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As fellow journalist Oleg Dobrodeev told Ostrovsky, in 1999 ‘public opinion was against NATO’s airstrikes [in Yugoslavia] and we had to reflect that change or be left behind.’ A similar dynamic operates to this day: television not only shapes public opinion, but is also shaped by it.
Another factor is that many of those who no longer get their news from TV haven’t in fact shifted to the internet. They’ve simply tuned out of politics entirely. This is particularly true of young Russians, and if anything it makes them more conservative. As the Levada Center’s Denis Volkov admits, ‘The massive rejection by youth of television in favor of the internet doesn’t signify an alternative point of view, but a low level of knowledge about what is happening.’ In other words, the shift to the internet isn’t turning Russians against the state; it’s just making them less engaged.
Furthermore, those who do use the internet to gather news don’t necessarily find themselves exposed to liberal, anti-government perspectives. While there are multiple internet media outlets and social media networks of a liberal persuasion, there are significantly more of what one might call a patriotic/nationalist inclination. The shift from broadcast television is more likely to push Russians in the latter direction than in the former.
To some degree, this is happening. Yet another Levada poll determined that Russian youths were marginally more liberal than the population as a whole (11 percent of young Russians described themselves as liberal, compared with seven percent of the general population). But the move in a nationalist direction was even sharper (16 and 10 percent respectively).
The internet can be a decidedly polarizing medium. The figures above suggest that a process of internet-induced polarization could be possible in Russia’s future. But as yet most of Russia’s population remains in the center ground. For now, therefore, there is little reason for Russia’s government to be overly concerned by the change in the media dynamic. Its support rests more on its record, and more on its ability to reflect public opinion, than on its ability to manipulate it. Its future will rest on those factors too.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.