Monitoring of Russian TV channels | 2015 Final Report
“The mass communications media provide information to most voters that is essential to the choice they exercise at the ballot box. Therefore, proper media conduct toward all political parties and candidates, as well as proper media conduct in the presentation of information that is relevant to electoral choices, are crucial to achieving democratic elections. Monitoring media conduct – when done impartially, proficiently and based on a credible methodology – establishes whether this key aspect of an election process contributes to or subverts the democratic nature of elections. Media monitoring can measure the amount of coverage of electoral subjects, the presence of news bias, appropriateness of media access for political competitors and the adequacy of information conveyed to voters through news, direct political messages, public information programming and voter education announcements. Shortcomings in media conduct can be identified through monitoring in time for corrective action. Abuse of the mass media power to affect voter choices also can be documented, which allows the population and the international community to appropriately characterize the true nature of the electoral process.”1
Robert Norris and Patrick Merloe
This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the implementing partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.
Monitors analysing content of the Russian channels.
2.2. Qualitative analysis …………..….…………………………………………………………………….. 17
3. The media situation in the Eastern Partnership countries ……………………………………….. 19
4. Regulatory Framework for the Media ………………………………………………………………………. 23
5. Monitoring Findings………………………………………………………………………………………………..30
5.2. Qualitative analysis……………………………………………………………………………………… 35 5.2.1. Tools of Russian propaganda……………………………………………………………… 56
5.2.2. Impact of Russian propaganda in the EaP countries….………………………… 65
6. Recommendations………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 69
From 1 – 31 March 2015, MEMO 98, a Slovak non-profit specialist media-monitoring organization, Internews Ukraine and Yerevan Press Club, leading non-governmental organization supporting independent media in Ukraine and Armenia, along with Independent Journalism Center (Moldova), “Yeni Nesil” Union of Journalists (Azerbaijan), Belarusian Association of Journalists (Belarus), and Georgian Charter for Journalistic Ethics (Georgia) jointly monitored eight Russian TV channels to evaluate the level of political diversity in their news coverage of various international and local topics. This monitoring was implemented thanks to the support of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum Secretariat (EaP CSF), the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) and the Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji (KRRiT).
The main findings deriving from the pre-election media-monitoring activity are:
Impact of Russian propaganda in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries
Television is the most efficient method of influencing public opinion in the EaP countries. The role of the main Russian channels is more significant in Armenia, Belarus and Moldova, where these channels are freely available, than in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine, where the role of these channels is more limited.
In Azerbaijan and Georgia, Russian channels are only available through cable television, satellite antenna or Internet. In Ukraine, a number of measures restricting Russian media have been introduced recently, including a ban on the selected Russian channels from the cable packages.
The main Russian TV channels remain available also through terrestrial transmitters and are the most important sources of information in Crimea and in the territories of self-proclaimed DNR and LNR.
Russian TV channels are generally very popular, particularly in Armenia, Belarus and Moldova. By contrast, the popularity of these channels in Georgia and Ukraine has been affected by the armed conflicts in 2008 and 2014 - 15 respectively. In Azerbaijan, only a small segment of the population favors Russian TV channels as their information source.
The national broadcasters in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova strive to provide an alternative to the Russian propaganda and to reduce its impact.
The current situation with the freedom of media in Belarus and Armenia prevents the national broadcasters from serving as such alternative. Moreover, Russian-speaking media – TV Dozhd and RTVI - which have potential to provide alternative information to the main Russian channels face certain restrictions in these countries and are available only via Internet. In Azerbaijan, the impact of the Russian channels is limited.
The media in the EaP countries are reluctant to use the same aggressive style of propaganda currently used by the main Russian channels. At the same time, there are clearly differences between the national broadcasters originating from different levels of media freedoms in the EaP countries as well as economic conditions.
The main Russian TV channels showed very limited range of views in their reporting of international and local topics and issues, thus depriving their viewers of receiving objective and balanced coverage.
The principal general trend from the media monitoring is that there is an exceptionally limited range of diversity of political actors in the main Russian TV channels. This was visible in the coverage of both international and local topics.
The three main Russian channels (First channel, Russia 1, and NTV) devoted extensive prime time news coverage to the activities of the authorities, focusing primarily on the activities of the president and the government.
There was a clear tendency to cover the activities of state officials extensively, pointing out achievements and successes and neglecting to offer any independent and alternative views or critical reporting challenging the performance of the authorities.
The primetime programs on the three channels lacked meaningful agenda setting debates involving genuine public discussions over some pressing economic, social or policy issues, such as the falling price of oil and its impact on the Russian economy. If mentioned, then it was presented in a way that no sanctions and no decrease of the crude oil prices could get Russia on her knees, as these are only temporary difficulties that will make the country stronger and consolidate Russian people.
The monitoring of topics revealed the main Russian channels have been used as instruments of propaganda in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, diverting attention from important domestic issues and challenges and instead focusing on the conflict in Ukraine.
Instead of serving as facilitator of discussion on public policy issues, the three channels openly demonstrated bias in breach of media ethics and principles of impartial and objective reporting, showing explicit sympathy for one side and distaste for the others.
The monitoring of topics showed that half of the coverage on the three channels was devoted to foreign affairs (primarily Ukraine) whereas topics such as social issues received only a very limited coverage.
As for the coverage of subjects linked with the conflict in the Eastern part of Ukraine, representatives of the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republic (DNR and LNR) obtained extensive and overwhelmingly positive and neutral coverage on the three channels. In sharp contrast, official Ukrainian authorities and institutions were portrayed in a very negative way.
As a rule, only to the representatives of separatists had opportunity to speak directly on camera while official Ukrainian representatives were almost completely ignored. As such, the coverage of the conflict was one-sided and heavily biased. Even in those reports wich were said to be prepared from Kiev, there was no diversity of opinions, as virtually all interviews were done with experts or politicans loyal to Russia.
A significant level of hostility towards specific actors was perpetuated invariably on the three channels and Russia Today. In particular, the Ukrainian authorities were presented as the ones guilty of the disastrous situation in the Eastern part of Ukraine while the US administration was presented as being interested in maintaining the conflict in the region and trying to persuade the Western Europe and EU to sanction Russia.
The qualitative analysis further revealed that the main Russian media attempted to show the failure of Ukraine as an independent state, they wanted to expose “the aggressive plans of the West, particularly of the USA,” and tried to justify the struggle of Russians in Ukraine for the "ancestral Russian lands”.
A significant coverage was devoted to speculations on a possible Western plot against Russia with viewers being presented with a picture of the West trying to attack Russia. The story ofWorld War II was also used to stigmatize the population with the possibility of a war and the need of Russia to protect itself against the enemy.
The main channels conducted an information campaign against US and Ukraine with the aim to demonize US and Ukrainian authorities and to portray Russia as a protector of Russian citizens in the conflict zone. Almost all materials covering US and Ukraine included statements or reporting prejudicial against the US and Ukrainian administrations.
A number of reports focused on developing the idea of a large-scale anti-Russian conspiracy and fostered an atmosphere of threat to Russia. At the same time, virtually every program contained stories about Russia's readiness for such situations - usually these stories are accompanied by aggressive rhetoric towards "the enemy".
The qualitative analysis revealed thatalmost all news reports were unbalanced and very subjective, quoting a lot of sources that supported only one point of view – that of the Russian authorities. Only in a few cases both sides were presented, but the length of direct speech was evidently disproportionate, the pro-Russian sources being given much more prominence. As a rule, the media selected their sources in a way to present only one position that is the position of the Russian authorities.
The conflict in Ukraine was an omnipresent topic not only in the news programs but also in the selected other information programs. Talk show hosts and presenters were heavily biased which was obvious from their views, body language and gestures. In most cases, the hosts and presenters mixed facts with opinions and in some cases they even behaved as if they were the experts, presenting their own opinions as facts. Quite often, irony and sarcasm was used when referring to the events in Ukraine and their official representatives who were almost always ignored as sources of news despite the number of allegations and negative stories against them.
In the coverage of the conflict in Ukraine, Russia is presented as a peacemaker, and the message of the need of Russia on permanent basis in the region is propagated. In addition to Ukraine, other Eastern partnership countries (EaP) were mentioned too, but to a much more limited extent.
Almost all reports promoted the idea of legitimacy of separatist regions. The same cannot be said about the Ukrainian authorities that were sometimes referred as a fascist junta that came to power thanks to a coup organized by the West (primarily by USA).
The qualitative analysis identified that different manipulations techniques were used by the main Russian TV channels, including: manipulative use of images and sound, pseudo-diversity of opinions, mixing comments and opinions, appeals to fear, scapegoating, demonizing the enemy, lack of transparency and credibility of sources, selective coverage, omission of information, manipulative search for sympathizers, labeling and stereotyping, vagueness, repetition and exaggeration, inaccurate reporting and lies etc.
The qualitative analysis also revealed that some talk show hosts used inflammatory language when referring to Ukraine (primarily the official representatives), USA, EU, and the West in general. In addition, talk show hosts presented uniform position virtually on all important topics and issues, vehemently supporting the official line pursued by the Russian authorities on global and national issues.
The monitoring team observed a tendency by the main Russian channels to invite the same people to the talk show programs whose role was to pursue the official line supported by the Russian authorities. Talk show hosts provided a uniform position virtually on all important topics and issues, also supporting the position of the Russian authorities. They demonstrated open bias, aggressive style, inflammatory and hostile language towards their opponents and people with different opinions.
The coverage of Boris Nemtsov’s murder on the three main TV channels was also one-sided, reflecting only the official line and generally failing to follow on the allegations that the authorities were involved.
Russia Today demonstrated a pattern of political favoritism towards the incumbent Russian authorities, but showed a slightly different approach to that of the three above-mentioned channels. This is due to the fact that it Russia Today mainly targets international viewers, particularly in USA and in the European Union. As such, the bulk of the channel’s coverage was devoted to the above-mentioned international topics and subjects, primarily USA and EU that were heavily criticized. Ukraine did not receive as much coverage as on the main Russian channels but the tone of the coverage was also critical towards the Ukrainian authorities.
The one-month long monitoring confirmed that the identified problems in the main Russian channels were not results of short-term anomalies but reflect real trends. In particular, such a problem includes the fact that the interests of the current Russian authorities and not the interests of the readers or viewers determine the editorial policy of these channels.
TV Dozhd showed a very different approach to that of the four above-mentioned channels controlled by the Russian authorities as it was more focused on the local Russian affairs than on the conflict in Ukraine or the Russia-West relations. Moreover, the coverage of topics and subjects related to Ukraine was generally balanced.
Similarly, the Russian language version of Euronews offered a very different picture of the international and local issues related to Russia and Ukraine. While the channel also devoted to the bulk of its coverage to USA and the European Union, this coverage was predominantly neutral.
TV RBK allocated most of its coverage to the activities of the Russian government (one hour and twenty six minutes) and the president (thirty four minutes). While the coverage of Mr. Putin was mainly neutral and positive, some of the government’s coverage was also negative. RBK did not focus on the conflict in Ukraine so intensively as the main Russian channels. First Baltic Channel focused mainly on the local issues related to Latvia.
The methodology for the media monitoring was developed by MEMO 98 which has carried out similar monitoring projects in some 50 countries in the last 16 years.2 It included quantitative analysis of the coverage, which focused on the amount of time allocated to each subject, as well as the tone of the coverage in which the relevant political subjects were portrayed: positive, neutral or negative. Qualitative analysis assessed the performance of the media against specific principles or benchmarks – such as ethical or professional standards – that cannot be easily quantified.
Given its comprehensive content-oriented approach, it is specially designed to provide in-depth feedback on pluralism and diversity in media reporting, including coverage of chosen subjects and topics. The main goal was to evaluate if the Russian TV channels provide their viewers with objective and balanced information about important international and local issues. As such, the outcome of the monitoring is a detailed analysis of the quality of selected Russian TV channels’ news programming.
Based on criteria such as media ownership, coverage, and impact, the following media were included into the monitoring:
Table 1: Monitored media
Programmes monitored 3
National Media Group
Roman Abramovich [reportedly under sale]
Vremya | Voskersnoe Vremya
98,8% of Russian population4;
Rebroadcast also by ONT (Belarus), TV1 (Armenia), TV Prime (Moldova); First Channel - Eurasia (Kazakhstan); First Baltic Channel (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia).
Also broadcasted worldwide via Satellite and selected cable networks.
Vesti | Vesti Nedely
98.5% of Russian population5;
Available internationally as RTR-Planeta via Satellite and selected cable networks.
Gazprom Media Holding 6
Segodnia | Segodnia: Itogoviy Vypusk Mo-Fr, Su (19:00)
98.3% of Russian Population7.
Also Available Internationally via Satellite and selected cable networks as NTV-Mir. Also local editions are broadcast in US, Canada and Belarus.8
. RT has a global reach of over 700 million people in 100+ countries.10 Available worldwide via Satellite and selected cable networks. Programs are shared with sister channels RT UK, RT USA that are broadcasted via terrestrial networks in USA and UK.
Programs are also shared on sister channels in other languages (Rusiya Al-Yaum, RT Deutsch, RT Français).
Natalia Sendeeva &
Daily news show / Mo-Fr (21:00)
Zdes I Seichas / Sa-Su (21:00)
Available as pay-per-view via Satellite (Russia and Europe), Internet and selected cable networks in Russia11
Naguib Sawiris (53%)12
[before the deal:
(25,4% owned France Televisions;
TRT (Turkey); 9,2%
Mo-Su (9:00, 15;00, 21:00)
Euronews reaches about 415 million households in 155 countries via cable, digital satellite and terrestrial windows.13
Pragla Limited (Cyprus) – indirectly controlled by Onexim (Mikhail Prokhorov)14
Itogi | Itogi Nedeli.
Mo-Fr, Su (20:00)
Available in Russia and Europe via Satellite and in selected cable networks. Technical outreach – 102 mln viewers. Monthly viewership 25 mln viewers.15
First Baltic Channel
Baltijas Mediju Alianse
(Oleg Solodov and Alexey Pliasunov)16
Technical reach – over 4 mln viewers.17
The monitoring team observed media coverage of the Russian and international political scene in order to:
assess whether different local and international entities are granted fair access to the media;
supply the media, political entities, regulatory organs, citizens, and international community with data to measure the objectivity of the monitored media;
raise public awareness and encourage journalists, editors and media outlet owners to observe standards of balanced reporting;
motivate citizens to better understand the role of the media.
In addition, the project was supposed to:
enhance the capacity of the civil and academic communities in conducting the advanced media researches;
put public pressure on journalists, editors and media owners to provide information that is more accurate, impartial and fair.
To achieve these objectives, the implementing partners evaluated the media coverage against internationally recognized professional standards and principles of journalist ethics, which include:
Accuracy and Exactness
Ommission of facts
The monitoring assessed different types of programmes which were monitored both quantitatively and qualitatively. The enclosed results reflect only the quantitative results of the monitored news programs.
2.1. Quantitative analysis Quantitative analysis focused on the amount of time allocated to selected political and other local and international subjects and the tone of the coverage in which these subjects were portrayed – positive, neutral and negative. The monitoring also focused on thematic and geographical structure of the news, evaluating the thematic and geographical diversity by measuring the actual time devoted to different topics and focusing on the geographical area from where the news is broadcast. In addition, the monitoring focused on what were the top stories in the monitoring period.
It is the behaviour of media outlets that was being assessed, not the monitored subjects. Positive and negative ratings refer to whether or not the viewer/reader was offered a positive or negative impression of the subject or topic. Monitors gave an evaluation mark to all subjects, in addition to time and reference, to provide information on how the subject was portrayed by each media outlet. The evaluation mark was thus attached to all monitored subjects to determine whether the subject was presented in a positive, negative, or neutral light.
The description of the five-level evaluation scale was as follows:
Grade 1 and 2 meant that a certain monitored subject was presented in a very positive or positive light respectively; in both instances the news coverage was favourable.
Grade 3 was a “neutral mark”, with the coverage being solely factual, without positive or negative connotations.
Grades 4 or 5 meant that a subject was presented in a negative or very negative light respectively. Such coverage had negative connotations, accusations or one-sided criticism of a subject portrayed in an item or story.
It was important for monitors to consider the actual evaluation (judgement) on the monitored subject and also the context of the story or item.
List of monitored subjects
A Just Russia Party
Patriots of Russia
Party of Progress
Republican Party of Russia – People's Freedom Party
CIS (without Moldova and Ukraine)
Georgia and Moldova
Other separatist territories and breakaway states in the CIS (Transnistria, South Ossetia,