Mainstream views on Russian TV
Television remains the most popular media in Russia. According to a survey conducted in September 2008 by the Public Opinion Foundation, "96 percent of Russians watch television and 44 percent use it as a source of news." First Channel and Russia, both state-controlled, are the country's two largest TV channels. Gazprom-owned NTV has the third largest audience.
Originally owned by the media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, NTV quickly established a reputation for its quality analytical reporting on a wide range of political issues, its highly professional team of reporters, as well as its frequent criticism of the government. However, soon after the Russian authorities arrested Gusinsky on embezzlement charges in 2000 (he subsequently fled to Spain) NTV was sold to Gazprom, ostensibly to settle a commercial dispute. It was also restructured, with a large part of its staff leaving in protest against the new policy. As the Committee to Protect Journalists put it in its open letter to Vladimir Putin, the takeover of NTV was "part of a concerted effort to silence media that are critical of [the] government's policies." NTV's takeover was followed by increased government pressure on other, smaller independent TV channels.
Today, the remaining independent TV channels are the smaller-sized Ren TV and St Petersburg's Channel Five. In October 2009, the two companies, citing financial trouble, began negotiations on a possible partnership with the government-funded English-language Russia Today (see below). The move raised concerns among many observers.
Margarita Simonyan, Editor-in-Chief of RT. Photo: ITAR-TASS
In 2005 the Russian government launched Russia Today (RT), an English-language channel targeting foreign audiences: the idea was to counter Western misperceptions by presenting news from a Russian perspective. Headed by the young and ambitious Margarita Simonyan, RT provides round-the-clock English-language broadcasting in over 100 countries. RT was also the first Russian TV channel to embrace YouTube. As of 30 November 2009, it boasted nearly 25,000 subscribers and over 1.5 million views. (By comparison, CNN International's YouTube channel