By Paul Goble
Too few Russians currently go online for their news and even fewer of them can cope with the variety and often contradictory quality of its reporting for the Internet to be able to compensate when Moscow decides to throw up an information blockade around events it would like Russians to ignore, according to Russian observers.
Evidence for that conclusion, the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” say in a lead article today, is provided by what has taken place since Moscow ordered OMON troops to crush protests in Mezhdurechensk. And they continue, it points to ever more serious problems in the future for the Russian state and society (www.ng.ru/editorial/2010-05-19/2_red.html).
Since the OMON clashes with the miners, the paper observes, “the federal television channels have practically ignored the protests of the miners,” leaving most Russians with little or no reliable information about them, especially since “only 38 percent of Russians” have a personal computer linked to the Internet.
(For a more detailed and extensive discussion of the information blockade Moscow and the regional government have imposed on Mezhdurechensk, see the article by Taras Burmistrov at www.russ.ru/pole/Blokada-Kuzbassa and especially the commentary by Marina Litvinovich at www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=10115.)
But even those who do, the paper continues, precisely because they were “educated by television are not prepared for the variations of information which the Net guarantees.” (Indeed, another analyst continues, differing reports on the web often cancel each other out, leaving people with little or no information at all (ladno.ru/stranar/14579.html).
As “Nezavisimaya” points out, “Paragraph 29 of the Russian Constitution guarantees citizens the right to information but it does not guarantee them the opportunity to receive it.” And because most Russians still get their news from national television, a medium the government controls, they often do not have that chance.
“What does the television viewer know about the events in Mezhdurechensk?” the paper’s editors ask. “He knows that at the Raspadskaya Mine two explosions occurred, miners and rescuers died, and a time of mourning was declared in the region.” He also “knows” the Vladimir Putin has taken control of the investigation of the accident.
“It is very probably that the television viewer has heard nothing about the blocking of the railroad by the miners on May 15, or if he has heard, then he has heard only about some supposedly organized actions of criminals, which were neutralized in a timely fashion by the forces of order.”
Moreover, the paper says, “the [Russian] TV viewer has not seen ‘pictures’ from the place of events, although it would not have cost federal television anything to have them. He has not heard the participants of the actions and in the best case knows about the demands of the miners only from hearsay.
Thus, the “Nezavisimaya” editors say, “the majority of Russians — for television viewers are the majority – do not have full information about the central event of the week. [And] they cannot draw independent and objective conclusions” about what has happened and how well the powers that be have coped.
Such a situation completely contradicts the “general line” President Dmitry Medvedev has proclaimed regarding the modernization of the state and society. And it means that TV viewers are being cultivated as a kind of “retro-society” which is given information only of the kind and amount judged necessary by “the elect” which will make all the decisions.
Supporting this situation are the Russian special services who have been “attempting to block the pages on the Runet” that have sought to report on what in fact has taken place. But these efforts have been far from successful: many who use the Internet have quickly found ways to go around them.
But that is not the greatest harm, the paper says. Instead, “the real misfortune” is that “ a government which does not understand how in a contemporary society information can and must be transmitted converts itself into a retro-state,” one that cannot modernize itself or the society even though it has declared itself “the locomotive of modernization.”
By restricting information in the way that it has, “Nezavisimaya” points out, the government has “voluntarily limited its own picture of the world” and ensured disaster. Indeed, “as a result, the powers do not understand their citizens and a society is emerging which does not know itself.”
Such “silence about events will not extinguish the energy they give birth do,” the independent Moscow paper warns. Instead, such enforced silence will “only feed upon itself and transform in dangerous ways,” a trend that the editors suggest will come back to haunt those who are trying, still with some success, to control information as the Soviet system did.