By Paul Goble
More than eight out of ten Russians still get their news from television, but the share of them trusting that source has fallen from 79 percent in 2008 to only 41 percent now, a trend that is leading ever more of them to rely on family members and close friends as they did in the late Soviet period, according to Lev Gudkov
In an excerpt from an article that will appear in the next issue of “Russian Politics and Law,” the director of the Levada Center polling agency, says that the falloff in trust in government-influenced or controlled media is likely to continue well into the future thus reducing the ability of the powers that be to shift the country’s direction (slon.ru/posts/64280).
As a result of regime actions, he continues, the public media have become in the “strongest” way “sterilized,” with “the possibilities of presenting group interests, exchanging opinions and the rationalization of what is taking place becoming ever more limited and society driven into the state of artificial unanimity.
This deficit is being filled, Gudkov continues, by “’kitchen’ conversations or ‘discussions over a cigarette.” According to polls, “friends,, relatives, acquaintances and colleagues” now “stand in second place after television” as a source for information, far exceeding the Internet and social networks.
“This phenomenon,” the sociologist argues, “can be considered as a sign of a return to the forms of late-Soviet interpersonal informal communication” and thus is “a symptom of the radical reduction of the role and significance of expert and specialized knowledge in the formation of public opinion.”
Gudkov also points out that the growing diversity of the Russian media scene is deceptive. Today, Russians can get 69 channels on their home television as opposed to only ten in 2009, but in reality, “the population watches only 12 or 13 of these; and 70 percent of them simply rebroadcast” what is on the main government channels.
The same thing is true, he says, of the Internet. There are thousands of sites, but Russians turn to only three to seven sites on a regular basis; and only 0.5 percent to two percent of the adult population “turns to foreign sources of information.”
Approximately half of the population (45-55 percent) have mixed feelings about both government and non-government outlets, ranging from “almost narcotic dependence” on outlets with Russians watching more than four hours of TV a day to doubts about the reliability of information provided by this source.
“Only 9-11 percent of Russians express complete trust in Russian television,” Gudkov says, although he notes that during the anti-Western media campaign, “this indicator rose to 35 percent.” But those who completely distrust television are fewer, only five to eight percent of the population and consisting of the more educated segment of the population.
In other comments, Gutkov says that in recent years Russians are reading fewer newspapers with only 13 percent doing so now compared to 37 percent earlier and journals – two percent now compared to eight percent earlier. The main reason, he suggests, is the decline in incomes and the picture of reality television imposes.