Given that the Kremlin has been using television to mobilize what it views as its natural conservative base, this shift in rural areas could presage a shift in political values among a segment of the population many analysts believe will always be in Vladimir Putin’s pocket, given the growing gap between what Moscow TV says and what the facts of the situation are.
According to research findings presented at a recent conference organized by the Moscow Higher School of Economics, rural residents are increasingly aware that Moscow television distorts the news and consequently are turning ever more often to the Internet for information, viewing TV primarily as a source of entertainment.
In her presentation to the conference, Yevgenya Petrova of the Don State Technical University reported on the results of the 64 in-depth interviews she conducted with people in the Koksov settlement 160 kilometers from Rostov-na-Donu and 15 kilometers from the nearest town.
She said that residents generally talked about television as a form of entertainment and relaxation rather than as a source of news. Many said they ignored television reports when they were not about local events or when they had not acquired information about them from other sources, such as the Internet, on the basis of which they could make judgments.
Repeatedly, Petrova suggested, rural residents said that the Internet is “a significant source of information” and that they did not expect from television new information as much as reflections about it and interpretations of content they had known earlier.” But that disjunction is not yet having the impact many might expect, she said.
As one respondent put it, “you know that with us the nation is very sick … all have high blood pressure. But the television somehow works … Let those who are supposed to know – the MVD, the Investigation Committee, the procuracy, the administration know …Not everyone needs the truth.”
That pattern, Anna Kachkayeva, the dean of media studies at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, added is” “characteristic not only for rural areas. “In the cities, the number of people who are prepared to close their eyes to the fact that information in the media may be unreliable has been growing,” as polls show.
In the short term, such attitudes may benefit of Putin’s regime, but in the longer one, they will contribute to a split between rulers and ruled that will make any modernization ever more difficult. At the very least, both new rural interest in the Internet and these attitudes present a new challenge to Moscow and others who seek to reach a Russian audience