Sep 102008

Channel 32 on my cable system has become one of the top destinations of my remote control. The channel, local KMTP, is an international channel, picking up and rebroadcasting programming from around the world. Much of that programming seems designed for foreign audiences, particularly the English-language broadcasts of news and newsmagazine shows from Germany’s Deutsche-Welle TV and Russia’s Russia Today.

I’ve written about Russia Today before, in reference to a story it broadcast about a family who lost its home to greedy developers of new Russia. But I wanted to call attention to it more generally, particularly as recent events have called into question whether Russia today is really more ally than enemy.

There seems to be no question that Russia Today inherently reflects a pro-Russian viewpoint. There does seem to be a question of how much editorial independence it has in doing so, given its close funding ties to the Russian government, but for all intents and purposes, for foreign viewers, I’m not sure how much difference that potential influence necessarily makes. For all practical purposes, the more it shows the perspective of the operative power within Russia, the better a tool it is for outsiders needing to deal with it.

Along these lines, the stories dealing with the Kosovo and Georgian crises have been most revealing. Told in fluent British or American English, with modern television news production values, these stories are intended to be viewed by potentially skeptical outsiders. And yet they are remarkably unselfconscious about their perspective. They don’t counter critical foreign perspectives as much as proudly define the conflict from Russian ones.

Perhaps that is somewhat bad, given that their perspective is a necessarily skewed, self-centered one. For example, the reports from the Georgian conflict minimize the Georgian perspective. They also manipulate their reflection of the Western one. Just this morning, for instance, they reported on testimony at a recent US Congressional hearing on the conflict, but only included the parts that suggested criticism of Georgia. Still, it is helpfully revealing to see just how Russia sees itself in the conflict in order to be able to design effectively strategies to engage it.

Particularly because of how much their sharing of their perspective betrays. While lately it seems the Russian government is acting with the myopic, obstinate self-import that it had during the Cold War, now it appears to have a powerful internal enemy: its investor-driven economy. Russian oligarchy is a complicated thing, and there’s been issues of tension between the governing authorities and some of its more prominent businessmen. Still, Russia’s actions on the world stage have seemed to have had a chilling effect on foreign investors, and that makes its businessmen unhappy. If enough of them are unhappy enough, that would seem to suggest a foothold to exploit in encouraging Russia to modify its foreign policy choices. Especially if nothing else will.

 Posted by at 11:13 am

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