This Week in Info War

Kremlin considers revising its television strategy

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
The Kremlin is mulling the possibility of letting Russian state television focus more on domestic issues, the RBK news site reported on 5 April. RBK’s government sources claim that ordinary Russians are tired of the regime’s “warmongering” attempts to mobilize the population behind it by inventing external threats. A former federal official said today’s TV is not a source of information and cannot speak intelligently about internal problems. A gap clearly exists between the issues people really are concerned about—corruption, the economy, their own personal prospects—and the current TV agenda, in which the vast majority of the news is international.  This discrepancy pushes people online, where they can discuss “real problems.” Political expert Nikolay Mironov noted that when people see that TV ignores important issues, they begin to feel that they are being lied to. 

Public opinion polls confirm that popular attitudes toward the state are changing. The respected Levada Center recently found that, in many respects, the public mood is worse today than in 2014, especially regarding citizens’ personal lives and hope for the future. Putting aside the personal appeal of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the approval rating of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s government has fallen almost 20 percentage points since 2014. It noted that spreading dissatisfaction with corruption, and nationwide protests by truckers, farmers and young people reflect a weakening of patriotic fervor since Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Levada also found that an increasing number of Russians are unwilling to make sacrifices for the state.

It is not clear, however, how the Kremlin can recalibrate its propaganda machine, which has been targeting “foreign enemies” for years. If the regime refocuses on domestic issues, the people may more frequently blame the Kremlin for Russia’s problems. Also uncertain whether the country’s two leading TV anchormen, Dmitry Kiselyov and Vladmir Solovyov, can tone down their aggressive style.  Some experts also suggest they’ll struggle to communicate the new agenda to the public because “they are so used to getting instructions from the Kremlin that if they are told to invent something new, they will suffer from cognitive dissonance.”

There is no indication so far that the proposed changes would significantly alter Russia’s extensive TV broadcasting efforts overseas. RT and Sputnik continue to lead the dissemination of Kremlin narratives abroad. But outside Russia too, there are signs that social media and internet portals such as Baltnews may be more cost-effective than traditional television. At a time of economic difficulty, even Moscow’s information war tools are subject to audience preferences and the financial bottom line.