Information Warfare: The Curtain Falls in Russia

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February 26, 2008: For a period, during the 1990s, the Russian media, freed from decades of communist control, was an excellent source of military news from Russia. Too excellent for many Russian political and military leaders, who wanted to institute some "control". The war in Chechnya was not going well back then, and it was painful to see accurate news coming out of the Caucasus. So when former secret police boss Vladimir Putin got elected president of Russia in 2000, he began to return the mass media to government control. Not exactly back to the old communist days, but back to a form of state control.

The new censors had to be careful, not just because most Russians would not tolerate a return to the sterile, lying and annoying news media of the communist days, but because Putin was not able to shut down Russian access to Internet news, an alternative news source that the communists never had to deal with.

The solution has been to make Russian media more like Western media, a process that was already underway in the 1990s. But the new state controlled media was selective in what it adopted from the West. They put as much, well produced, happy news as they can get away with, and keep that accurate, and enough tragic stuff (if it bleeds it leads), to hold the audience. But lighten up on anything that makes the government look really bad, and beef up any good news on the government, as much as you can get away with. News directors of the "New Russian Media" lose points, and eventually their jobs, if they get shown up too often on the Internet.

An example of how this works can be seen in how Islamic terrorism deaths are reported, particularly those killed in the Caucasus. Actually, most of these deaths occur down there, usually in, or near, Chechnya. What the enterprising new directors do is, whenever possible (when no contradictory news is out there), identify each dead terrorist as an "Amir" (leader) and foreign terrorists (especially Arabs) as al Qaeda leaders. Recently, news editors have been warned to be more careful about this, as people on the Internet were counting, and the numbers from the Russian mass media were not adding up.

Another gambit, which is less in danger from Internet based analysts, is blaming the United States for anything that goes wrong in Russia. This plays to the pessimism and paranoia that is so common in Russia, especially when you have an autocrat in charge.

 


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