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What do mass media in Russia reveal about the regime’s survival strategy?

Seminar: What do mass media in Russia reveal about the regime’s survival strategy? - Lana Bilalova (London School of Economics)

14:00-15:00 (IST) Wednesday, October 6.

 Please register for this event (opens in a new window)here.


Part 1: War News on Russian Television

How does an autocracy use its domestic mass media when going to war? The social science literature has yet to reach a consensus on this question. I argue that when the mass media are state-controlled and trusted by the populace, the regime may attempt to use news narratives for warfare agenda-setting and distraction from events at home. Using semi-supervised Naive Bayes-based classification of 2.7 million stories broadcast in Russia between 2009 and 2019 and applying the difference in differences technique, I show that state-enforced change in news management induced RBC television network to increase its war reporting by more than half. Additionally, I demonstrate that on national television networks, the rise in war coverage came at the expense of domestic news. This article is the first study to expose large-scale evidence of attempts by state media to amplify the importance of foreign conflicts for domestic audience

Part 2: News Agenda-Setting in Russia, 2018-2020 

Despite the concerns about domestic news manipulation in Russia, the knowledge about the exact state-controlled mass media strategies remains scarce. I hypothesise that state-controlled news published online, for the consumption by younger and more skilled in using online technologies audience, would be less biased than television news, designed for the consumption of the older populace who primarily rely on national television as the main source of information about daily events. I evaluate the hypothesis using three data sets: news displayed by the Yandex search engine news aggregator, television transcripts from Channel 1 news shows, and Interfax news agency reports for the period from August 2018 until March 2020, testing how information flows vary in terms of topics. I find that, in contrast to television programming, national online news does not fully censor information about political opposition but demonstrates stronger measurable bias in the coverage of foreign news, specifically news about Ukraine and the US.  These findings add to our understanding of news manipulation strategies in autocracies.

About the speaker: Lana Bilalova is PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her dissertation aims to answer the question “What do mass media in Russia reveal about the regime’s survival strategy?” Additionally, Lana is a part of the JUSTINT project, which analyses how post-conflict justice practices advance or hinder peace-building by studying an interactive and dynamic aspect of discourse. Methodologically, Lana is interested in contemporary Text as Data approaches.