clampdown on the media moguls, such as Berezovsky and Gusinsky, is
part of a more general campaign to change what some analysts
describe as a “media-political system,” which took shape in the
1990s and which now hinders Putin’s pursuit of a strong presidency
and an effective state.
when state institutions and political structures were enfeebled and
unstable, the national TV shaped, to a great extent, the contours of
the political system. When the party system was underdeveloped and
when only one party – the Communists – could boast mass membership,
the main TV stations assumed the functions of political parties.
They played out a political show and determined the hierarchy of
roles in the political arena. At times of elections, these roles
were assigned “brand names” of parties and movements, for which the
viewers were enjoined to vote.
media-political system the press and television became effective
mechanisms of manipulating political power relationships and public
opinion, and were used to great effect by the alliance of the media
oligarchs and the Kremlin Family to pursue their political and
commercial interests. Their concerted efforts brought about a
perverted form of democracy – sometimes described as “manipulated
democracy” – that dominated Russian politics in the 1990s.
was possible as long as the state was prepared to put up with the
presence of powerful and even quite independent players in the
media-political system. Yeltsin’s regime was tolerant toward the
media for historical and utilitarian reasons. Following the first
wave of privatization, when the mass media had been taken away from
the Communists and handed over to the journalists, the media always
supported Russia’s first president at all key moments when the fate
of his regime hung in the balance. With all his faults, Boris
Yeltsin remained a guarantor of civil liberties and private
ownership for the media community.
growing commercialization of the media brought new dangers to its
freedom and reputation. Millions of rubles were spent to fan “wars
of kompromat” and stage character assassinations by
publication of compromising material. The oligarchs used their media
empires to pursue their political and commercial battles. Through
their control of TV and other media, they could create political
crises in the country almost at will.