Democratist

Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Needed: An alternative to the “Anna Chapman show.”

Posted by democratist on January 13, 2011

13th January 2011,

Tomorrow will mark an interesting, although generally overlooked anniversary; it has been two years since the BBC’s Farsi-language television news service took to the airwaves, on 14th January 2009.

The channel is run by the BBC World Service from London. It broadcasts for eight hours a day, seven days per week, and is aimed at the 100 million Farsi speakers in Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It costs about £15 million per year to run, which is paid for by the FCO, but the BBC retains editorial independence.

It is illegal to watch in Iran, so there are no official viewing figures, but when it was set up the BBC said it hoped that the television service would reach the same number of people as listened to its radio broadcasts per week (10 million) within three years. The service proved a useful source of information and news for demonstrators in Iran following the rigged elections there in 2009 (so much so that the authorities unsuccessfully attempted to jam it), and US President Barak Obama gave it a lengthy interview in September 2010, again suggesting that the US government considers the channel an effective tool for direct communication with the Iranian people.

The evident success, cheap running costs, and inability of hostile governments to interfere with the service suggest both a strong case for continuation of the channel, and (from Democratist’s own perspective) for creation of a new similar Russian-language TV service for broadcasts to the former Soviet space.

The last twelve months have been witness to a number of significant setbacks for democratic development and the rule of law in the CIS (not least in Ukraine and Belarus – right on the EU’s doorstep). Russia itself has undergone some mild liberalization of the print media over the past few years, but TV channels continue to function as conduits of state propaganda (for example, ex-spook and aspirant regime politician Anna Chapman is about to start hosting her own show on REN-TV).

The BBC’s Russian radio service does a good job, but recent history (e.g. the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004) suggests it is television which has the critical impact, especially during a crisis. Since many people possess satellite dishes in the region, and the BBC already has a good reputation theere, it seems that a significant audience already exists for such a channel, given the opportunity.

Compared with other forms of foreign aid, the creation of such a service would be very cheap, and provide reliable news in the face of state censorship to a region where democratic development is by no means assured.

6 Responses to “Needed: An alternative to the “Anna Chapman show.””

  1. Do you really think people will be tuning into REN TV’s Anna Chapman show for political indoctrination? It seems like it’s crafted to be some cheap tabloid entertainment. God knows we’ve got more than enough of that stuff ready-made to export. No need at all for a whole new TV station.

    Also, does the US really want to replicate its Middle East strategies in Russia? Do you think we’ve done such a bang up job there that it’s time to repeat the success all over the world?

    • Firstly, I am NOT an American, and nor is the BBC. Second, I suspect Chapman’s TV career is a vehicle for her political ambitions (and/or those of her father). The fact that it has been so easy for her to get her own TV show is more proof of the deep links that exist between Russian TV and the former KGB people (like her father) who now run the country. It is an example of a far wider trend. Third, I fail to see how broadcasting a TV news channel into a country is a replication of the US strategy in the middle East. Why are you so concerned at such a prospect – perhaps because it might be effective?

      • Her father’s ties to the KGB are somewhat speculative, as I understand it. (Anna’s ex-husband, the same man who leaked her topless photos, seems to have been the one to start this rumor.) Papa has also been linked to the МИД.

        Are you suggesting that Anna Chapman got a TV show because of who her father is/was, not because she’s a tabloid celebrity? ? Also, REN TV isn’t exactly Pervyi’s Kanal’s primetime news, you realize…

        Anna Chapman could very well take up a political career down the road, but I don’t see how this reveals anything new about a country that already celebrates a clown like Vladimir Zhirinovsky. (The Russian television audience, like TV viewers anywhere in the world, overwhelmingly prefer to be entertained rather than informed.) If the show ends up hosting a lot of political content, then I’d say you’re right that this is a harbinger of bigger things to come. But she seems to be more interested in scandal and fame than anything else. Watch her interview from Novyi God and you’ll see a woman talking about her exercise routine and views on love. I expect that her TV show will turn out to be some cheesy unsolved mysteries trash.

  2. […] Democratist for […]

  3. […] the SVR has been penetrated by the CIA, and has now resorted to using “super-spy” Anna Chapman as a domestic propaganda tool; replacing real success with a pale fictive copy. As for the military […]

  4. […] over lengthy periods, and in any case many alternative sources of information already exist (or can be created) in terms of satellite TV, shortwave radio, and the circulation of books, periodicals and […]

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