Friday, April 2, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow TV Failing to Pay Attention to Russia Beyond the Ring Road

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 2 – Moscow television broadcasts, a Russian media critic says, are focused almost exclusively on what goes on in Moscow, and as a result, Russians are not only failing to understand what is going on beyond the ring road but are gradually losing a sense of just what Russia is, the first step toward losing that country as they earlier lost the Soviet Union.
In an essay posted on the portal yesterday, Oleg Pukhnavtsev, having surveyed Moscow television for the last months, concludes that Russians outside of Moscow get coverage only when a Russian leader from Moscow visits or more rarely when there is some particular disaster or violence (
When a Moscow leader comes, television shows Russians in the regions as loyal subjects, and “this curiosity becomes the chief television event of the week.” And when there is a disaster, as at the nightclub in Perm or the terrorist attacks in Daghestan, the only image of those places that Russians in Moscow and elsewhere are shown is of the problem, nothing else.
Some broadcasters, Pukhnavtsev says, have tried to break out of this and provide more programming about the regions, but their efforts have often been counterproductive. And what is more, “unfortunately, the reality of daily life in Russia will not become a profitable television project.”
Moscow’s “arrogant provincialism” has the effect, he continues, of meaning that neither its residents nor Russians living elsewhere are given the chance to “recognize the world outside the borders of their own place of residence,” a “postmodernist” approach that can have more fateful consequences than its authors imagine.
“Twenty years ago,” Pukhnavtsev says, “arrogant Moscow provincialism voted for the sovereignty of the Russian Federation (many have forgotten that Russia beat Ukraine by a month on the question of ‘self-determination’).” And in the intervening period, he argues, this Moscow attitude has only grown worse.
Since 1991, “arrogant Moscow provincialism has instructed viewers to call Soviet people Gastarbeiters and it seems that the last individual who protested against this vile label was Maksim Shevchenko,” a convert to Islam who has often been criticized for his defense of people from other parts of Russia and the former Soviet space.
Now, Pukhnavtsev continues, “arrogant Moscow provincialism, having betrayed the USSR, is not taking note of the disappearance of Russia since by the way it is not taking note of its existence.” And that attitude, displayed every day on Russian television “cannot fail” to have a broader impact.
One recent decision makes that all too clear. President Dmitry Medvedev recently called for the creation of a Russian “Silicon Valley” to promote the modernization of the country. Tomsk, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg, Obninsk and Dubna all submitted proposals to host that new center, but “they lost” – to a suburb of Moscow, thus reinforcing the arrogance of the center.
Television, as many have noted, is a powerful mechanism of creating “a new reality” for the rising generation, and “in this ‘new reality,’ there is no place as before for those who speak and think in the Russian way.” Ukraine and the former Soviet republics have been “thrown to the winds of fate” as if they did not really exist.
And “in this ‘new reality’ of central television,” Pukhnavtsev continues, “there is no place for Russia itself. Because it, the real Russia is not their business project…”
Given what Moscow television is now offering, the Russian media critic says, there is “a last information niche” which it is possible to recommend. That program defines its task as presenting “a series of studies about the life of Russian provinces. People from all oblasts of Russia tell about the problems of the daily lives of ordinary people”
That is the description of “the philosophy of the program under the title “Correspondents’ Hour” at Radio Liberty, a broadcaster supported Pukhnavtsev says by the US State Department. And that leads him to ask in conclusion and in apparent despair, “where are our ‘departments’” that might do the same?

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