Media System in Russia Essay

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The Russian Federation covers an area of 17.1 million square kilometers, has a population of 143.5 million, and borders 16 countries in Europe and Asia. The official language is Russian, but more than 100 languages are spoken. The economic situation remains uneven despite the country’s rich natural resources.

The development of the Russian media has been traditionally controlled by the political elite. Censorship in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries hindered the progress of the press. Until the reforms of 1865, literary magazines dominated, and private newspapers operated only in St-Petersburg and Moscow. In 1880 the number of newspapers outnumbered that of magazines.

After the revolution in 1905, political parties and their newspapers began to operate legally, although formal censorship still existed. Press freedom was legally introduced in April 1917, in the course of the bourgeois revolution. After the socialist revolution (1917) the media were used to promote the dominant communist ideology and social unanimity. The Soviet media were organized in a pyramidical hierarchy, which subordinated all media to Moscow and was controlled by the Communist Party to safeguard political accuracy. Changes began to be made after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985. Although it resulted in revolutionary changes, glasnost was a variation of the late Soviet media policy with a clear instrumental character. The dichotomy between etatism and the market-driven economy became the crucial characteristic of the Russian media system (Nordenstreng et al. 2002).

The Russian media are regulated by the Russian Law on Mass Media (1991), which guaranteed the inadmissibility of censorship and freedom of information. After this several attempts were made to introduce limiting amendments (e.g., restrictions on violence and pornography on television), but the Law has undergone no significant changes. Self-regulation exists in the form of the Professional Code of the Union of Journalists and codes of professional associations. In 2005, the Public Collegium for Press Complaints was established by the Russian Union of Journalists.

Newspapers have lost their central position in the national media system, but play an important role regionally and locally. The most widely distributed dailies are Komsomolskaya Pravda (circulation 655,000), Rossijskaya Gazeta (166,675), and Sport-Express (650,000). The press market is divided between quality dailies, mostly business-oriented, and popular newspapers that follow the trends of tabloidization. Among popular magazines the publications most in demand are illustrated TV guides.

Key players in the radio market are 31 Moscowbased commercial radio networks with affiliations all over Russia, but the national radio landscape is shaped by the two state-owned stations – Radio Rossiyi and Mayak, received by the majority of Russians. The most popular media is television (91 percent of Russians watch it daily). The national TV market comprises 20 broadcasters, with the first ‘Big Three’ channels (public-private Pervyi kanal, the state channel Rossiya 1, and the commercial channel NTV) available to almost everyone. Russian television is financed primarily by advertising and sponsorship, but its ownership and programming is a mixture of two models: state-owned and commercial. The state retains an important role in broadcasting through its operation of VGTRK (comprising 5 national TV and 2 radio channels, 80 regional television companies, and 100 transmission centers). Although the leading private channels are financially independent from the state, they provide few program alternatives to state-controlled channels and follow commercial programming strategies based on entertainment.

The Internet began to develop rapidly after 1993. In 2012, the average daily number of Russian Internet users stood close to 52.2 million (about 45 percent of the adult population). Its progress is steadily decreasing the inequality of geographical regions. The Internet in Russia has become the most open medium closely corresponding to the concept of the public sphere, regardless of some recent attempts by Russian legislators to introduce restrictions in this area.

The Russian media have a contradictory nature which has been shaped by many factors: globalization, the introduction of market relations, digitalization, nationally determined political culture, and professional traditions of Russian/ Soviet journalism. There still exists a strong belief in the crucial regulatory role of the state shared by players on the media scene. The introduction of advertising made the Russian media openly commercial, minimizing ideas of social responsibility and public service obligations of media companies (Vartanova 2012). In addition, the Russian media are affected by conflicting multiethnic, multiconfessional, and multicultural interests, where contemporary lifestyle values confront paternalistic traditions. Their complexity is also reinforced by the lack of commonly shared professional values and the dangers that still exist for journalists.


  1. Nordenstreng, K., Vartanova, E., & Zassoursky, Y. (eds.) (2002). Russian media challenge, 2nd edn. Helsinki: Kikimora.
  2. Vartanova, E. (2012). The Russian media model in the context of post-soviet dynamics. In D. C. Hallin & P. Mancini (eds.), Comparing media systems beyond the western world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 119–142.

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