Kremlin-controlled television channels have proved effective and extremely difficult for Western media outlets to counter because they provide both entertainment and an imagery that promotes the suspension of critical thinking and the acceptance of the idea that the leader will solve everything, according to Peter Pomerantsev.
In an interview given to Delfi.lt’s Monica Garbaciuaskaite-Budrene, Pomerantsev, the author of “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible,” argues that by offering entertainment alongside propaganda people are “emotionally prepared” to accept that Putin “will put everything in order.”
And it is this very different task that the Kremlin has set for the media that simultaneously makes it effective – it appeals to people’s emotions rather than reason – and make it difficult to counter by those, such as Western news outlets, who believe they can succeed by countering the falsehoods alone, something that won’t work, the analyst says.
Propaganda “played an important role in the Soviet Union,” Pomerantsev ponts out, and it has been “very important for Vladimir Putin.” It has deep roots and was far more extensive than anyone in the West can imagine and used less television than now but more circuses, youth groups and the like.
Putin began to focus on the way in which television could be used in 1996 when he “saw how corrupted contemporary television transformed Boris Yeltsin and saved his presidency” and then even more in 1999 when “television created Putin” and Putin, having become president, made it his first task to “take control over it.”
The Kremlin’s propaganda effort now is different from that of Soviet times, Pomerantsev says. Not only is there less overt censorship, although it exists, but “now the Kremlin is acting at a much deeper level” in ways that in some respects “recall the principles of the establishment of a religious cult” rather than a news operation.
What is striking, he says, is that “Russian television offers an unbelievable number of entertainment shows of the Western type. But the content of Western television was “democracy plus films about James Bond and the Santa Barbara serials.” In Russia, it was recognized that “it is possible to create entertainment television … but without a democratic component.”
Entertainment brings in a larger audience, but it also does something else: it promotes the notion that news is not important but that emotional responses are. And to that end, it talks about conspiracies and mystifications of various kinds to “distract attention from real information and politics.”
“Just as the founders of a cult constantly remind individuals of their negative experiences, so too the political technologists of the Kremlin force Russians to experience again their sense of denigration of the 1990s and of Stalin’s time,” not rationally but in order to render Russia “a country of incurable traumas.”[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]Unlike Hitler and the Nazis, the Russian leadership of today “does not want people to go into the streets” or to demand that they be sent to Ukraine. Rather it wants “passive aggression,” anger without action.[/quote]
According to Pomerantsev, this system came into being not as the result of the genius of any one individual or group but as a result of the gradual recognition of the possibilities that entertainment television could open for the ruling elite and especially for the ways in which it promotes simultaneously anger and passivity.
Unlike Hitler and the Nazis, the Russian leadership of today “does not want people to go into the streets” or to demand that they be sent to Ukraine. Rather it wants “passive aggression,” anger without action.
Unfortunately, he continues, the West does “not even understand” that this is what is occurring. It did not understand hybrid war, and it does not view Russian media operations as “an active measure” in that war, something a KGB department would supervise in order to spread these values among Russians and among “useful idiots” abroad.
According to Pomerantsev, the West faces serious obstacles in struggling against the Kremlin’s efforts. It first must recognize the centrality of this new form of propaganda for Putin and then it must work to counter specific lies and then to overcome the “aggressive passivity” that Russian entertainment television “without democracy” is promoting.
Moreover, he continues, because the Kremlin “uses information for masking disinformation,” the West needs to create some institution that will keep track of that. During the Cold War, there was “an enormous analytic department” at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Unfortunately, that has been closed, and nothing has been put in its place.