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A post-analogue hybrid media system: The Russian case

BRICS media offer an interesting case for understanding how contemporary processes are affected by very specific national political and economic conditions and historically and culturally diverse contexts and for assessing how applicable the established concepts in Western media studies are. The discourse of the latter has been challenged by such approaches as de-Westernization, Internationalization or even Easternization (De Smaele, 1999; Curran and Park, 2000; Thussu, 2009; 2018; Waisbord and Mellado, 2014). Given current geopolitical power shifts and digital transformations of national socio-cultural contexts, BRICS media systems can provide fresh empirical evidence for constructing new media models.

The key processes to consider here are: the digitalization of and convergence in media industries, which in less developed industrial economies should be understood in the context of digital globalization (Thussu, 2018: 55); shifts in traditional ‘media-state-politics’ paradigms under the influence of‘democracy’ and ‘free market’ concepts, including business models of media enterprises different from the theoretically dominant,Western ones (Noam, 2016); the clash between old and new regulatory systems in national media policy-making processes, bringing together a range of policy streams and multiple stakeholders (Nieminen, 2019: 58—60), and, finally, in relation to journalism practice, the interplay of national and global standards and ethics in the construction of professional cultures and identity (Paasti and Ramaprasad, 2017). Each BRICS country can provide an illustrative case, even if its impact on media theory-making is a matter for debate.

The BRICS countries represent dynamically developing media contexts, less explored by media scholars, but which are characterized by strong links with a country’s economic position, territorial diversity, complex ethnic and linguistic structures and, particularly, the specific path of its historical development and the diverse roles the media played in societal dynamics (Hallin and Mancini, 2012; Nordenstreng and Thussu, 2015). Compared to the Western media systems rooted in market-based democratic political systems (Hallin and Mancini, 2004; Hardy, 2008; 2012; Curran et al., 2009; Flew and Waisbord, 2015), BRICS countries represent alternative, though different historical trajectories in which such issues as post-colonialism, socialism and post-socialism, path dependency, social inequalities, multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism need to be taken into account. The interrelations between the conceptual positions ofWestern media studies and realities in media systems beyond the Western world do exist, but in more complex and controversial ways than in the Western world. Recent debates on the typology of media systems, their homogeneity and/or hybridization initiated and continued by Hallin and Mancini (2004; 2012) have become a theoretical challenge for countries outside the ‘Western’ world.

Scholars have elaborated the empirical basis of typology-building by adding more variables or emphasizing the role of national contexts, both in defining the nature of national media system or their influence on the particular work of established or new variables (Dobek-Ostrowska et al., 2010; Biichel et al., 2016).The study of BRICS media systems has opened new ways to explore the concept in entirely different national contexts, as well as to contribute to defining universal and nationally specific variables of a media system (Nordenstreng andThussu, 2015).

The Russian case

In Russia, while the media structures have been adjusting to the processes of global digitalization and adapting national legislative and economic regimes to megachanges, the nationally determined culture and socially diverse value systems have continued to strongly influence media. The contemporary Russian media system is diverse and contradictory, reflecting the multi-layered structure and the geographical and socio-economic complexity of modern Russia. It is unique for a number of reasons. Russia is the largest country in the world and unevenly populated, with 11 time zones from the Baltic Sea in Europe to the Pacific Ocean in the far east of Asia. Its highly diverse, multi-ethnic population speaks more than 100 languages apart from the official Russian. Thus, the media and broadcasting system, using terrestrial and satellite networks, is very much determined by geography and ethnography: in addition to the dominant federal television channels, there is a need to maintain media in a high number of minority languages (Vartanova, 2019).

The fall of the USSR (1991) marked a new period in Russian media history: post-Soviet society introduced new social structures and practices, including competitive elections, the abolition of the Communist ideological monopoly, a decrease in state control over the national economy and culture. For media, this resulted in prohibition of censorship, legislation to protect freedom of the press, privatization of state-owned media companies and a shift to an advertising-based business model, as well as gradual adaptation to global standards of journalism. Important was a breakdown of the centralized and pyramid-form Soviet media system and the rise of horizontal, regionally structured media markets. But the media transformation process in Russia, though common to many transitional media systems in Central and Eastern Europe, looks quite different, due to specific features of the social changes in Russia (Splichal, 1994; Sparks and Reading, 1998; McNair, 2000; Nordenstreng et al., 2002; Rantanen, 2002;Toepfl, 2013).

It is obvious that the Russian media system has been changing under the pressures of globalization, economic neo-liberalization and digitalization, as media systems elsewhere in the world. These changes were also an intrinsic part of more profound societal transformations. Nevertheless, despite these large-scale political and economic transformations, Russian society and media have kept many traditions and practices rooted in the country’s history. The relationship between the state and media has always defined the functioning of the media system. Since 1703, when Tsar Peter the Great established the first Russian newspaper, Vedomosti, the strong ideological and economic relations between the Russian state and journalism continued for almost two centuries (Ivanitsky, 2010: 56). The paternalistic tradition of state-media relations can be seen in the state regulation and state media policies influencing the developing legislative frameworks of a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic Russian society (Gladkova et al., 2019).This chapter aims to analyse current processes in the Russian media system at three institutional dimensions of the Russian media system, that of the media industry, social media and media regulation, thus focusing on the work of currently influential ‘agents of change’ in the Russian media in the first two decades of the second millennium.

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