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Russia, Other Autocracies Modify Media Censorship To Suit The Times

January 14, 2014

Using Kremlin’s recent move to crackdown further on Russia independent media by replacing the editorial leadership of RIA Novosti with regime loyalists, two Washington DC-based scholars argue that authoritarian regimes are ‘retooling’ their approach to censorship.
Chris Walker, executive director, for the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Robert Orttung, assistant director of the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Elliott School, George Washington University say that authoritarian regimes caught between the need for an open media required for the operation of a modern economy while at the same wanting a firm control in the exercise of state power, are re-forging their weapons to exercise “effective media control” rather than oppressive, blanket censorship.

 Effective political control is, “enough for them to convey their strength and puff up claims to legitimacy while undermining potential alternatives. Such state dominance enables regimes to put pro-government narratives front and center while using the power of editorial omission to limit criticism of official policies and actions.”
The article that appeared in the Washington Post is from a longer one in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Democracy.
The authors analyse this strategy in relation to four sets of audience the media of authoritarian regimes address: the elite, the general public, the opposition, and regular internet users.
They conclude, “Authoritarian governments willfully deprive hundreds of millions of people of authentically plural and independent information and analysis. The intense attention devoted to the rise of new media in recent years has led many to underestimate television’s enduring and powerful role as an undemocratic force in authoritarian societies. But through their dogged control of traditional media, and increasing ability to impede the political content of new media, authoritarian regimes are shaping an entirely different understanding of “breaking the news.” 
Read the full article here
Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.