Russian television today has almost monopolized the influence on formation of the social and political agenda in the Russian Federation, – such conclusion was made by the Levada Center – respected organization conducting regular sociological research in Russia.
It is noteworthy that this opinion was stated not by Western sources not trusted in Russia, but by the experts from Moscow, who based it on their own research.
Such recognition by the leading Russian researchers of using “tamed” television as a dominating public-informing tool, forces us to search for an answer to the question: why the Russian authorities are promoting TV and restricting the Internet?
It is well-known that Russia has created a strong barrier of control over the information space. Practically any message is presented from the position of the Russian leaders.
The public television channels are given the role of “regulators of public opinion. Apparently, for this reason, 90% of Russians are regularly watching Moscow TV news.
The most preference is given by the audience to three TV channels, and many get their news from more than one of the television “leading trio”:
1st Channel (1tv.ru) – 82% of the audience;
Russia-1 (russia.tv-1) – 71% of the audience;
NTV (ntv.ru) – 48% of viewers.
Any other information sources have smaller audiences. For example, the Internet has reached the level of 39%, and the press and radio share a niche of less than 20% of the news segment.
It is characteristic that over the past ten years, the number of regular readers of the press in Russia has reduced almost by 10%. An interesting feature was observed here: a sharp decline in the number of consumers of printed news was offset by a surge of users of internet resources.
Bare statistics of Russian sociologists leads to interesting results. In 2014, the number of regular users of electronic news content was 33%, and users who periodically visit the news pages – 37%. Therefore, the news content was of interest for one third of Russian population, which is 56 million.
According to the international market research company GfK, in 2014 Russia had more than 80 million internet users and at least two-thirds of those were using internet daily.
Here we can see a serious threat presented by the internet for the Russian state-television-based system of information control.
Much to the disappointment for the Russian TV-makers, the view rating for Russian federal television channels in 2014 was the same as the rating of BBC channels (3% each).
So, the study by Levada Center showed that the Internet as a news source leaves newspapers and radio far behind. However, in Russia the electronic media are not in a position to become a leader in content as yet, although there are serious grounds to that. For comparison, in 2011, 92% of Russian news media consumer preferences were held by television, 20% – by press, 15% – by the Internet and 12% – by radio. Today the situation is changing – newspaper readers and TV audience are gradually shifting to electronic media.
Foreign media analysts see this as a pattern of development for the world media. Thus, according to research firm Forrester, Americans began to devote to the Internet as much time as to television. Annual reports of the «State of the Media» note a steady trend – the audience moves over to the Internet.
Levada-Center saw the same pattern in Russia: increasing interest to Internet sites robs television of its audience. In other words, Russian viewers are increasingly losing interest to the state-controlled broadcasting.
All around the media world the evolution of the Internet and decrease in TV ratings are already recognized as natural trends.
The Russian leadership, however, is not ready to accept this fact. More than 50 million Russians and about the same number of Russian-speaking audience abroad would fall out of the information zone controlled by Kremlin.
Russian government officials rushed to correct by artificial means the natural desire of the Russian audience for a full awareness.
At first, they created technical limitations for the Internet access. According to the Internet research, for example, several regions of Russia have minimal network access by current standards. Thus, Internet speed in the depressed regions of the Russian Federation (Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Jewish AO) is about as low as 3 Mbit / s. The city of Norilsk with population 140 000 will have necessary fiber optics only in 2016. A similar situation exists in the Khabarovsk and Krasnoyarsk regions. At the same time high cost of internet services simply discourages users.
According to the company Yandex, Crimea is among the regions falling behind in terms of the internet development in Russia. After its annexation, the situation with the availability of this service has only worsened. The proportion of organizations that have a website, decreased compared to the previous year, approximately by 50%. For availability of mobile internet access Crimea is also the worst in Russia. Это самый низкий показатель по РФ.
It turns out that during past ten years number of internet users in Russia decreased about three times. To improve this statistics Russia started taking into account users who are using internet at least once a month from any device, including mobile phones.
Secondly, legal restrictions for using internet were introduced at the state level. Начиная с 2013 г. в российское законодательство сфокусировалось на интернет-источниках: Starting from 2013 the Russian legislation has focused on Internet sources:
July 2, 2014 – amendments to the law “On communications” entered into force, which complicated the rules for mass distribution of sms-messages;
July 21, 2014 – amendments to the law “On personal data” were passed, calling for storing personal data of Russian citizens only in Russia;
August 1, 2014 – the amendments to the law “On information, information technologies and protection of information” ( “bloggers act” ) were passed, which equated resources with attendance of 3 000 people to the media. Moreover, the amendments require everyone (including foreign members ) to notify The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) about the fact of posting information on the Internet, as well as to store this information for six months;
December 4, 2014 – Russian Union of Owners (President N.Mikhalkov) came out in the State Duma with a proposal to collect taxes from each of Russian Internet users for each connection to the network – 25 rubles per month;
December 16, 2014 – the amendments to the law “On information, information technologies and protection of information” were passed also in the Administrative Code (regarding the placement of official state and municipal sites in the Russian Federation). The measure prohibits placing electronic resources of Russian state institutions with the hosts outside the country. The practice of informing the public, which had previously existed in Russia for more than two decades, was at once crossed out;
In addition, last year the State Duma received the most unbelievable offers for informational constraints. Among them, the May 2014 law , which was supposed to protect children from information, distorting or denying the Russian patriotism. Or the April 2014 draft of the Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children for creating image database of child pornography. It provided that those who wish to see the “full Internet” would have to sign an additional agreement with the provider to confirm their age.
In this regard, the Russian resource Hi-Tech.Mail.Ru published an interesting conclusion: 2014 was a year of increased government attention to the regulation of the Internet and attempts to significantly strengthen state regulation of the network.
Thus, the trend of the internet development around the world dictates conditions that will change the established priorities of the media market. This is reflected in the loss of the television audience and its overflow into online media.
Russian public broadcasting system, which actually forms the news content of the country, shows the concern about the loss of its audience.
Russian leadership was not prepared for the new information threats that are caused by the development of Internet technologies. Forecasts for the audience shift from TV screens to computers can cause weakening of state information control over the moral and psychological climate of the Russian audience.
To this end, in 2014 in Russia multiple attempts were made to establish mechanisms to limit the development of online media, blogs and social networks.
It is predicted that in the near future Russian state media will try and create a powerful segment of the controlled news content on the Internet.
Vyacheslav Gusarov, expert on information security TSVPI (Military and Political Research Center) group “IR”