Mediating Post-Soviet Difference: An Analysis of Russian Television Representations of Inter-Ethnic Cohesion Issues

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Arts Languages and Cultures

Abstract

The project addresses Russian state television's approach to ethnic tension, combining the complementary expertise of specialists in, respectively, post-Soviet media studies and ethnicity and Russian nation building. It will contribute both to our grasp of an urgent issue in transition countries, and to the study of the contemporary media's role in fostering community cohesion, explaining how one of the world's most complex societies confronts the dual impact of globalisation and post-imperial nation building. The project will break innovatory interdisciplinary ground, testing general conceptions of the media's nation building function within multicultural societies against the particular situation obtaining in contemporary Russia, where matters are complicated by (a) tensions underlying post-Soviet conceptions of multiculturalism, (b) the rise of post-imperial ethnic conflict and nationalist extremism, (c) recurrent suspicions of foreign interference, (d) struggles for the redistribution of resources among post-communist elites, and (e) the absence of effective consensus-building mechanisms.

The focus is on news and related programming on the main national TV channel (Channel 1). Based on the notion that even Russia's highly regulated media system accommodates a circulation of official and unofficial meanings, the aim is to investigate how Russian television mediates between government policy on ethnic diversity and conflict, and discourses of nationalist xenophobia. The objectives are (i) to account for the nature of that circulation as it relates to community cohesion; (ii) to elucidate the relationship between approaches to the issues within news bulletins, and the ways they filter through into non-news programming; (iii) to provide relevant policy makers and think tanks with insights into one of the key drivers of Russian government actions in the domestic and international arenas .

We will address research questions concerned with the transformations official positions undergo when entering media environments; the extent to which extreme positions infiltrate, and are moderated by, state television; the range of voices reflected and the manner of their framing; the ways in which ethnic-related issues find their way into non-news genres. Our analysis will be informed by two theoretical strands: one identifying the specificities of post-imperial nation building, and the second addressing television news as a consensus management tool. In each case, broader theorisations are adapted to the Russian context.

Within our methodology we identify several categories of news issue to be analysed: migration; ethnic crime and conflict; secessionist violence and unrest; official promotions of national unity and other cohesion initiatives; Orthodoxy and inter-confessional affairs. Transcriptions of relevant reports will be supplemented by recordings of selected non-news programming, parallel recordings from two provincial cities, cumulative archives of policy statements and relevant government documents, and prominent nationalist internet postings.

With its ability to account for the interactive dynamic of the key actors (official, semi-official and unofficial), a Bakhtinian variant on Critical Discourse Analysis, supported by qualitative data analysis software, will form our central methodological tool. The results will help us determine the balance between the 'mainstreaming' and the attenuation of anti-minority extremisms and the relationship of these processes to the federal promotion of 'multicultural harmony'.

Project findings will be disseminated through a monograph, 3 journal articles, a journal special issue, an international conference and a downloadable dataset of news catalogue entries. Knowledge transfer will consist of reports presented to relevant NGOs and government departments and a series of public debates involving academics and journalists from Russia and the UK.

Planned Impact

The potential benefits of the project extend well beyond academia. There are four groups of beneficiaries. First, a large number of NGOs and monitoring groups have a direct interest in either the fate of media and press freedom throughout the world, or in social cohesion issues such as the rise of racist tension and xenophobia, or both. These include the SOVA Centre in Moscow set up specifically to track the impact on inter-ethnic harmony of rising nationalist extremism in Russia (the Centre devotes much of its attention to the role of the media), Statewatch, which monitors civil liberties and their relationship to state policy throughout Europe, and the World Press Freedom Committee, established under the auspices of UNESCO to defend press freedom. The project will generate insights into the roots of xenophobia, the role of the state in fostering/combating it, and the degree to which state and local television is reporting the full facts about it. Such insights should be of significant value to this first group.

The second group of beneficiaries would be policy makers in the UK and elsewhere. The Russian and East European Desk at the Foreign Office and independent policy groups in Russia like the Carnegie Moscow Center are prime examples. Such bodies increasingly need to pay attention to Russia's actions on the international stage, its relationships with its immediate neighbours, the shifting dynamic of its relationship with the West (with Obama's accession in the USA likely to change it yet again), its status as an energy giant at a time of diminishing world supplies, and the severe effect of the global financial crisis on the wellbeing of its economy and its citizens. Russia's foreign policy and the challenge it poses to the west can only be understood by those with a thorough knowledge of the domestic pressures and issues it faces (cf. the incomprehending shock amongst western analysts at Russia's intervention in South Ossetia). Since the project directly addresses the rise of xenophobia, nationalist extremism and inter-ethnic tension and problems with Putin's post-imperial nation building strategy, and since these factors inform Russian stances towards the outside world, the second group of beneficiaries would gain important insights from our work.

The third group would be the media themselves. The issues we are treating have a bearing on journalists' responsibilities in reporting ethnic conflict and the positions of nationalist extremists operating in a multicultural context. This is as true in the UK as it is in Russia. Finally, as experience on the previous AHRC grant indicates, issues relating to inter-ethnic cohesion are inherently interesting to programme makers at the BBC and elsewhere.

The fourth group would be University of Manchester students who would benefit from research-led teaching insights derived from project findings.

Our dissemination strategy accommodates all four groupings. We will write a series of non-academic briefings detailing our key findings and send them to interested parties in government and selected NGOs (the SOVA Centre has already requested this and we have received an invitation from a Foreign Office analyst to make a presentation on the project, when complete). We will also advertise our datasets and make them available to the same groups via our existing website. Building on the success of the public meetings we organised in connection with a previous AHRC project, we will organise a series of debates involving academics and members of the journalist community here and in Russia. We have close links with the Russian Union of Journalists, and with the Reuters Institute at Oxford University . We will also work closely with the Press Office at the University of Manchester to bring our project to the attention of key media outlets in the UK. We will incorporate materials fro
 
Description The project has 3 overarching findings:



1) That public discourses of race, nation and ethnicity play a much more significant role in shaping Russia's domestic political landscape, and how it projects itself on the international stage, than has hitherto been acknowledged

2) That inter-ethnic relations are not represented in a simple dichotomy of ethnic Russian self and 'black' migrant other but rather are constructed as a complex nexus of actors (ethnic Russians, Muslims, migrants, North Caucasians, Central Asians, the liberal opposition, the West, the Jews) whose configuration is constantly shifting and reforming

3) That, far from the view of state-aligned television as a mere tool of official propaganda, the medium plays an active role in shaping this nexus, often in a way that is at odds with the official line
Exploitation Route The findings are of direct relevance to media broadcasters, to NGOs and think tanks with a focus on racial discrimination, and to foreign office policy makers with an interest in Russia
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy

URL http://www.russtvethnic.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/
 
Description Yes, by NGOs in Moscow; and by BBC Monitoring
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Media Interview 
Organisation British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Moscow Airport Bombing
Start Year 2011
 
Description Media Interview 
Organisation British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Putin's re-election and the national question
Start Year 2012
 
Description Media Interview 
Organisation Research Councils UK (RCUK)
Department Puls UK (London-Based Russian Journal)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Inter-ethnic relations in Russia
Start Year 2011
 
Description Media discussion 
Organisation Government of Russia
Department Voice of Russia
Country Russian Federation 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Live radio debate on issues of race and ethnicity in Russia
Start Year 2012
 
Description Project Launch 
Organisation Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Discussion about initial project findings involving a senior analyst from FCO
Start Year 2011
 
Description Workshop 
Organisation British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Joint Workshop with BBC Monitoring
Start Year 2012
 
Description 'An Analysis of Television Coverage of Inter-Ethnic Relations and Nationalism in Russia (2010-13) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact A Russian-language report based on the key findings of our project and published by the SOVA Centre in Moscow (a human rights and ethnic relations-focused NGO) on the Centre's website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Religion and Nation Under Putin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Professor Vera Tolz contributed to a discussion of the role of the Orthodox Church in Russia today on the Radio 4 religious series, 'Beyond Belief'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014