Media Reform in Russia

Olga Khvostunova, russian journalist & analyst based in New York, outlines the meaning and main properties of a possible media reform.

Freedom of speech in Russia and the Russian media system as a whole are currently undergoing a serious crisis. Over the past two decades, the Russian state has built a large repression apparatus to monopolize the public sphere, suppress political discourse, and manipulate public opinion through propaganda and disinformation. The Russian media (with rare exceptions) has never quite evolved into an independent institution of civil society, having instead been incorporated into the powersystem. Public trust in the media has remainedlow since it collapsed in the 1990s. A fundamental reform of the media system is long overdue.

Media reform, however, cannot be conducted independently; it needs to be part of a larger transformation of the entire political system and accompanying institutional reforms. This report is a first step toward the formulation of a comprehensive strategy to reformthe Russian media system, without which a true democratic transition will be impossible for the country. One of the key objectives of media reform is the establishment of free and independent media aimed at facilitating the development ofa political system that is competitive and open for citizen participation, as well as the development of a public sphere that allowsthe media to deliverunbiased, factual information on key events and simultaneously serve as a communication platform between the authorities and the public.

The Reforum project envisions three possible scenarios for regime change in Russia: “perestroika 2.0” (gradual democratization of the existing political system), “building from the ground up” (creation of new stateinstitutionsfollowing a coup, possibly a military one, and subsequent restoration of civilian control), and “reform of the federalsystem” (consolidation of the country as a unitarian state with significant social control). Each of these scenarios opens up opportunities to develop and customizemedia reform, the main components of which are reviewed in this report.