Russian politics re-boots

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal Europe about six months ago, about the effect of the internet on Russia’s stagnant politics:

In November 2010, Leonid Parfyenov, a well-known Russian journalist, took to the stage at a black-tie Russian television awards dinner. Visibly nervous, he embarked on a 10 minute critique of everything that was wrong with Russian media. The bravest print journalists are targeted with impunity, he said, while reporters on state-owned television are “no longer journalists, but rather state employees who worship submission and service”. No state television channel transmitted his remarks.

State control of television news is a core pillar of the so-called managed democracy that Vladimir Putin has built since he became president in 2000. As Mr. Parfyenov said in his speech: “News and life in general are categorized as [either] suitable or unsuitable news for television.” The state directly controls most of the national channels, and is suspected indirectly to control many others.

However, while television remains the main source of news for 80% of Russians, the internet is rapidly catching up. Internet penetration is soaring in Russia and it is a median that the state has little or no influence over. Social networking is on the rise and websites like Facebook and Twitter are becoming hugely influential forms of communication for more and more Russians. (more…)