A COMPARATIVE RESEARCH STUDY OF ROLE OF GLASNOST IN RUSSIAN MEDIA

BY MEHMOOD-UL-HASSAN KHAN

ABSTRACT

Glasnost, meaning “openness”, from the Russian words for “public” and “voice” was introduced in the 1980s. The main goal of this policy was to introduce meaningful short and long terms socio-economic strategies to pull out the sinking titanic of newly born Russia from the deep waters of poverty, corruption, debts, fear, disintegration, and above all economic recession. It institutionalized the traditions of corporate/good governance, transparency, check and balances, and easy access to truth and information sharing. Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the former Soviet Union was the pioneer of this policy. He knew that his policy of Glasnost could bring multidimensional changes in the economics, society, politics, and media. Glasnost, a mantra of Gorbachev’s perestroika (restructuring of Soviet economy) was instrumental of bringing new ideas and means of interaction in once closed society. Glasnost brought freedom of speech and dogma of information sharing, elements of criticism, accountability, greater sense of rights and duties/responsibility and above all increased levels of two-ways connectivity between the “State and Citizens” in Russian society. It played an important role in upbringing and maturing of Russian new ideology which was entirely different from the Soviet Union’s Authoritarian Approach.

This study attempts to compare the role of Glasnost in Russian media. We will discuss different aspects of Glasnost. We will also compare the levels of freedom of speech and access to information/truth in different presidential rules in Russia. We will also find the true picture of Glasnost in to-day Russia. The findings of this study are expected to be useful for policy markers (regulatory bodies), students of development journalism, mass communication, history, and the last not the least diplomacy.

INTRODUCTION

The study of giant socio-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic change phenomena of former Soviet Union and emergence of Russia would be incomplete without the enquiry into the development of the media sector. The role of the media in the political history of the nineties was profound, while the media themselves experienced tremendous influence of the relevant groups and important economic actors in Russia (Becker, 2004)

Glasnost gave new freedom to Russian people. It was a radical change as freedom of speech and criticism was totally and completely prohibited in former Soviet Union era. It brought freedom in media working and mechanism which was once mouthpiece of the state in the former Soviet Union system. With the dawn of Glasnost the paradigm shifted from closed society to a progressive society, from secrecy doctrine to open debate/criticism traditions and from state owned media to private and independent media groups in Russia. Now, media especially print media had become mirror of society and watchdog on state’s wrongdoings. (Haddix, 1990).

There was no more compulsory subscription of several newspapers (central & local, Pravda, Izvestiya, Trud, Sovetskaya Rossiya, etc) for every household in Russia as common during 1970-1990. Now, Russian people were free to buy and read. Many new national and regional/local newspapers were introduced. New magazines were also printed and circulated with out having any fear or restriction from the state. Many new private owners entered in the field of media. Many new ways to information sharing and easy accessibility were introduced at ever level especially after the collapse of Soviet Union and emergence of Russia. But impact or freedom of speech and right of criticism varied from president to president in Russia. (De Smaele, 1999).

ANALYSIS OF GALSNOST ROLE IN RUSSIAN MEDIA
Michail Gorbachev introduced the notion of glasnost openness, voiceness, transparency or publicity. This notion was composed of a comprehensive programme of political, economical and social reforms. It affected both the situation in respect to civil society and the media.

In Russia the media has played a central role in forming public opinion toward critical national concerns, not confined to the Chechnya conflict, the economic crisis, and government policies and personalities. The public figures such as Boris Yeltsin and government actions such as the Chechnya campaign have received ruthless criticism, and the deterioration of Russia’s environment, public health, national defense, and national economy has been exposed thoroughly, if not always accurately. However, the national and local governments have exerted heavy pressure on the print and broadcast media to alter coverage of certain issues. Because most media enterprises continue to depend on government support, such pressure often has been effective.

Initially, Glasnost was introduced to bring missing traditions of freedom of speech and criticism. But with the passage of time, the role and scope of Glasnost in media somewhat, has been curtailed or managed openly or secretly. The latest report clearly indicates the hidden phenomena of controlling or marginalization process in to-day Russian media. The different traits of personality (Presidents), spirits of association, so-called national interest, profession, upbringing and above all modes of governance molded the true spirits of Glasnost during the different presidencies in Russia. All aspects of Russia’s media, social, economic, financial and political structure have been hard hit by the variation in the implication of Glasnost.

Due to the diffusion of Glasnost throughout the 1990s, the development of independent media has been considered a clear success of the Russian political transformation. The end of the state monopoly on media ownership gave media (print, electronic and online) unprecedented freedom to criticize the central and regional authorities.( McNair, 2000).

First Period (1986-1990)

Yet from its beginning as a tactic in the service of a reform, glasnost quickly evolved into the primary engine of a revolution that destroyed the political and economic systems–as well as the very state that Gorbachev had intended to modify. Michel Gorbachev was the pioneer of Glasnost. His regime was lasted from 1986-1990. He had vision and mechanism of free media, society, and transparent political system. The first Media law had been introduced. The government was essentially started a grand effort to build a public sphere in place of administered by Communist Party of Soviet Union [CPSU] propaganda machine. The CPSU was badly affected by the relaxation of censorship. It lost its strong grip on the media. The media started to unearth worsening socio-economic problems which the former Soviet Union government had long denied and covered up. In general the living conditions were very low in the Soviet Union system. There was poor housing, food shortages and commonness of alcoholism in Soviet Union. The level of industrial pollution was very high. There were high rates of mortality and gender discrimination incidents in the CPSU’s era. But with the dawn of Glasnost these were now, receiving increased attentions. It also unveiled the political debacles, corruption, and historical mistakes of the rulers of former Soviet Union. It was the start of state-people faith and believe in the political system. (Zhou, 1988).

The credit goes to glasnost which unearthed the country’s true history: the mass murder, the horrific blunders, the lies of former Soviet Union. In articles, essays, and previously forbidden novels, the shuddering country learned of the true scale of the terror: the millions killed and millions more arrested and tortured in prisons and labor camps. The “collectivization” of agriculture, which for half a century had been touted as the crowning achievement and the cornerstone of the Soviet economy, was forged on the bones of millions of Ukrainian and Russian peasants. Women, men, the elderly, and babies starved in the manmade famine of 1932-33; were thrown out of their homes in the middle of winter and frozen to death; were herded into cattle cars, driven for days without food or water, and dumped in the swamps or forests with no food, warm clothes, or shelter.( Paasilinna, 1995).

Between May 25 and June 9, 1989, the country quite literally came to a standstill, as most adults watched the live telecasts of the First Congress of the People’s Deputies the first uncensored account of the Soviet leaders’ deliberations in seventy-two years.

Institutionalization of Glasnost revolutionized intellectual discussions and rational emotional behavior by the help of increased interest in censored free qualitative literature and genuine principles of philosophy. The freedom of speech was promoted strongly vigorously throughout the country. It was fun living and reading in those days, and these times would remain “paradise lost” for intellectuals and intelligentsia for generations to come.

The “PUTCH” was the first truly independent newspaper. The “Obschaya Gazeta”, published and circulated by united editorial boards of a dozen publications that had been closed by the revolting communists and militarists in former Soviet Union system. The first wave of privatization of media was also introduced. After The press and some radio stations became truly independent at once and the control over the TV was also relaxed for a while, although the ‘state’ still controlled the broadcasting industry at large. The massacres of the Aremenians in the Azerbaijani city show the levels of freedom in Russian media. (Davis, Nizamova., 1998).

The Glasnost enabled people, enterprises and political leaders alike to contact the Western World which was once dream of the Russian society due to Authoritarian nature of the Soviet Union. Now, the restrictions on travel were relaxed. The cultural and business contact was on the rise. As a good gesture and people-friendly policies of the Gorbachev thousands of political prisoners were released and media played an important role in developing and achieving national consensus on political harmony and national interests.

From 1988, the media, especially the central press, started to develop a more independent way with less loyalty to Gorbachev.39 Television was easier to regulate than the printed media, but by mid-1989, even television was clearly out of the state control. However, already from the beginning, the freedom of the press was threatened by both political and economic forces. The control over the media was needed for getting advantages from competitors in the struggle for influence and power.41 The struggle was intense and media became just a tool in the political play. Legally, there was no right to freedom of speech in the country until 1990. This right was established first in 1990 with the law ‘On Printed and Other Means of Mass Communication. (Gaunt, 1987).
The Second Period (1990-1992)

This particular period indicated the different important developments in the working and mechanism of print and electronic media in Russia. It was the era of media transformation (technically, professionally, morally, politically and economically). The presentation style was changed. The new features were included. The new cross-cultural and extra-territorial skills were developed in editorial, article writing and above all information sharing.

The onslaught of Glasnost introduced technological revolution in the media (print, electronic and online). It was the start if knowledge based media. There was no more fudging of figures and distortion of facts. Now, foreigner TV ads could be seen on Russian TV (Mexican Soap). The market economy became living reality. The media enjoyed an unprecedented amount of attention, prosperity and influence. The “forth power” concept was so widely shared in media industry of Russia at that time.

The phenomena of merger and acquisition were common feature in 1990-1992 periods. The new newspapers, seeking to differentiate themselves from their aged rivals, were sometimes modeled on their Western prototypes: for example, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” (est. 1990) owes much to “Le Monde” and “The Independent”, “Segodnya” (est. 1992) to “Le Figaro”, “The Times”, “Kommersant” to “The Financial Times” etc.

In the beginning of nineties first advertisement appeared to become major source of income and investment in both TV and radio. TV-shows and TV-games were introduced. Field of miracles” “Wheel of fortune”, “Guess the melody”, “Love on first sight” etc.) arriving only in the middle of nineties and infotainment programs coming along by the end of decade.

The Third Period (1992-1996)

The economic crisis suppressed the independency of Russian media/press. There was sharp income decline, inflation and general destabilization which also badly affected the freedom of the press. The Scissors Effect was on the rise. There were, monopolies, and on the other were the country’s citizens and consumer-oriented businesses. The whole of Russia’s industry was between the scissors-blades. The cost of production of the central/big newspaper became high and unmanageable and press searched other means to fulfill their day to day expenses. Many central/big newspapers were closed. It created play field for regional media and newspapers. Although, media/press played an important role in highlighting the true picture of socio-economic problems of the Russian society but still alone print media could not cover all the events and aspects of that socio-economic debacle due to financial constraints. The electronic media started to show the programs full of disappointment, sexual seduction, and supernatural phenomena. And television was failed to transmit a coherent ideology.

From 1992-1993 and on the press was bought by the political leaders/parties and rich people. It gradually lost its independence. The newly independent media mechanism up to become future victim of politically and financially motivated takeovers. Privately owned media group used the opportunity strongly, especially during the war in Chechnya, which began in late 1994. “Alternative” coverage of that war forced state-controlled media to back away from false official versions of events. Media also played an important role in the 1996 presidential campaign. Initially, privately owned media joined state-controlled outlets in supporting the re-election effort of President Boris Yeltsin. But due to harsh attitude and somewhat wrong policies of the government they gradually joined the opposition ranks and gradually resumed criticizing the Yeltsin regime.

The press slowly reoriented towards commercially-styled information on celebrities and mass-culture, gradually losing its influence, the Chechen war in 1994-1996 becoming the last victory of public opinion over the state. The fact that media (including the state-owned TV) could get so much out of step with the authorities on the eve of presidential elections made the rebuilding of state-media relationship inevitable. For the journalists this was probably the last time they acted according to the self-proclaimed “forth power” concept.
The Forth Period (1996-1998)

Statistically speaking, between 1996 the media achieved astounding successes. Hundreds of new television and radio companies opened in the heartlands. Thousands of new newspapers appeared. Regional television had developed a very successful format of ‘structured’ free speech, which permitted criticism of federal government, but was extremely canny about criticising its own regional authorities. But this degenerated into a series of mediocre business deals designed to bring the owners profit and at the same time avoid frightening consumers. It was the era of the information wars. It was the time of political survival and media played a fairly good role. It pinpointed all the wrongdoings of the government and its members. The corruption scandal, the political disarray was rightly portrayed by the Russian media.

The years 1997-8 are also the years of commercial media bloom and Internet boom while the advertisement market blossomed. The Internet provided another opportunity for the “public sphere” In 1997, the Russian media appear markedly less free than they did two years ago, and the mood among private print and electronic media was gloomy. The parameters of true and simple versions of Glasnost was ruined or lessened in 1997. There were severe incidents of government and political censorship. The interference levels of governmental official were on the rise which was simply anti-Glasnost.
The Fifth Period (1998-20006)

Satellite TV systems was introduced in Russia. The small-scale power-hungry investors withdrew from the media market, the advertisement revenue fell by from 50 to 70% and a reshuffling of the spheres of influence there followed. The State media were also attracted investments. Vladimir Putin’s presidential election victory in 2000 was attributed in some part to glowing coverage by ORT the only television station that broadcasts across the nation. Puttin has managed the so-called free and impartial image of the print and electronic media. The state has become stronger and media has become weaker. He is following the philosophy of the stronger the government, the stronger personal freedom”. Putin’s “dictatorship of law” has authorized the government in Russia to control the vast majority of media outlets and sets ground rules for all press coverage. Although Putin pays lip service to the idea that an independent press is a powerful safeguard against state corruption, he believes clearly that the role of the press is to generate public support for state initiatives, and not public discussion of them. (Blagov, 2000).

The Russian government’s efforts to control the flow of information out of Chechnya show its attitude toward the role of the press in society. The executive order on ban on journalistic activities in Chechnya has been widely criticized by human-rights activists and legal authorities as unconstitutional. To date, many Russian and foreign journalists have been forcibly expelled. The Babitsky case also demonstrates that Putin’s “dictatorship of law” is really a dictatorship of the executive branch. By detaining Babitsky without charging him with any crime. In 2006 the Russian state is still on the attack against a largely cowed national media. Russian regulators have forced more than 60 radio stations to stop broadcasting news reports produced by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Many would say that Vladimir Putins’s politics is pushing the country back to an authoritarian stage.

Russian Media Output (1990-2003)

Print Media No. of copies publishes 1990 1995 2000 2003
Books(millions) 1553 475 471 591
Journals(millions) 5010 299 607 1164
Newspapers(billion) 38 9 7 6
TV Coverage
% of Population 98 99 98 99
No. of Viewers are receiving more than 3 channels 37 65 73 75
Source: (White, McAllister, 2004). Politics and Media in Post-Communist Russia.

The above table clearly shows the increasing numbers of books, journals, newspapers and TV coverage after the collapse of Soviet Union and dawn of Glasnost.

CONCLUSION

Nodoubt, prophecies of Glasnost has played an important role in the transformation of Russian media, society, economic, politics, foreign policy and ideology in the early days to its incorporation. New ideas (governance, politics, history, philosophy), new thoughts (elements of civic decency, openness), new means of production (technological revolution in every sector of the economy), new style of living (cultural invasion of the West), new ways of diplomacy (relationships with US, China, EU) negotiation, and new instruments of conflict resolution were discovered especially dealing with the Baltic states. Although, the pioneer of Glasnost himself failed to achieve or introduce desired short and long terms socio-economic, geo-politico and geo-strategic goals of Soviet Union and it was dissolved in 1991. It was the dawn of openness and the destruction of legitimizing mythology. It was rise to open debate and fall of official dogmas that sustained the one-party rule. There are not many examples in modern international politics where the ideas shaping a nation’s destiny so decisively and for so long.

But with the passage of time, the holy spirits have gone to the wind. The elements of personal liking & disliking, so-called national interest/secrete doctrine, dogmas of political affiliation, worship of ideology or sacred philosophy played very important and deceive role of Glasnost in Russian media. The economic crisis, financial dependency, disguised censorship, threats, kidnapping, killing of journalists/media-men, alien to modern technologies, restrictions from the state and regulatory bodies have also curtailed the nature and scope of Glasnost in Russian media. Now, in Russia the media is being far from free and independent. The President Puttin is trying to patronizing the Russian media on the style of KGB. The government in one way or another is trying to secure a firm control over the media. Threats, killings and unfounded lawsuits are a part of every day life of journalists.

Even to-day the true, simple and workable destiny of democracy is a far cry in Russia due to the absence of true freedom of speech and functional liberty of media. Only, true instruments of media liberty, human rights, freedom of speech as granted by the constitution of 1991 of Russia could portray the true picture of White-Men Heritage i.e. Russia in foreign countries instead of having lots of destructive weapons.

REFERENCE

Becker. J., (2004) Lessons from Russia: A Neo-Authoritarian Media System. European Journal of Communication. 19 (2): 139 -163.

Blagov. S., (2000). Russian press freedom under attack. Asia Times.

Davis. H., P. and. Nizamova. L., (1998). Changing Identities and Practices in Post-Soviet Journalism: The Case of Tatarstan’, European Journal of Communication 13(1): 77-97.

De Smaele. H., (1999). The Applicability of Western Media Models on the Russian Media System. European Journal of Communication. 14 (2): 173-189.

Haddix. D., (1990). Glasnost, the Media and Professionalism in the Soviet Union’ Gazette 46(3): 155-173.

Gaunt. P., (1987). Developments in Soviet Journalism’, Journalism Quarterly 6(2-3): 526-532.

McNair. B., (2000). Power, Profit, Corruption, and Lies. The Russian Media in the 1990s.

Paasilinna. R., (1995). Glasnost and Soviet Television. A Study of the Soviet Mass Media and its Role in Society from 1985–1991. Yleisradio, Research Report 5/1995.

White. S., McAllister. I., ( 2004). Politics and Media in Post-Communist Russia.

Zhou. H., (1988). Changes in the Soviet Concept of News To What Extent and Why?’ Gazette 42(3): 193-21

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3 Comments

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