Media Control 101

Media outlets in Russia frequently feel pressure from authorities to avoid sensitive topics, and to avoid criticizing the presidential administration. Newspapers, TV, and radio stations that speak freely have been shut down, or reincarnated as state-owned companies. Yet another, subtler strategy, named “loading-up,” involves giving journalists methodical instructions on how an as-yet unwritten story must be reported.

As Just Russia, a moderate pro-Kremlin political party, revealed in late October, their party was targeted by just such an attack. It started when one of their Parliamentary deputies, Alexei Timofeyev, swore allegiance to Putin and the United Russia party. Timofeyev called Just Russia the useless “left leg” of the President, and proclaimed that the party should be disbanded.

Shortly afterward, an anonymous source revealed an (also anonymous) memo sent to mass-media outlets in St. Petersburg. The memo gave incredibly specific instructions for how to write a story on Timofeyev, including quotes, headlines, questions to ask, and even the order of arguments to use. As Galina Stolyarova writes in Transitions Online, the most shocking part is how closely the instructions were followed:

Just Russia …hired an expert to carry out a linguistic analysis of both the memorandum and the various articles that followed it in the St. Petersburg media. The conclusion, delivered by Sergei Mikhailov, a professor of international journalism at St. Petersburg State University, was unequivocal.

“A whole range of recommendations were followed in the stories that we have examined,” the expert said. “Undoubtedly, the media – willingly or not – ended up being involved in a campaign aimed at discrediting the Just Russia party.”

A free, independent media with a hard, critical eye is essential for a full-fledged democracy. The Just Russia incident, a media attack on a party loyal to the Kremlin, reveals just how obedient and complacent the modern Russian mass-media really are.

The Complete Memo:

Breaking News: Alexei Timofeyev’s call for a special party conference for “Just Russia” and its voluntary dissolution.

Brief recommendations and request for work on the subject:

Highlighting the events at the legislative assembly; talking points:

1. [Sergey] Mironov and his party, Just Russia (JR), have been dealt irreparable damage. And where – in the legislative assembly of St. Petersburg, by a senator chosen by him (Mironov) from St. Petersburg to the Federation Council. And by whom – the most active member of Mironov’s (JR) fraction in the legislative assembly of St. Petersburg, if not overall – the most active “Just Russian” in the city.

2. Don’t focus more on Alexei Timofeyev’s personality.

3. Give background not about Timofeyev, but about scandals in the Just Russia party.
What is happening – isn’t mere chance, but a pattern ([Yevgeny] Roizman leaving, [Sergei] Shargunov’s expulsion, the permanent conflict with pensioners).

4. When obtaining comments from Mironov, don’t give him the chance to concentrate on Timofeyev’s personality. Ask questions about crisis in the party, reflect on Roizman in the Sverdlovsk oblast and Shargunov in Moscow. The optimal soundbite is a “self-justifying” [or apologetic] Mironov (“There is no crisis in the party whatsoever, we aren’t betraying anyone’s expectations, we are working”)

5. As many commentaries as possible from the leftist camp – CPRF [the Communist Party of the Russian Federation], “Yabloko.” They assume the strongest language. (“a political corpse”, “Mironov’s party was doomed from the start”).

6. Commentary from a representative of United Russia – absolutely necessary

Ideological Tag-lines

“At home, Mironov charged with betraying Putin”

“Even the local party-members don’t believe Mironov”

“In St. Petersburg, the electoral campaign has finally begun”

“A sensation of a Federal scale”

“There cannot be two parties for Putin in Russia – such is the motif of the scandal, breaking out in the St. Petersburg legislature”

“Timofeyev has justified the party’s name and acted with justice – since Putin is with “United Russia,” “Just Russia” cannot be “Putin’s Party,” and supporters of the president cannot belong to it.”

“In a “Just Russia,” a succession of scandals is continuing. In the Sverdlovsk oblast, Roizman has left “JR” and founded the “Strength in truth” movement, in Moscow, Shargunov has been excluded from the first federal troika of “JR”, in St. Petersburg, Timofeyev has called for a voluntary dissolution of the party.”

Commentary Bank

Commentary of a “United Russia” representative – 1. an unranked member of the roster. Emphasis on the legitimacy of what is taking place. “Truly, it is we who are the party of Putin, and not “Just Russia”. The president made his choice.”

Commentary of a “United Russia” representative -2. (speaker of the legislative assembly Tiulpanov) “This is an internal affair of the “Just Russia” party, and it doesn’t concern us. It won’t reflect on the efficiency of the legislative assembly. I can only say, that in the entire time I have led the St. Petersburg branch of “United Russia,” no one has stepped down.”

Commentary of a political analyst -1 ([Valeriy] Ostrovkiy?) – this had to have happened like this, because “Just Russia” has banded together people with different ideologies. As soon as everyone understood, that Putin is not with them, and that Just Russia wouldn’t succeed as the second party of power, the problems started.

Commentary of a political analyst -2 or a sociologist ([Tatiana] Protasenko?) What consequences will the scandal have? Evidently, the other left-leaning parties will strengthen their positions. The tendency of declining sympathy for Just Russia, which became apparent after Putin’s announcement at the United Russia congress, will probably continue.

Pose a question to Oksana Dmitrieva.

Admit, Oksana Genrihovna, that you indeed regret your mistake, yet you continue to stick to it? Since now, everything that you have done – promised the citizens golden mountains and so forth – has lost any semblance of sense.

People on the street

a. “It’s high time”

b.”Let Mironov leave and take Dmitriyeva and Boldyrev with him. You can’t be satisfied with their promises. Enough is enough”

c. “I don’t understand any of it. It’s some kind of circus with these Mironov followers. Only it’s not funny for some reason. It looks like Mironov, Dmitriyeva and Boldyrev take us for fools.”