Russia’s media landscape is rapidly changing, at least in terms of platforms and technology: access to the Internet is rapidly growing, while shortwave radio is barely used anymore.
A Gallup survey, undertaken mostly last November with more than 5,000 face-to-face interviews throughout Russia, was designed to shed light on the new ways Russians are consuming news. The results were presented recently by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the entity that oversees the operations of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
Whereas television is almost universally accessible in Russia, less than half the respondents said they owned a radio. Only 6.4 percent of weekly radio listeners use shortwave, which was the traditional means of accessing foreign media sources during the Cold War. Last year, some 70.2 percent of Russian homes had Internet access, an increase from 63.4 percent in 2012 and only 24 percent in 2008. Internet access in rural areas still lags far behind urban areas across the country. Furthermore, urban Russians are twice as likely to have high-speed broadband at home (63.9 percent) compared with rural Russians (30.8 percent), who rely more on dial-up connections.
Unsurprisingly, younger Russians rely more on the Internet for information than do older generations, and are much more likely to use social media technologies; half of online users reported using social media within the previous week. Those Russians who believe that the media does not offer enough variety are more likely to use online news sources. The one out of four Russians who have smart phones regularly use them to access the Internet, especially the youngest owners.
Daily consumption of TV news continues to rise (now upwards of 86 percent), as does the consumption of news from Internet sources (upwards of 44 percent). At the same time, only about 16 percent of respondents read a newspaper or other form of print media every day. On a weekly basis, the figures are more balanced. On an average week, 56.4 percent of Russians receive news from the Internet, 49.8 percent from magazines and newspapers, and 43.8 percent from radio broadcasts. But even more get some news from family members and friends.
On an average day, younger Russians (ages 15-24) use the Internet, social media and mobile apps more frequently to get news than do older Russians. On a weekly basis, they obtain news from social networking services (62.3 percent), SMS/text messages (52 percent), and from mobile apps (34.4 percent). Conversely, younger Russians are much less likely to get their news from traditional print media (36 percent) than older respondents. In terms of content, Russian respondents are most interested in news about Russia, with those who most use social media (the young) least interested in international news.
According to Neli Esipova, Director of Research, Global Migration and Regional Director at Gallup World, the majority of Russian respondents believe that they still have some media freedom. There has even been a slight increase in this figure in recent years. Controls over the Internet have generally been less extensive than over other media, but the recent shakeup in the state-run broadcast networks, along with suppression of independent outlets through “extra-judicial measures,” is expected to influence public opinion negatively in upcoming surveys. Russia’s media environment is becoming less favorable for independent Russian-language media platforms, as well as for international broadcasters, regardless of the location of the media source or user. Foreign media are still often labeled as “Cold War enemy voices.”
Given this changing media environment, Paul Tibbitts, RFE/RL’s Director of Market Insight and Evaluation, said that foreign media outlets, such as RFE/RL, are increasingly using online broadcasting rather than radio to reach Russians. “A successful digital audience is key to engaging with younger audiences and expanding our impact in Russia,” Tibbitts said.
In focus groups convened by RFE/RL, respondents said that using “well-known personalities” as commentators, as well as striving to appear objective, increases credibility of a foreign news outlet with Russian web audiences, according to Tibbitts. Russian experts also believe that “impartial and objective journalism was being squeezed out of the Russian media market.” In the words of one Russian media expert, “we have polarization where people, to order to be heard, begin to yell louder and louder.”