Vienna, June 25 – Russians now spend an average of nine minutes a day reading newspapers, a figure that puts them among the lowest in the world and one that suggests they read only headlines and titles, the head of the World Newspaper Association told a Moscow conference earlier this week.
Speaking to the annual forum of Russian publishers on Monday, Timothy Bolding, the general director of that association, said that only ten percent of Russians now read newspapers at all, far lower than in countries like Sweden where as many as 90 percent of the population reads the print media (www.gzt.ru/society/2008/06/23/223025.html).
A major reason for this low readership, he continued, is that Russians do not trust what they see in the printed media: “Only six percent of Russians trust newspapers, while 70 percent of the population in Russia trusts Putin.” As a result, the number of papers and their print runs continue to decline, unlike in other countries with a similar level of economic development.
The total number of copies of newspapers printed in the Russian Federation fell from 8.05 billion in 2006 to 7.8 billion last year, according to the Russian government’s own Federal Agency for the Press and Mass Communications, an institution whose analysts blame the decline on the rise of the Internet and increasing problems with distribution.
Bolding, however, suggested that the problems were broader and deeper. These declines he said “perhaps are connected with the low journalistic quality of [Russian] publications.” Many papers are boring as well, in large measure because the local governments that own and subsidize them do no permit the kind of hard-hitting reporting which could attract more readers.
Not surprisingly, Russian media officials did not take Bolding’s comments lying down. Mikhail Seslavinsky who heads the government’s agency for the press said he was not unhappy about the notion that Turks now spend more time reading newspapers than do residents of the Russian Federation. Indeed, he suggested, the difference speaks in Russia’s favor.
“When Nadezhda Krupskaya [the wife of Vladimir Lenin] began the [Soviet] struggle against illiteracy,” he pointed out, “she also said that Soviet citizens read newspapers much more slowly than did the Turks.” Now, the data suggest, he continued, that “Russians read newspapers and journals much more rapidly than the Turks do.”
And as to Bolding’s statement that Russians read newspapers much less than Swedes do, Seslavinsky continued, that is easily explained: Swedish audiences have free access to only four or five television channels, while Russians have such access to 15 to 20, a difference that helps explain why the latter watch more television than the former.
But neither Seslavinsky nor any of the other Russian participants challenged Bolding’s fundamental observation that when it comes to newspapers, Russians today are reading far fewer and with far less care than in the past, a development that as he suggested reflects both global trends and specific developments in the Russian marketplace.