Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Window on Eurasia: ‘Wikileak-ization’ of Media Transforming Russian Politics, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 4 – The ‘Wikileak-ization’ of Russian media, one of three major trends in the increasingly important electronic media there over the last year, is transforming Russian society and Russian politics more rapidly and fundamentally than are the actions of any leader or bureaucracy, according to a Moscow analyst.
In an essay on the “Russky zhurnal” portal, Kirill Martynov, the political editor of that publication, argues that in 2010, “television finally died,” having been “changed into a cheap product for citizens who are too lazy to click a mouse” and that consequently trends in the Internet define the media scene (russ.ru/pole/Esche-pyat-desyat-let-v-tom-zhe-duhe).
He suggests that the three most important of these over the last twelve months have been what he calls “the Wikileak-ization” of the media that the Internet has made possible, the rise of public spaces like Facebook as a political tool and resource, and the changed relationship between Russians an events, a relationship no longer mediated in the same way by officials.
According to Martynov, the “Wikileak-ization” of the media represents “a more positive symptom than some others because it means that increasingly traditional media are “feeding off information from blogs and social networks” rather than generating it on their own, something that has changed the nature of public journalism.
(This process, which means that the traditional media are increasingly aggregators of materials gathered by others, has gone so far in Russia that another Moscow commentator suggested last week that for the first time “the anonymous source” should be Russia’s person of the year (www.polit.ru/event/2010/12/30/4elovek.html).)
“An immediate effect” of this, Martynov continues, is that “censorship in the traditional sense is losing any meaning” and that suggestions about “the absence in Russia of freedom of expression are little by little being reduced in meaning” because almost everything that reaches the Internet passes beyond the ability of officials to control.
The WikiLeaks case shows that “even the most powerful national state on the planet, that of the United States, is not in a position in the instance of an eye to deal with Australian freek Julian Assange. And as a result of this change, “new types of censorship have arisen” which seek not to prevent but to provide a context to or a commentary on that which can’t be stopped.
Ths trend in the Russian media means that “there will gradually be ever more real politics in our society,” because the opposition now has “truly unlimited possibilities for struggle with the regime” allowing it to call into the streets “hundreds of thousands of people,” a resource that the opposition itself is only beginning to understand and exploit.
Another Internet change in Russia with political implications is the use of social sites like Youtube. Many who have been persecuted by the powers that be have turned to it, making Youtube itself “into a refuge for the condemned and despairing” lonely opponents of the regime” which could not play by the rules of society because that would condemn them to defeat.”
The Youtube “syndrome,” Martynov argues, is a less hopeful development because it “testifies to the extraordinarily deep illness of Russian society,” many of whose members recognize that using “the legal means of resolving conflicts, namely through the courts,” will not work for them.
The third trend in the Internet, however, is “connected with the rise of a civil society in Russia,” Martynov says, because it has changed the relationship between those who are directly involved in something be it an accident, a natural disaster or a political event and those who are learning about it from afar.
The Internet audience “finds out about a misfortune not from an abstract news reader with a professionally-concerned voice but from ‘friends’ even if they are ‘virtual.’ And we are ready to help them without an order from the bosses and without hoping that the bosses in general will act effectively in this situation.”
Sometimes this assistance is “completely symbolic” as when we share information with others. But even that “makes us “active participants,” and from that can come “more real help.” According to Martynovv, “such mutual help without an order [from above] is civil society.” And he proposes identifying January 1, 2011, as its “official birthday.”
But there are two other aspects worth noting, Martynov says. On the one hand, Russians are “so accustomed to our warm homes, lighted spaces, working televisions, a flood of information, an excess of entertainment, and ability to travel that “we sincerely believe that any spontaneous misfortune arises only because of a government failure.”
We are, he suggests, “children of stability and mortgages, when in reality we live on a planet forgotten by God in a second class solar system in a not particularly important galaxy.” That is something 2010 “taught us” or should have taught us” with its various natural disasters like the eruption of a volcano in Iceland that no government could do anything about.
And on the other, he concludes, while “political Russia” is focusing on 2011-2012 and the changes that will bring, “social Russia is trying to survive and economically to become better off. There is nothing new in this.” But more than that, it shows that Russia has become part of the “globalized world” and that its problems are Russia’s problems and vice versa.

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