Regardless of the intentions of Deputy Minister of Communications Alexei Volin to provoke a scandal, the scandal did occur. Perhaps, few expected that a fairly high-ranking official would say something in the spirit of “journalists will work for their master,” and “do what they are told.”
Alexei Volin shared his views on the profession on Saturday at the conference “Journalism: Social Mission and Profession” at the Faculty of Journalism at the Moscow State University.
He believes that “journalists should always keep in mind that their task is not to make the world better or lead humanity the right path.” “The task of a journalist is to make money for those who hired him, and this can be only done if you become interesting to listeners and readers. The question is whether journalists are solving propaganda issues. Of course, they do, the issues of media owners,” he said.
In his opinion, to make “propaganda effective,” it “should go through channels currently in demand by the audience, in commercially successful ways, and should not be subsidized.”
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At least the deputy minister is consistent, as this is not the first time when he spoke in favor of the transfer of the media outlets exclusively into private ownership. He is haunted by the memories of the 1990’s, when the leading role was played by various “media empires”, each with its own ideology, depending on the preference of the owner.
Alexei Volin sees no difference between the professions of journalist and promoter. But “if journalists show themselves as propagandists, they are bad propagandists.” In his opinion, “propaganda must be hidden,” only then it can be effective.
“We must make it clear to students that coming out of school, they will be working for their owner. The owner will tell them what to write and what not to write, and the owners are entitled to it since they are the ones who pay. They may like it or not, but that’s life, and this is the only one you have,” said Volin.
On the one hand, Volin’s statement was not welcomed by many precisely because of “working for the owner, doing what the owner says” rhetoric. On the other hand, the deputy immediately acquired supporters who said: “Well, isn’t that right?”
Alexei Volin later said that this was his personal opinion and did not reflect the position of the agency he represents.
Of course, it is difficult to suspect the Ministry of Communications in implementation of some kind of a special operation designed to make future journalists believe that they would inevitably “work for the owner.” Yet, it is hard to take Alexei Volin’s statement as an individual opinion, even if it is the case.
After all, Russia has moved far from the totalitarian control and censorship of the press under the Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Mikhail Suslov. Then, even in theory, it was hard to imagine that an official could tell reporters anything similar to Alexei Volin’s statement.
“If I received something like this when I was the editor of Pravda and I would have printed it, this official would be guaranteed to lose his party membership and his job in two days,” said a writer and journalist Vladimir Gubarev.
“I would have certainly published it because such people should not be allowed close to any public office, or anything at all, for this matter,” he added. “Forgive me, but this official is either an idiot or a scoundrel. Only a person who understands nothing but money can say something like this,” said Gubarev.
Former correspondent of Pravda in Afghanistan Vadim Okulov also noted that “we were all aware of our tasks and acted without regard to the authority.”
“Of course, in the Soviet era there were absolutely defined forms of print management. For example, Pravda, where I worked, of course, followed the general line of the Communist Party. Which, as they joked, could oscillate,” said Vadim Okulov.
However, he stressed that “I have never in my journalistic practice received any direct instructions and never heard anyone of my colleagues complaining about something similar to what this wonderful deputy expressed to our current colleagues.” He called Volin’s statement “rude in form and cynical in content.”
“Everyone says words based on their view of reality. Here’s his (Alexei Volin’s) vision of it. Instead of blaming him, we should feel sorry for him,” told Pravda.Ru journalist Akram Murtazaev.
He believes that “at the moment everyone is free to choose the publication where they work.” “If it fits person’s believes, they work in Goodok newspaper, someone works for Izvestia, someone else works for Novaya Gazeta,” he said.
In essence, Alexei Volin and his supporters advocate exclusively utilitarian approach to journalism. This is another incarnation of the “invisible hand of the market.” But this is a very simplistic approach. There are numerous complaints about the quality of the modern press. This is largely a consequence of what Volin spoke at a conference in Moscow State University.