Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Charmed Profession

BBC has published its own indictment. What, it doesn't look like an indictment? Well, please allow me to explain.

The first part of the poll, conducted in 31 countries including Russia and the G7, dealt with the influence of President Putin on various aspects of Russian and global affairs. Two of these aspects stand out in particular: They are the quality of life in Russia and democracy and human rights situation in Russia. Why do they stand out? Simply because they are an internal Russian matter, i.e. one has to actually be in Russia in order to form a sufficiently educated and hopefully accurate opinion on the topic. Global affairs are anyone's fair game, but internal situation in any country needs to be assessed from within. Logical, isn't it?

So what data are we dealing with here? When it comes to Putin's influence on the quality of life in Russia, 77% of Russians hold a positive view of it, and 8% -- negative. Of the residents of G7 countries, on the other hand, only 39% hold a positive view, while 44% are negative. On to democracy and human rights: 64% of Russians think Putin's influence was positive, while 12% think it was negative. The residents of G7 countries, once again, beg to differ: only 26% have a positive opinion, while 56% think that Putin strangled the nascent Russian democracy, personally butchered 200 Russian journalists and 500,000 Chechens, and also poisoned the "KGB spy" Litvinenko with polonium had a largely negative influence.

It's all clear with Russians: if a Russian wants to form an opinion of his quality of life, for starters he can open his fridge and compare its current contents with what was in it in the 90s. Or he can look at his paycheck. Or vacation time. Or the feeling of security. Same with democracy -- in Russia, one can simply look out the window, and there they are, Russia's democracy and human rights, out in full force! But if one lives in a G7 country, how can you look into a Russian's fridge? How can you look out a Russian's window? Well, probably a million of G7 countries' citizens have visited Putin's Russia by now. Tens of thousands have stayed long enough to form an educated opinion of what it feels like to live in Putin's Russia. But that is such a drop in the bucket compared to the entire population!

Where do G7 citizens get their information on Russia? Why, they get it from the pros! They pay good money to certain professionals to live in Russia, and to report on what Russians have in their fridges and what they see outside their windows. These professionals are colloquially known as "journalists". And BBC is one of the companies that employs these so-called "journalists". And then charges its clients, directly or by proxy, for the privilege of partaking of their superior knowledge on various subjects, including the quality of life and the state of democracy and human rights in Russia.

So how is it that the information that these professional journalists filter down to their clients about one particular subject, Russia, is so different from what anyone living in Russia actually sees? Maybe the clients are idiots who cannot interpret what they're told correctly? Seems unlikely. Or maybe it is that these "professionals" distort the information out of sheer incompetence, or malice, or editorial pressure, or all of the above? That seems a bit more likely.

Hey, BBC, do you hear me? I want my money back. You have done a shoddy job, and you have let me and others down. We are your customers! Where's the quality of service that we expect? Virtually any occupation you can think of, if someone provided such a poor service, they'd be out on their ass in no time, and their company would be bankrupt. But not in journalism, apparently. A charmed profession, indeed.


Oleg Nevestin said...

Fedia, good stuff. Logical, common sense, bullshit-free. Remember, when commies would tell us every day that West is rotting away as we speak, and we would reply that we wanna rot like that? Well, it turns out that Bolshevik boneheads weren't entirely wrong, just early. If Western media is anything to go by, then West is indeed rotting, and with quite a bit of stench accompanying the process. That stench,it seems, is finding its way out in the form of these articles. It's the filthiest propaganda, on par with the best of Nazi period. I hope you and all of us can keep our sanity longer than Lucases and Gluksmans of the world can keep theirs. Again, good stuff, Fedia. Russia will prevail.

Fedia Kriukov said...

I don't think that media propaganda against real or imagined external enemies has anything to do with a society "rotting". On the contrary, if anything, it is an indication of health. History has plenty of examples of deceitful propaganda demonizing an enemy, which not only did not lead to a bad outcome, but actually benefited the propagandizing power. Think of the Spanish-American War ("Remember the Maine!") or the ludicrous British propaganda against Napoleon (how can a retrograde tyranny criticize a progressive tyranny for being a tyranny?). Or if we go back in history, what about the European propaganda against the original "Evil Empire" -- the Ottoman Turks? Armies of professional and amateur propagandists from a continent full of cruelest absolutist monarchies attacking another monarchy for the fact that, in contrast to "enlightened" Europe, its cruelties were not inflicted within a well-defined legal framework? It's all fine to dispossess peasants and give their land to the sheep, and then hang those starving peasants for stealing and vagrancy, as long as there is a law!

stalker said...

I was planning to cover that particular poll on my blog as well.

But anyway, don't worry fedia. Western journos already have an explanation for why Russians like Putin. They are seduced by his smile because Russians don't share western values.

I sometimes wonder if what at first read like conspiracy theory,, might not in fact contain many important nuggets of truth.

Oleg Nevestin said...

Fedia, when one tyranny bashes another tyranny that's one thing - called hypocricy, and we all sometimes guilty of it. But when Putin is called a "new Stalin", that's something different altogether. That's a bold lie, from the beginning to the end. That can't be a sign of health, the way i see it, because it emamates from a profound sense of insecurity, easily detectable in the West today. The world is changing fast, and majority of people in the West, though unable to define the problem, know that something is not right. Healthy West is not. It's a one sick puppy.

Ibicus_lj said...

Brilliant, as always.

Andy Young said...

Nice post. I was going to write something about this, but you beat me too it.

By the way, did you see the breakdown of results by country. I'm fascinated that, despite all the bad press Russia receives in the UK, and the terrible relations between the British and Russian governments at the moment, the British respondents seemed to have the most positive view of Russia of any of the Western countries.

White Crow said...

What really gets my goat is when they start comparing Russia to Estonia or some other midget places. Hello! The place is not only the largest, but also the by far most populous European country. If Russia would have gotten as much money per capita from the EU as the Estonians did, I wonder where we would be (not to mention that the EU would be even more broke than it is in any case).

Mind you, I like the Estonians, in the same way I like Israelis and other spunky little nations with a bad attitude, but it's just something people have to put into perspective...

You go and run a country with 145 million inhabitants or so, across 10 time zones (Kaliningrad doesn't count in my books), after that place had experienced 70 years of major, major, total, utter and complete mismanagement, democide, and every evil in the book of human capabilities, and then we'll see what's what.

I am NOT in favor of the direction Russia is going now, but that's simply because my ideal scenario would be too radically different from anything you can imagine, that I grudgingly admit that it probably can't go any different from what it is now (I don't think that liberal democracy is a panacea to begin with).

Ok, in any case, who cares what other countries' populations think of Russia... it's harder with those journos making things look worse than they are, but then again... in the end, it won't kill Russia. It's just rally upsetting and frustrating.


Fedia Kriukov said...

Andy, good point.

I, for one, find it difficult to explain.

Could it be the fact that the UK has so many Russians visiting or staying on a semi-permanent basis? And Britons have an alternative source of info outside the media? Or the fact that the overall position of the English language media is more nuanced than that of the French or German media? I don't know other European languages, but e.g. the French translations I've seen on have been uniformly vile. Glucksman alone (already mentioned by Oleg) has done enough to discredit French thought for the next century.

Jesse Heath said...

Good seems the the Western commentariat and politicians are trying to resurrect the pliant Russia of the 90s through....shame. Of course, our own questionable practices both at home and abroad are simply policy choices and are above reproach.

Kat said...

Dear Fedia,

My name is Katharina Goetze. I work with a team based in London which produces a weekly global media watch show called the Listening Post for Al-Jazeera English.
For our upcoming broadcast, we will be looking at the role the global media plays in covering dissent in Russia.

A section of our show is called Global Village Voices and we ask for people's opinions on media issues via webcam. We look for informed opinions from people who are interested in Russian and international media issues, especially bloggers. I just had a read through your blog and thought you would make a great contributor.

Some of the issues we’d like to hear responses on are:
1. What dangers do journalists and activists face in speaking out against the Russian government?
2. What role does the (international) media play in giving Russian regime critics a voice? How free is the Russian media to report on such issues?
3. Is the media attention helping or worsening the situation of activists?
Just in case you are able to do this, I have attached our list of hints and tips for video blogging. We would like to get your video file by Sunday please. The file will need to be uploaded, and I have attached instructions on how to do it below. It shouldn’t take long, all you need to do is send us a clip of around 40 to 50 seconds.
You need not answer all the questions I have put up there. They are just for you to get an idea of what we are looking for. Feel free to pick just one and give us your reply. You could even break the mould completely and give us an opinion about the media’s coverage that's all your own.
We would love to hear from you! Do check out our website and here's a list of some of our episodes - watching them will probably give you an idea of what we are all about.

Also, if you can think of anyone else who may be suitable for the show and interested, please do forward this email to them. We are always looking for new Global Village Voices!

Do e-mail me if you have any questions or doubts.

Here are our tips for contributors:
• Install any software that comes with your webcam - unless you already have it
• Plug in your webcam
• Find a quiet place to record your comment, so that background noise doesn't cause a problem. Overhead fans, open windows, air conditioning – all of these can create a hum in the background. Try to switch them off before you make your final recording
• Think about what is behind you in the picture. A plain backdrop is usually the best
• Secure the camera on an even surface so that it doesn't wobble or shake
• Frame the picture so that you have your head an shoulders in frame with about a quarter of the frame left empty at the top, for head space (the more of your face we can see the better!)
• Make sure there is light on your face – a lamp facing you is a good option
• Make sure that your microphone (often part of the webcam) is directed towards your face
• Think about what you want to say before hand, but don't worry about getting it all word for word, it’s good to be as natural as possible
• Don't worry about getting it right first time you can always re-record as many times as you like
• If you find it difficult to look into the lens of the camera and talk, find a spot to focus on just above the camera and talk to that
• Record on your webcam software OR quicktime (.mov)
• Once you start to record count 5 seconds in your head while looking at your spot, before you start to talk, and when you have finished count 5 seconds before stopping the recording. This will give us clean in and outs for edit.
• Start your piece by saying your NAME, PROFESSION and LOCATION
• Speak clearly and not too quickly.
• Around 45 seconds is the optimum length.
• Once you are happy with your piece, save it and upload it to (you may need to register for free first). Direct the file to

P.S. Sorry to post this in the comment section, I couldn't find your email address anywhere.

Fedia Kriukov said...


Don't think they're actually trying to do anything about Russia. I think they are trying to protect their own position. They need Russia as an enemy to make themselves matter in their own countries. They don't care that creating more enemies is not in their own countries' interests.

Fedia Kriukov said...

Sorry Kat, I don't do video blogging and I don't even have a webcam.

However, I want to answer these questions here just for the record:

1. If by Russian gov't you mean the federal level, the answer is none whatsoever. If it's local level, then it varies. Russia is very hetergeneous, especially when it comes to local governance. In some regions, especially ethnic republics, you could find yourself in real trouble. Although, there was only one confirmed case of a journalist being murdered due to local politics in the last 10 years, and even that was an accident of miscommunication (i.e. they didn't mean to actually kill him).

2. International (or rather western) media play a largely negative role. If the Russian opposition criticizes Russia in foreign media, it is immediately translated and made available to the Russian public through such sites as, and the reaction on the part of Russian citizens is invariably negative -- the "opposition" is perceived as tools of foreign powers. For that reason, real Russian opposition, such as the Communists, shuns western media attention. It is quite clear that those who actively seek out western attention are not seriously trying to achieve any political goals in Russia, but are in fact merely milking western sponsors for funds, and are widely perceived as such.

3. In relation to the above, media attention is obviously helpful to the activists, but only if it's Russian media attention. Western media have an obvious image problem in Russia, due to the mostly propagandistic nature of their Russia coverage. Many western media professionals try to explain it by some mythical "traditional Russian xenophobia", but they're simply lying to themselves. Their poor image is based on their work alone, and is in fact quite deserved.

stalker said...

Oh Fedia! That means I'll have to battle the Russophobes by myself! (Well, besides the two or three other Russophile blog owners, provided they've submitted). And provided I appear on it. I wonder, what are the chances of that? Anyway, I'll post the link here if I do, if you don't mind.

Fedia Kriukov said...

You mean the link to your own submission? Sure, I'd love to see that.

stalker said...

It's up, Fedia.

You see, I wasn't sure whether to cover Question 1 (risks of journalism) or Question 2 (about the opposition). So I went for Q1; but as it turned out, answering Q2 would have been more appropriate.

Still, thanks for the CPJ Audit article - that's where the bulk of my short piece comes from, as you probably realize.

Anonymous said...

the curtian should go back up and all of you criminal ruskiz get back behind it and eat beets!
all generations are jacked at this point. young are worthless, old are stuck wanting to back to the bread line days so bad they allow putin to run amok. the middle gen are all freakin stupid nutscabs. porn lovers, spammers, mafia, wreched politicians, con artists
yes...i'm saying ya suck

Fedia Kriukov said...


Thank you for your comment. Please find a girlfriend/boyfriend soon. Even if you are lonely, seeking attention by making irrelevant but provocative posts in other people's blogs is bad form.

Anonymous said...
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