Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Slave to Power?

At his annual news conference, Russian president Vladimir Putin revealed that he had never been tempted to run for a third term. From the very outset, he decided never to violate the Russian constitution. The constitution stipulates a maximum of two consecutive presidential terms.

As usual this pseudo-news ran as the top story in international media's comments on the news conference. As previously reported, the Kremlin has succeeded to keep speculations on a potential third Putin presidential term alive for years, and media have only been to keen to swallow the bait. That journalists simply have not been able to take Putin's word for it, only testifies to the politechnologists' successful media coup in manipulating western and Russian news coverage alike. It should also send a warning to news audiences worldwide that they run the risk of deception due to international media's one-eyedness in Russia reporting.

At the news conference Putin said: "Throughout all these eight years I have toiled like a slave in the galleys, from morning till evening and, have done so with the full devotion of my strength." This is most probably a very sincere statement, and is also in line with what Putin has previously said repeatedly. Also, people working in the Kremlin has let it be no secret that the Russian president has been quite tired and weary of his duties in recent years. So, being a slave to power does not in Putin's case have to be a fixation to power, but an actual slavery of duties. Still, media have failed to see this.

At times, it is simply appauling to see how bad the knowledge is among western journalists covering Russia, when they repeatedly fail even to get the basic facts right. For instance, only this Tuesday the BBC covered Ukrainian president's Yushchenko meeeting with Putin in Moscow. With badly covered indignation, the reporter comments on Putin's upcoming attendance to the April NATO-conference in Bucharest: "Mr Putin will no longer be Russian president in April. Elections for his successor will be held next month." It is thus suggested that Putin and his croonies do not know when his presidential term ends or that they do not care, as things will anyway remain the same. Well, I have news for the BBC: Putin was inaugurated for his second term in May 2004, which means that he has the constitutional right to remain in office for the full four years of his term, viz. until May this year. That he has every intention to exercise his presidential powers to the maximum until the last minute is also clear from Putin's own statements. Still, one cannot but sigh when even the BBC cannot get such basics right.

What is at risk is good and objective reporting about developments in Russia. As the situation is becoming increasingly severe in many fields of politics and society, news coverage is increasingly tendentious and predisposed to prejudial perceptions. The worse the situation becomes, the greater is the need for journalistic integrity and professionalism. Or else, not only the general news audience will be misled but even world leaders might base their decisions on policies towards Russia on bad information and faulty images. Getting the basic facts right might actually change assessments of developments to better cope with challenges ahead. Those challenges are great, and the greatest is perhaps coping with the myth of Russia as a reemerging great power in the world. Still, we fail to see realities as they are, and as long as we do not challenge our own prejudice, we will go on living in a world of illusions about Russia.


CrossRoads Foundation said...

Happy Valentine's Day! I have passed on an "Excellent Blog" Award to your blog. Come by my blog at and read the Feb 14th post to pick it up!

Sean Guillory said...

I couldn't agree more. The media doesn't seem to get it since they asked Putin again, two weeks before the election, about a possible third term. He appeared to get frustrated with the question.

I think it is an example of how the Western media desires what it most fears. They can't seem to imagine Russia any different from, well, their imagination and a third term would only confirm what they already know.

Minter said...

As we know, media and its buying/reading audience tend to harp on the negatives in every country, whether the events they are reporting on are political or social, etc. In order for "official" journalism outside the country to get a clearer viewpoint, especially about such a large and disparate country as Russia, one sees the benefit of citizen journalism from within the country. With the apparent lack of freedom of press, one's natural tendency is to revert to doubt and negativity. I have no doubt, however, about Putin's work ethic. Nor, like any person in power, about his desire to create a legacy. The question undoubtedly remains for me what that legacy will be?

Kyle and Svet Keeton said...

I really like this article! I think that you have hit it on the nail head!

Media only sees what it wants to see, if it sells then print it, true or not. If the truth is dull and bland then do a few white lies and spice it up.

Putin should be tired, 8 years of running Russia would put Grey hair on your head!

Mass Media in this World has become very biased in virtually all aspects.

Thank you for a good article.

Kyle Keeton

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Michelle,

Thank you very much for the excellent blog award & a belated happy Valentine's day to you as well. I am happy to see that you still go on reading my blog although I post quite seldomly nowadays. That is a comfort.



Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Sean,

Thank you for your approval. There is very mnuch to the argument that western media desires what it most fears. Regretfully, in the process they miss out on very important developments. The changes Russia has undergone in recent years are of great consequence to the west and Russian analysts discuss this quite openly. Still, media and western analysts alike largely fail to illustrate these changes.



Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Minter,

The question is not about negative reporting. There is a lot of that as it is. The great problem is that reporting is so superficial. Journalists miss out on the big picture and thus cannot relay anything but major news events on a day-to-day basis. Take for instance the 2004-2005 law packages on restricting civil liberties, where western media and thinktanks failed to look at more than one law at a time and still do not seem to understand the full ramifications of what really has happened.



Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Kyle,

Yes, the theme of Putin's third term is really tiresome, and points to the laziness of reporters when they chose such an issue as symbolic. It is a mass mentality for the mass media. The tragic thing is that Russian politicians might be proven right when they claim that western media coverage no Russia is biased. The truth of the matter is, I fear, much worse than what we actually imagine.



Anonymous said...

This is a very very good post.

I recently asked a few people why they though the news coverage of Russia is as myopic (and biased) as it is, and they thought it was simply that capitalism is responsible for poor journalism all around... (As opposed to what, the stunningly objective communist media?) Well, certainly there is no lack of explanations for media incompetence, but the coverage of Russia really does boggle the mind. I feel as though I know exactly what is going to be said or written before I hear or read it. Which is unfortunate, as the news is meant to be ... new, and not just variations on one story which is less a story they (media, western) relate to us than a narrative they tell themselves, or an outright exercise in confirmation bias.

There is this idea that the Cold War was bad because of the threat of nuclear war, and that we can look back and think, "whew, at least there were no major causalities." But I'm not sure people understand that ignorance is a rather major casualty. I'm concerned that we are headed down that road once more. And it is almost irrelevant "who started it", the US or Russia. In the west, journalists aren't supposed to be in the business of promoting the fp agenda of an administration, right? If prominent western media outlets are going to take Russia to task for lack of freedom, objectivity, debate and diverse opinion in the Russian media, then they should start illustrating freedom, objectivity, debate and diverse opinion in their own work. Otherwise I might just die from an overdose of irony.

Tim Newman said...

This may be true or false. But the claim that the central-planning system bankrupted the country is clearly false.

I think all this talk about western mass media bias towards Russia is overblown. I used to follow media coverage of a handful of countries and regions closely, e.g. Israel, Persian Gulf states, Russia, Central Asia, and the US. I especially used to read the economic and military analyses on these places.

After 5-6 years I came to the conclusion that most media articles were riddled with basic errors and looked as though they were compiled in a hurry by a 16 year old from out-of-date stock material. Journalists and those that surround them are, for whatever reason, largely incompetent, and Russia is just another in a long list of subjects which are covered incompetently.

I really struggle to believe that there is some media conspiracy to present Russia in a bad light in order to promote a western agenda. Turn the pages back and you'll see the same media tearing into its own politicians and institutions with the same vigour. I think part of the reason why Russians think the media "bias" deliberate is they struggle with the concept of the national press being truly independent of the government in power.

I forget who orginally said this, but there is a reasonable quote along the lines of "Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence". I think this applies well for the media's coverage of Russia.

And one last thing: most blogs on the subject of Russia are as full of the same idiotic conclusions and projections as the mass media. The observations are usually much better, but the conclusions usually wouldn't get past even the most idle of editors.

EuroYank - Virginia Hoge said...

The new and improved Stalin version. Unlike the Bush or Clinton family, he actually got a puppet to take his place while he is running things in the background, and he must have been watching lots of Chicago gangster movies because the Russian maffia is king. At least the Russians are making democratic progress, while the USA is just a police state with some old Clinton broad running and an African replacement to get the Democratic party of Kennedy and Johnson (bay of pigs and Vietnam generation)voters to think that democratic party fascism and republican police state fascism are different!

Tim Newman said...

Sorry, I've copied and pasted the wrong quote in the above post.

The quoted part in italics should be:

The tragic thing is that Russian politicians might be proven right when they claim that western media coverage no Russia is biased.