How YouTube Brought Politics Back to Russia
After decades of having no alternative to state-controlled TV, Russians have increasingly begun to tune in to a new, fact-based reality online. Thanks to YouTube, serious, fair-minded journalists can now reach massive audiences and generate advertising revenue, and there is little the Kremlin can do about it.
MOSCOW – Television has occupied a prominent place in Russian households for generations. Relaxing while watching the news after a long day of work is a time-honored routine for many Russians. You might scream back at the people on the screen, but you remain glued to it nonetheless. In the Soviet era, the broadcasters would shamelessly lie across all six channels; today, they lie even more aggressively, and across even more channels.
In fact, twenty-first-century Russia has just one independent liberal TV channel: my employer, Dozhd TV, which has been excluded from main cable packages under pressure from the authorities. As a result, many Russians cannot access us, and tend to resort to whatever is available, knowing full well that they can’t believe a word they hear from the “experts” and officials who appear there. They do so out of force of habit, inertia, and laziness – and may continue to do so for a long time.
But even under conditions of widespread censorship and ceaseless propaganda, there are promising developments underway in Russian journalism, thanks to the Internet. The country has increasingly come to be divided between two parallel realities: the familiar post-Soviet one, and a new one delivered by YouTube, where one can watch live broadcasts of rallies and protests, deep investigations into official corruption, and interviews with people who have been blacklisted from state television channels.