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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Viewers Miss What Readers Often Don't

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Just about anyone following Russia's media industry understands that the system allows the informed to stay informed while almost guaranteeing that the uninformed remain uninformed.

Editors and publishers in Moscow this week for the annual conference of the World Association of Newspapers will see a newspaper market with a large number of publications presenting a wide range of viewpoints, many of which are quite critical of the government.

Whether it is a viewpoint that is pro-government or anti-government, ultraliberal or ultranationalist, every local newsstand offers what a particular reader is looking for. At the fringes, in fact, the print media have been criticized for exhibiting too much freedom and also too little responsibility.

The problem, of course, is that more than 70 percent of Russians say that state television is their main source for news, and state television has become a tool for those in power. While providing a steady stream of positive or merely innocuous coverage of United Russia, the country's party of power, and governmental officials, in particular President Vladimir Putin and those closest to him, television news is also used to discredit any political force that threatens the monopoly on power enjoyed by the present leadership.

To argue, as apologists of the present situation often do, that people who want to know what is going on can simply read newspapers is, at best, disingenuous. The campaign waged by the Kremlin to bring the country's three national television channels under state control demonstrates the commitment on the part of the Kremlin to managing the media's message. If more people began reading newspapers, the state would likely begin seeking more control over the print media as well.

As it is, some newspapers have become more cautious in their criticism. More than a few have been, or soon will be, bought up by companies either directly controlled by the Kremlin or loyal to it. Those that value their independence and remain committed to it face enormous obstacles.

One of the news media's main functions in a democracy is to provide people with the information they need to judge how they are being governed. Without this information, it is absurd to expect people to be responsible citizens and to influence, if only by voting, the way the country is run.

An oft-cited political maxim cynically maintains that people get the government they deserve. In a democratic spirit, it seems more appropriate to suggest that, when it comes to the media, about 70 percent of Russians deserve better.