Russia’s media is unique in several aspects. The country has the largest in the world though unevenly populated territory comprised by 11 time zones and inhabited by a multi-ethnic population speaking more than 100 languages besides official Russian. This has seriously influenced the structure of the media system in which the dominance of federal television channels transmitted both via terrestrial and satellite networks has been essentially determined by geographic factors. The ethnic structure of the population also affects media functioning since there is a clear need to maintain a high number of minority languages media.
The fall of the USSR in 1991 was a start of a new period in the history of the Russian media. The post-Soviet construction of a new nation-state was supported with radically different social institutions and processes – competitive elections, the end of the one party and ideological (Communist) monopoly, a decrease in state control over the national economy and culture. In the Russian media there have emerged a number of new practices including abolition of censorship, freedom of press concepts and related legislation, privatisation of media, a shift to more universal standards of journalistic professionalism, and increasing control editorial boards over news production. Year 1991 has become a turning point for the transformation of Russian media since it opened up the double sociopolitical – from the Soviet to Russian, and technological – from analogue – transition to digital media system. An important change was also a breakdown of the heavily centralised and pyramid Soviet media system and the rise of horizontally and regionally structured media markets based on advertising business model.
The present Russian media landscape is being very diverse and characterised by the centrality of television, which has taken upon itself several roles – a major instrument of maintaining national identity; a universally accessible channel to inform Russians about domestic and international news; and a tool to organize leisure time. While television has grown into the core medium, Russian mass circulation press in the last decades has not progressed much. Major processes in the print media after 1991 were the reduction in newspapers circulation, increasing backwardness of printing technologies in regional press and ineffectiveness of press distribution systems, decline in print media advertising, drop in number of “paper press” readers among young Russians. This has mirrored their diminished interest in newspapers as a source of news agenda and growing popularity of online media. The state of Russian mass-circulation newspapers reflects country’s social and technological dynamics, and the USSR Russia’s press moved towards commercialisation or alliances with local administrations.
Major trends of the media market also include the competition of private media companies operating in a liberalizing media industry in the area of print and broadcasting media, cable and satellite TV, television production, telecommunications, online media, search engines; uneasy coexistence of state (state-owned and operated media companies) and overtly commercial interests (private media); clashes of innovative breakthrough technologies (RuNet and mobile telephony).
Political parallelism has not seriously influenced the present structure of the Russian media, and one of the reasons was the slow maturation of Russian multi-party system. The long-standing tradition of the Communist party monopoly alienated Russians from multi-party politics thus not leading to the establishment of a competitive political party system, accordingly, the Russian media until now could not be described through the political parallelism concept, though some media informally support different ideological positions present in the public sphere.
On the contrary, the relationship between the state and media in Russia has always defined the nature, particularities and conditions of the media system. The tsar Peter the Great established the first Russian newspaper Vedomosti in 1703, and this became the first reflection of top-down relations between the Russian state and journalism almost for two centuries. The legal practice of censorship introduced in 1804 by Alexander II existed in Imperial and Soviet Russia until 1991, and this paternalistic tradition maid a strong subsequent impact on the state–media relations, including changing patterns of state regulation and the financial support for economically weak media through state subsidies. This has been proved by the state media policies to guarantee cultural diversity in multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic Russian regions.
Russian journalism as a profession has strong literary roots being a strong cultural institution. Starting from literary journals of the XIX – early XX Centuries it has matured into a literary profession with a high social role, which later turned into a political and educational activity. Historically Russian journalism has been oriented less towards reporting but more towards ‘publicistics’, political or moral essays with moral reasoning, and this still remains a distinguishing feature of the profession, which is gradually embracing new professional standards and re-thinking principles of social responsibility.