Friday, April 3, 2015, 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
Human Rights Campaign - Equality Forum, 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington D.C. 20036-3278

A conversation with:

David Satter, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute and former Financial Times Moscow Correspondent

Jill Dougherty, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center and former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief

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Since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, the Russian government has increased its editorial and regulatory control over the media. At the same time, the dominant narrative has turned more nationalistic and anti-Western. Recent public opinion polls suggest that a vast majority of the Russian population strongly supports these official positions and the regime. How has the Kremlin achieved this level of domestic cohesion, and what factors of Russia’s media landscape have enabled this trend? What are the long-term consequences of the Kremlin’s media control, and how can they be mitigated by the West?

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On April 3, the Center on Global Interests hosted a conversation with two veteran Moscow correspondents on Russia’s current media environment and political culture. Jill Dougherty discussed how Russia, having discarded the ideologies of tsarism and Communism, is now a passive country that defines itself by what it is not (eg. “not Western”) rather than by promoting a particular model. David Satter, who was effectively expelled from Russia in December 2013 when the government refused to renew his visa, described the changing environment for Western reporters in Russia from Soviet times to the present.

The highlights from each speaker are summarized below:

Jill Dougherty

  • Russia does not have a national idea. Current attempts at creating a coherent ideology, such as the promotion of a “Russian world,” are piecemeal and resemble a pastiche. On the other hand, this makes Russian propaganda practitioners more flexible and open to new narratives.
  • The current state media narrative exploits emotionally-charged themes, such as fascism, in order to elicit a greater response from the public. However, this tactic could backfire if the public becomes too radicalized.
  • The United States needs to re-vamp its approach to international broadcasting in order to counter the effectiveness of Russian propaganda. Information must be presented in a fresh, attractive way, and using a greater number of younger journalists and native Russian speakers.

David Satter

  • Corrupt Russian elites are using media narratives to maintain their hold on power. This is most clearly seen at the federal level, but is reproduced at the regional and municipal levels.
  • Satter’s expulsion from Russia — which followed the release from prison of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the members of Pussy Riot — was the first sign that authorities were tired of being tolerant and maintaining a façade of free press.
  • The West can counter Putin propaganda by producing professional, high-quality reporting aimed at the Russian intellectual elite. Current reporting on Russia is tinged with provincialism and moral judgments, which is not attractive to even pro-Western Russians.

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About the speakers:

David SatterDavid Satter is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He was the Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times of London and was special correspondent of Soviet affairs of The Wall Street Journal. He has been a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a visiting professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His books include It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past (2011), Darkness at Dawn: the Rise of the Russian Criminal State (2003), and Age of Delirium: the Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union (1996).

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Jill Dougherty is a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. She previously served as U.S. Affairs Editor for CNN International; Managing Editor of CNN International Asia/Pacific, based in Hong Kong; and CNN’s Moscow Bureau Chief and Correspondent. From 1991 to 1996 she was CNN White House Correspondent, covering the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2013-14 she was a Fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government where she pursued research on Russia’s mass media.