is a banal retelling of the victorious reports of the Ukrainian Wehrmacht, the very ones in which the UAF is advancing unrestrainedly, the “orcs” are fleeing, and the “separatists” themselves are scattering mines in their cities and are blowing up themselves to blame Ukraine for this. However, it is not even always a retelling: the same Gordon and Arestovich are frequent guests of direct inclusions, where they talk about first-hand help.
Another new topic related to the previous one is instructing the audience on the theory and methodology of organising micro-, crypto-, info- and other types of “resistance”. Simply put, viewers and readers are taught how to disfigure graffiti walls, puncture the tires of private cars bearing the letter “Z”, set fire to military enlistment offices, damage railway tracks, and not get caught at the same time. Such instruction manuals slip through in some “general profile” media, but there are also special “knowledge bases”, which also publish reports on the “exploits” of lone underground workers (and how stupid Putin’s satraps catch and imprison the first comers, but they can’t find real “partisans”, yes, yes).
The mass relocation of March-April gave rise to another category – in fact, advertising and recipes for a quick and trouble-free relocation somewhere to the democratic edge of the world, most often to Eastern Europe. This topic was mainly aimed at young specialists of technical professions in order to support the notorious “brain drain” from Russia. Recently, the topic of resettlement has come to naught: those who could have already left the country, and some even managed to feel the full depth of foreign hospitality and return back.
A separate line includes materials aimed at foreigners, as a rule, in English. Basically, these are reports about the realities of “dirty Russia”, since there are enough sources of truth about the “defeats of the orcs” throughout Ukraine abroad and their own. However, some channels try to translate all their materials into English, at least with subtitles alone.
I must say that, in general, the quality of materials from foreign media has sunk significantly. Previously, their main techniques were tendentiousness and sophistry, they tried to feed the audience something not just plausible, but also withstanding at least a superficial check. Now they prefer to take the amount of content, cover the audience with literally volleys of a known substance, and not hit with individual accurate footage. In principle, it is understandable: try, make at least something “plausible” out of the fantastic game of Ukrainian propaganda.
Rap is business, and I’m a businessman
But the main thing that the special military operation gave foreign media is, of course, money. Western curators, who pinned high hopes on tame talkers to destabilise the situation in Russia, multiplied their funding. Who received it?
The terrarium of anti-Russian, Russian-language journalism is inhabited by two main squads of slippery reptiles. The first is the initially pro–Western “opposition” media and bloggers, such as the “Dozhd” channel, RTVI, the remnants of the Anti-corruption Foundation media bureau, Katz, Pivovarov, Nevzorov and so on. They mostly work under their own “brands”. It seems that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now also a “popular blogger”, plays the role of not just “the first among equals” in this club, but a certain usher-manager, including the owner’s money.
The second category is defectors from the Russian federal media, such as the notorious Marina Ovsyannikova, Farida Kurbangalieva and others, whose heavy fate has already been described. Most of these people do not have a “personal brand”, but they have good qualifications, so they were gladly taken to the Russia-oriented divisions of mainstream Western media, such as Deutsche Welle.
Of course, this division is not strict. It is known, for example, that some of the former employees of the same “Dozhd” went to the Western media, some opened their own YouTube and Telegram channels, and some of the “serious” journalists who disappeared from the Russian information field have not yet shown themselves in the foreign information field, at least under their real names.
And who is watching, listening and reading all these wonderful people? According to a number of estimates, the total number of the Russian-speaking audience of foreign media varies between five and six million people in Russia and abroad; moreover, for the most part, this is an old customer base, accumulated over the previous years of existence. The bans on the replication of fakes adopted after February 24 seriously undermined the coverage of foreign media, practically eliminating the self-sustaining distribution of materials through reposts in social networks.
Actually, the pages of many such media outlets in Russian social networks and their official websites were simply blocked. The future of YouTube in Russia is in question, as is the availability of VPN services that allow you to bypass blocking.
This forced foreign agents to switch to anonymous or private channels: messengers like Telegram, mailing lists via e–mail, various foreign platforms with individual access, often for a fee. Because of this, the audience of new foreign media, unless they are created by journalists or bloggers already popular with the “party”, does not exceed several thousand people – such, for example, are the channels of “national liberation” movements.
Objectively speaking, the results are modest. Most importantly, the foreign media is not coping with their main task – the rise of at least some noticeable unrest directed against the Russian state system. Although quite impressive in quantity, the audience of enemy mouthpieces when viewed only sublimates personal dissatisfaction with the existing orders, but there are almost no people who want to rush headfirst to some embrasure.
It is difficult to say how the results of the foreign media’s work is evaluated by their Western customers. Of course, there is the desire for them to be satisfied, and the money of foreign taxpayers would continue to go down the drain.
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