Note on Sources

Any project centered on current events courts controversy. There’s a reason much language learning is based around innocuous topics such as travel or family! Differences of opinion are especially acute in the current atmosphere of the conflict in Ukraine, growing hostility between Russia and the West, a popular and powerful but anti-democratic president, etc.  But these topics are controversial because they are important, interesting and relevant, which also makes them valuable subject matter for students of Russian culture and society. So I do my best to highlight a few of the most interesting current developments in Russia while avoiding any extreme bias or serious sins against the truth. There is no way to be perfectly “fair and balanced.” I draw heavily from independent media but also include clips from the state-affiliated media because it is so influential in Russia. I try not to focus only on problems; at the same time, problematic situations sometimes put the best qualities of the Russian people on display. Below are some comments on my main sources.

Телеканал Дождь / TV Rain: This is the main — and, as far as I know, the only — well-established independent television company in Russia. It covers events and issues that are mostly ignored by the federal channels, such as protest marches, human rights issues, allegations of corruption, etc., as well as offering its own perspective on the major events covered by the state media. It is one of the rare Russian media organizations that gives a voice to the political opposition. In the past few years, legislative and regulatory actions deprived TV Rain of its main sources of income — cable subscriptions and advertising — so it now runs on an internet subscription model. So far it seems to be surviving. Programming tends to be targeted toward educated urban professionals.

Первый канал / Channel One: This is a successor to Soviet state television and currently one of the top few “federal” channels, with a wide viewership across all of Russia. Channel One is majority owned by the Russian government and tends to present the preferred state perspective on current events. Their news segments tend to encourage pride in Russia, ignore any significant displays of internal dissent, suggest that the West does not treat Russia fairly, and present Putin’s administration as competent and serious in the face of ongoing challenges. Occasionally Channel One broadcasts dangerously inflammatory, false reports — one notorious example is the claim that the Ukrainian military crucified a three-year-old boy from a pro-Russian family in the summer of 2014. Nevertheless, the channel produces useful reporting on national events, Putin’s actions, holidays, etc. If one wishes to understand contemporary Russia it is useful to have some exposure to the perspective that is being broadcast into millions of households and probably shared by a large portion of the Russian population.

Background information: Besides the above sources, I am kept up to date by Meduza (the Riga-based project started by Galina Timchenko and the former staff of after she was fired, probably for political reasons, from her position as chief editor of that site) and Настоящее время / Current Time, the new television project of Радио свобода.