< A Little Reality On Russian TV

Transcript

Friday, February 17, 2012

[KSENIYA SOBCHAK SPEAKING AT RALLY]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

What you're hearing is a demonstration in Moscow not long ago. It's interesting for a couple of reasons. First, this is a news spot on Russian television. For years, Russian television has been a window on the world, as the Kremlin would like you to see it. But Russian presidential elections on March 4th could return Vladimir Putin to power for yet another six-year term.

That seemingly endless lock on power has been the source of mounting protests in the last few months, creeping onto Russian television, which brings us to the second thing that's interesting about this clip.

The woman that you hear speaking out against Putin, Kseniya Sobchak, had her own TV show where she criticized Putin until it was canceled this week. No one knows exactly why, but there are suspicions that she went too far.

But, what is too far these days? A cop show called "Glukhar" recently concluded after three blockbuster seasons. According to Alessandra Stanley, TV critic for The New York Times, it showed something that was once thought unshowable.

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

…"Glukhar" which just went off the air when I got there, but was immensely popular, and it's basically about a police officer who is a good guy and a very good detective, it's just that occasionally he has to take a bribe. Apparently, the Minister of Interior told some Russian newspaper that was his absolutely favorite show.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So that's the last ten years. Let's talk about the last six months. Who is Kseniya Sobchak? And how has her TV career developed in this tumultuous time?

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

Well, she's sort of become overnight the "It" girl of the anti-Putin protest movement. She started as a host of a reality show that's called "Dom 2" and it's basically Big Brother. It's a bunch of people stuck in a house forever. And she was the ditzy blonde host of that show, but she's also the daughter of someone you probably knew, which was Sobchak, the Mayor of St. Petersburg.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

So she was connected to the Putin family. And then when the protest movement started, she kind of sided that way and started tweeting. And she just had a show on MTV that was canceled.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Why?

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

Well, the first show was all about what's wrong with Putin, so that could have been it. Or it could just be ratings.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

She speaks to digital natives, she's young. There is a generational divide. Russia can't really effectively censor its own Internet. Was this a way for Putin to flex his muscles where he has them, on TV?

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

The assumption is, well, the government shut her down, and it could just be that MTV decided on its own. But the Putin administration is concerned about all this sort of anti-Putin activity among the young on the Internet, not enough really to lose the election but enough to really feel like they're being challenged by a class of society that they thought should be grateful. [LAUGHS]

He needs to get above the 50 percent - is it 50 percent - to win without a run-off. There's no chance he could lose the actual election, but there's a chance he could be forced to go for a second tour.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Putin's using TV to his full advantage. He's embarrassing his rivals.

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

Right.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Give me an example.

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

A news item about the opposition leaders on vacation, and you had very improbable pictures of Boris Nemtsov bronzed and in a bathing suit in Israel.

[BROOKE LAUGHS]

And Novotny, the protest blogger, is seen in Mexico. And you don't actually see him in Mexico, but then they show pictures of Mexico.     [LAUGHTER]

So the —

[LAUGHTER]

— so that must be true.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

[LAUGHS] And this is all on Russian television, where 70 percent of Russians get their news.

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

Exactly.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And yet, newscasts that once ignored the protests are now interviewing opposition members.

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

After the protest movement started for real, it just became too big to ignore. And so, the only way the Kremlin-friendly networks could deal with it is to say, okay well, we'll have a little bit about it. [LAUGHS] We won't change anything else. So they'll cover a meeting or they'll cover a protest, or they'll cover a rally quite neutrally. And then you flip back into attack shows, where you see the opposition in their true colors.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

You wrote that for viewers the effect of watching Russian TV was bipolar, "a little bit NPR, a little bit North Korea."

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

[LAUGHS]  Well, because one second you're watching a segment about the protest rally that just happened and tens of thousands of people marching in the street, and the next moment ten minutes of Vladimir Putin inspecting a factory somewhere, and there's no cutting to the next segment. You just stay with him.

So it looks like an American television show up to a point, and then it suddenly doesn't.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

We have no way to know if Kseniya Sobchak's MTV show was killed by Putin, but the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta is worried about pressure from the Kremlin now. And, of course, Ekho Moskvy, the plucky radio station that, as Putin says, "regularly pours diarrhea" all over him —

[ALESSANDRA LAUGHS]

— has undergone a, a shakeup recently. Its board was shuffled at the behest of the Kremlin. You say that the government has always tolerated a little criticism because, quote, [LAUGHS] "It gives Russia's disaffected intelligentsia a place to blow off steam. It's a little like a rich father who gives his daughter's snooty hipster boyfriend a job. He may hate the kid but it's one way to get some peace and quiet at home." That's what Ekho Moskvy was.

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

Exactly.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

That hipster boyfriend. Suddenly, the father seems to be swatting it down, and this is after a decade of, quote, unquote, "diarrhea."

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

[LAUGHS] They didn't fire the lead journalist. And it doesn't mean that Ekho Moskvy is gonna change entirely. It's - more sounds to me like a warning. This, this time Dad is kind of angry. And - he doesn't [LAUGHS] want to lose this election, so don't go too far.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Alessandra, thank you very much.

ALESSANDRA STANLEY:

Well, thank you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Alessandara Stanley is the TV critic for The New York Times, recently back from Russia.