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Russian Professor Explains Media Manipulation

Valery Solovei says that in order to create a new reality for Kyiv, Ukraine must look absolutely untenable as a functioning state.
Russian state media has been skewered in the West for its often outlandish coverage of events in Ukraine.

The "misinformation, exaggerations, conspiracy theories, overheated rhetoric and occasionally, outright lies," reverberate "hour after hour, day after day, week after week" on Russian TV, according to "The New York Times" on April 15.

But according to a poll, conducted in late March by the state-funded Public Opinion Foundation, some two-thirds of the Russian population trust government-controlled television more than any other medium.

A lecture by a history professor, apparently recorded in mid-April, sheds some light on Moscow's media strategy and why it seems to work.

"Television determines the agenda," says Valery Solovei, in his hourlong talk at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). "The methods that I am talking about create a world view, something that's called a 'reality.' A reality is created for us. If we see this reality the way it is brought to us by television, then we act in accordance with this reality."

WATCH: Outtakes from the lecture by Valery Solovei.
Moscow Professor Explains Russia's Ukraine Media Strategy
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​(Watch the full lecture, in Russian, here )

Solovei says that in order to create a new reality for Kyiv, Ukraine must look absolutely untenable as a functioning state.

"You will recall the news reports in January when the really bloody events took place, the rapidly changing images of flames, burning tires, running people, alarming music," he says, referring to antigovernment protests in the Ukrainian capital. "What do you think it's for? For dramatic effect? No. There is a much bigger meaning behind it."

"Chaos is the key word," Solovei explains. "All of it is done to create a stable association in our minds: Ukraine is chaos. It is an old mythologem -- Chaos as a protoplasm from which the gods will then create the world. And what is Russia then? Russia is Cosmos, it is order, and it is the foundation of peace and stability."

"If you watch Russian TV you will see that Russia has no problems other than the adaptation of Crimea. We have no inflation, no decreasing incomes. We don't have any of the typical big-city problems. Russia has none of that. Everything is alright in Russia. What is it? It is called the manipulation of the agenda."

An RFE/RL journalist recently observed this prevailing blend of western chaos and Russian calm through a day of Russian TV watching.

At one point, a student, who seems to be offended by Solovei's speech, objects from the back of the room: "Have you seen what's happening there? They're completely out of control!"

"I beg your pardon," the professor responds. "But it absolutely does not matter how much the real picture corresponds with the media picture. An overwhelming majority of television viewers have never been and will never travel there. And they make their judgment based on the television picture and not on what happens in reality."

-- Glenn Kates and Pavel Butorin