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The Peculiarities of Elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation

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The peculiarities of elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation (VI convocation) coverage by “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”

Introduction The necessity for Russia's democratic development, constructing of the civil society and law-based state is now generally accepted. At the same time, the authorities often seek only to declare the general principles, but demonstrate little desire to implement them in practice. In such situation the population is justified to mistrust the government and be skeptical about its actions. It is widely known that the key features of democracy (which underlies the basis of civil society), except guarantee of the rights and freedoms are also such as: the acceptance of political rights and freedoms of citizens in the volume, which allows not only government parties and organizations to act legally, but the opposition too; the presence of representative bodies of power, which are formed on the basis of universal, free and fair elections; the “separation of powers” principle, which means that the parliament is the sole legislative body; political pluralism and publicity of power. The civil society will not be able to exist without ensuring equality of rights and freedoms for all people; freedom of citizens in establishing of political parties and civil movements; freedom of establishing the mass media and ensuring their activities. In the modern Russian society the media, as declared, should ensure dialogue between the authorities and citizens, inform the latter about the government’s decisions, the home and international events. Domestic media today have broad spectrum of opportunities for satisfying information needs of citizens qualitatively, for coordination and harmonization of common interests of citizens, the society and the government. In addition, they can and must exercise effective control over the authorities’ actions, so that the latter act solely in the interests of society. It is absolutely clear that the construction of truly civil and jural society without a system of independent mass media is impossible. Without effective interaction between government institutions and the media as information component of the economic, spiritual and cultural life of society, it will be very difficult to ensure the stable development of the Russian Federation. The development of parliamentarianism in Russia is undoubtedly the main achievement of the post-Soviet years. Only on the basis of pluralism of opinions and the broader community representation in the parliament is possible qualitative democratic development and the construction of real civil society. In this context, the most important part of the political process is electoral campaign for the parliamentary elections. Only on the condition of balanced, impartial and fair coverage of competing political parties by the media, fair elections, where voters cast their votes not by their heart, but on the basis of beforehand formed objective opinion, can be ensured. Impartially covered election campaigns, subject to minimum of falsifications, should contribute to the formation of really pluralistic parliament. The topicality of this qualifying paper is conditioned by the following. The recent parliamentary elections, not without the participation of the media, which were biassedly covering the whole campaign, became the most controversial in the modern history of Russia. Protest activity, followed after elections, displayed, that despite the fact that the majority of our population is still far from politics, new section of society has appeared in Russia. This stratum has showed their civic stand and disagreement with the outcome of the elections. Rallies which have been taking place during recent months are not directed only against specific politicians, but also against the information policy of them. Protests against the activities of the domestic media have united the opposition, both non-system and system, in their pronouncement that the media serves the interests of the authorities in undisguised way. These events not only adversely affect the power, but also damage the Russian mass media’s prestige and image both domestically and abroad. It is for the benefit of the authorities to explain citizens their current activities and future plans intelligibly and clearly. As for transparency in political processes, the press is principal and natural ally of the government. In this context, the media shoulder huge responsibility. Citizen’s attitudes toward political parties and their leaders, realization and acceptance of new legislation by people entirely depend on the activities of the mass media. At the same time, if adopted laws lead to unintended negative consequences, it is the press who plays the role of a feedback channel, indicating these issues to the power, and suggesting possible ways to remedy the situation. How adequate and objective is the media coverage of political processes in modern Russia in general and particularly during the parliamentary campaign? We have decided to explore this issue by analyzing the coverage of the electoral campaign to the State Duma of the VI convocation by one of the federal print media. As it was mentioned above, these elections have become the most resonant and controversial of all post-Soviet era. According to the working hypothesis, the Russian press is not quite cope with responsibilities to provide the public with objective, reasonable and comprehensive information during the parliamentary election campaigns. Whether this is correct or not - we will check into the study. This work consists of an introduction, three chapters, conclusion and bibliography.

Chapter 1. The role of media in the social and political life of Russia
§ 1. The mass media’s functions in the society In the literature, both domestic and foreign can be found different versions of the media functions list. In part, these distinctions are set by different understanding of the currency of various social problems which are solved with the assistance of modern media. Anyway, if generalize it, the main functions of the mass media will be: a. Informational. It implies informing about events and conditions in the society and the world, informational support of innovative processes. b. Social connection. It includes commenting and interpreting what is happening, supporting existent norms and power relations, socializing people, coordinating multidirectional social activity, forming social consensus. c. Ensuring continuity, which implicates the expression of the dominant culture patterns, the provision of subcultures “recognition”, new cultural trends and the maintenance of common social values. d. Recreational, which implies creating opportunities for recreation and entertainment; reducing social tensions. e. Function of mobilization, which embraces the organization of campaigns in connection with the relevant aims in politics, economics and social sphere. Speaking about negative trends, we should mention that the media nowadays play more manipulative role towards the society. The mass media today impose the idea of total interdependence on a man. In opinion of Canadian scientist Marshall McLuhan, we live in a “global village”, as a single “human family”. The “Future green civilization”, according to the scientist, it is “the global tribal village”, where the external goals of the mankind give place to the internal. Mass search for the “personality inside an individual” has already set off. Modern mass media contribute to the “explosion” of core values of the individual”. McLuhan also took the view that the media not only transmit the information, but actively influence the individual and social consciousness.

§ 2. The role of the media in public life
2.1. The media in the political process

The current political process in Russia, as everywhere else, is unthinkable without the media. They are one of the most important institutions of the modern society, affecting all spheres of its activity. Through this impact on the audience they shape public conscience and mass culture. The extent of their influence on the minds, the ability to interpret the major occurrences and events in the country and the world for the masses, cause the increasing importance of the media in the political sphere. Currently, there is an active process of transforming the media from an independent intermediary between the government and society in one of the most crucial tools for implementing of the political process. In addition, the media becomes an active participant in the latter.

Thus, playing a significant role in the political life of society and bearing a direct relationship to its life, displaying the political process through the available communication channels, they are in the same way that policy-makers responsible for the processes taking place in society. Apparently, the media in their day-to-day activities in the first place have to follow the interests of society and the state.

The role of the media in politics can not be appraised unambiguously. They represent a complex multi-faceted institute, consisting of many organs and elements that provide information to the public about current events in the country and the world. To all of the above, we need to add one more essential function - the politicization of society and the political education of the general population.

To justify such an image or a claim the media have to be and look as independent from both an economic and a political point of view as possible. “The belief in the omnipotence of television is so great that, in the opinion of other politicians, whoever controls television controls the whole country”.

2.2. The relationships between the media, the authorities and the public By their nature, the media are social. One of their core functions is to inform the society in order to achieve social interaction and maintaining the unity of society. However, the reality is frequently demonstrating that by virtue of their capacity of a rapid response to the political events and due to the possibility to impact on huge audience, the media has been becoming a very convenient tool of political control and has been obtaining political functions. Modern Russian journalism can be characterized by a certain evaluative disbalance and a lack of consolidated views on the domestic and international agenda. Prevailing in the information field and numerically dominant state-controlled media in the vast majority of materials expresses appreciation to the government actions. Opposition and non-state editions on the contrary estimate actions of the authorities mostly in negative way. This bifurcation does not contribute to the stability of the society and shapes the political indifference of the population (as evidenced by polls). There is a situation in which journalism and the media are ignoring their social mission. Moreover they are dependent within the realization of their political functions. There is a kind of “substitution”: the formation of political culture through impartial informing of the audience on crucial political issues is transformed into direct political control, and the media act as a tool of this control. According to Mr. Markelov, taking notice of the historical aspects of the issue, the cardinal aim of the cooperation between journalism and the authorities is to win and retain power. Journalism and the media whether assisted to overthrow the regime or to entrench it. Both in the first and the second case, they served a real or potential power, but they themselves have never been the “fourth estate”. The desire for power and money was disguised by noble and sublime ideas of the civil society building. One more issue to be analyzed is the fact that the modern Russian media (even the state-controlled) do not always reflect the nationwide interests. Municipal media often represent and serve the interests of the heads of local administrations. The Russian media are either in the “wild” market or in the feudal dependence on the local leadership. In such circumstances, the press will be able to defend national interests only if the state pays for their services more than the private financial and industrial capital. The media in any society have an important informational role; they become a kind of mediator between the journalist and the audience. Moreover, within functioning of the media there is bidirectional connection between the communicator and the recipient. In other words, there is communication - a kind of contact, but not personal, as in everyday practice, but with the aid of mass communication forms. Every man has a right to know the truth, and this right is provided by science, art, the press, television and radio, and various information services.

As noted above, in recent years in Russia there is a negative trend associated with the violation of the information interchange between the government and society. A common place for the most of the expert reasoning was the recognition that the feedback channels in the system of relations “power-society” are corked. Present Russian information space has inevitably been adapting to political and economic interests. It depends on public funding, or is under the direct administrative control. As a result - the media has been turning into a kind of “small farm” of political actors who are pursuing their private interests.

The current situation is characterized by the fact that the state purposefully smoothes the information field out from the huge layers of relevant and socially significant information. Controlling the largest Russian media, the government constructs some kind of parallel reality, completely alien to the real life. The sharpest issues and negative trends or simply ignored, or served under a veil of some positive features. The coverage of the political process, especially during election campaigns, is under the close supervision of the government agencies. Sometimes it seems that somebody orchestrates the process from the executive branch offices. The policy of suppression and embellishment of the reality, conducted by the government under the pretence of safeguarding do not contribute to the restoration of the lost feedback through the media channels, but rather promotes further alienation between the government and society. Inability of the mass media to perform the function of information mediator in the first place led to a decrease in confidence to the media and exacerbated social tension, which culminated in a wave of protest on Bolotnaya Square and the Avenue of Andrei Sakharov. This protest was against concrete state officials as well as against the current information policy. This was against the media too, because they have actually turned into the instrument of state propaganda.

Chapter II. The history of “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” and its place in the system of the Russian media

In 1990 a law on the Soviet media came into effect. From this moment, legal issue of the media without the endorsement with the apparatus of the Soviet propaganda system was first settled. The law paved the way for the emergence of a wide range of media, both loyal to the state and radical. One of the key and most important newspapers of this time was “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”.

§1. First version of “NG” (1990 – 1995)

“Nezavisimaya Gazeta” was established by the Moscow City Council of People's Deputies (the Moscow Soviet) in August 1990. Its founder was Vitaly Tretyakov, who served as editor-in-chief (until 2001). The first issue was published on December 21, 1990 with the circulation of 150,000 copies and volume of 8 pages. The newspaper came into the market on December, 22. Previously was planned that it would be published three times a week and distributed through the retail network of “Soyuzpechat”. After 1991 the edition was issued every day. As it was officially stated by the editorial staff, the newspaper was published on the money raised by the capital's creative intelligentsia and the City Council interest-free loan. Tretyakov found 83 shareholders, who contributed 1,000 rubles.
Initially the edition set the tasks that should shape the unique character of the newspaper. The editor in chief outlined it in his article published in the first issue:
a. Give full information. Without any exemptions;
b. Ensure the freedom of commentary. Presentation of all points of view;
c. Avoid editorials with “common opinion”;
d. To be independent not only from the government, but also from the opposition. The implementation of these tasks allowed “NG” to stand out against a background of the newspapers from the past, which were characterized by “Soviet” style of journalism. The Tretyakov’s edition offered readers informative and analytical style of writing. Comments of “NG” reviewers were considered the best examples of analytical journalism at that time. In 1991, the newspaper managed to cross the threshold of two hundred thousandth copies and reached the highest circulation since the time of its release. The edition was successful even as a commercial enterprise. The first financial troubles began after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the so-called “price liberalization”. The price of paper and logistics rocketed substantially. By the end of 1992 the position of the newspaper on the market stabilized. However it was already clear that the edition would not be commercially successful. Failure of the “NG” management to make the concept of the newspaper more flexible as to sources of financing led to a split in the editorial staff. A new edition was launched. “Today” followed suit of British “Times”. It has deprived the "NG" almost the half of the readers. Nevertheless, even after the split, “NG” continued to be one of the most-informed newspapers and enjoyed the tremendous influence among the Russian political elite. The second reincarnation of “NG” was a combination of independent analytical bulletin with a traditional Russian personal journalism. “NG” became the newspaper of views. Most authors preferred to express their opinions before informing the reader. In 1994-1995, “Nezavisimaya” was continuously in a state of financial calamity. The newspaper, like the most of metropolitan editions was unprofitable. Thunder broke out in December 10, 1994. For the first time the reader got “NG” two times thinner - the issue had four pages instead of eight. The last issue of the newspaper was published on May 23, 1995. The editorial staff was sent in administrative vacation.

§2. Second version of “NG” (1995-2005) In August 1995, “NG” was at the center of preparations for the presidential election-1996. There was repartition of the information field between factions loyal to Yeltsin and opposing him. In the newspaper ceased publication due to the lack of financing, appeared a circle of persons opposition-minded to Vitaly Tretyakov. The head of it was the deputy editor Alexander Gagua. “Opposition” attempted to switch over to the commercial management of the newspaper by selling it to the ONEXIM bank. When this idea failed, the works meeting removed Tretyakov from his post and appointed a new leader. Funds were found to release an issue of the newspaper, which was to take place in September 8-9. However, on September 12, Tretyakov returned to the position of editor-in-chief of “NG” using the financial, physical and legal aid of Mr. Berezovsky. In October, 3 newspaper resumed its release. Berezovsky’s intervention in the situation can be explained by the threat of a transition of one of the most influential Russian newspapers under the control of opposition bank. In addition, there was a danger of blocking between “NG”, ONEXIM Bank and Alexander Lebed (Yeltsin's possible opponent in the upcoming elections).

Tretyakov managed to maintain an autonomous editorial policy, despite the fact that after the restructuring “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” on 80% was owned by Berezovsky. In 1997, the newspaper underwent a qualitative transformation in order to expand its audience. The newspaper started to pay more attention to the regions and to the ordinary people lives. The volume of edition was enlarged by launching different appendixes. Page-rubrics, combining materials from the regions and about the regions appeared. This is markedly influenced on the geography of publications, the socio-spatial representation of the author's staff, the heroes of the materials, the subjects of expressed opinions in newspaper texts. “NG” launched a special eight-page appendix “NG-Regions”. The chosen tactic of regional issues coverage provided the ability of the newspaper to be a common platform for the general reader and to form the agenda meeting the real life of the country. In June, 2001, Berezovsky dismissed Tretyakov. The reason was a divergence of views between the owner of the newspaper and its editor. “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” supported the policy pursued by President Putin actively, while Mr. Berezovsky gave a sharp criticism of the changes taking place in the country. On June 8, 2001, Tatyana Koshkareva took the place of the chief editor. She radically renewed journalistic staff of the newspaper. “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” became the opposition. In the summer of 2005, the owner of the edition changed. On 5.08.2005 “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” was sold by Berezovsky who explained the sale of it by unprofitability.

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