Is Russia’s media any more biased than ours?

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When one thinks of modern Russia, it’s hard to move away from our perception of it as a quasi-dictatorship under the control of that tiger-hunting maniac Vladimir Putin.

putin, tiger

Image: BBC

That was an exaggeration, of course. That tiger is merely sedated and Putin actually does a lot for their conservation.

But doesn’t it seem like we get a lot of those kinds of stories about how crazy Putin is in the western media? It seems like every story on Russia is a dire indictment of Putin and Russia’s lack of democracy?

To be fair, Russia’s media service is pretty fantastically biased. The government actually maintains its own TV channel, called Russia Today, which broadcasts pre-approved news stories to the Russian people. As you can imagine, you won’t hear too many stories critical of Putin on Russia Today. You might just be lucky enough to catch Putin on Russia Today, though. Every year he sits down in a studio and fields carefully selected questions from the “average Russian.”

It’s kind of like if Obama sat down once a year to directly answer questions people tweeted at the White House account, which if anyone wants to start a petition for that would be great.

Obviously, the whole affair is an orchestrated PR move, and Edward Snowden was even allowed (or possibly required if we’re being honest) to phone in and ask Putin if the Russian government spied on its citizens the way the U.S. did.  The answer Putin gave was of course, “no, that would be illegal.” So, don’t worry Russia, your government is absolutely not up to anything nefarious.

Putin’s government doesn’t just limit its manipulation of public perception to television, though. The Russian government has been at the forefront of internet propaganda techniques. Putin’s government even maintains quasi-secret battalions of people who are paid to monitor comments sections on websites for anti-Putin sentiment and then step in to start flame wars with the commentators. And in fact, these were the very people who probably hacked the Democratic Party’s email accounts just before the convention. The Russian government somewhat pretentiously refers to these people as the Web Brigades, though the common parlance would label them as “internet trolls.”

So with it pretty firmly established that the Russian government absolutely goes out of its way to manipulate media, we should take a look at the media of America, and ask a somewhat troubling question. Namely, “is the U.S. media any less biased than Russia’s media?”

It’s no secret that Americans are very…particular…about where they get their news. In fact, you can pretty reliably tell which party someone is going to vote for based on where they get their news.

And as any American savvy about cable news can tell you, there is a distinct bias among networks, particularly outlets like CNN or Fox News, which sort of represent the left and right sides of the spectrum respectively.

And there is a distinct relationship between the press and the government. Far from being the watchdogs of the American as perhaps best embodied in the two reporters who broke the Watergate scandal, the modern American press has a definite interest in not angering those in power.

Not only would printing things openly critical of members of the government limit the access of reporters to those in charge of policy, who would understandably be less willing to speak to people they believed would then scourge them in the press, oftentimes a good relationship with politicians can result in advancement for reporters. For instance, over thirty former members of the press now serve in the Obama administration.

So ultimately, it seems that while there is less open manipulation of the media in the West than in Russia, there is a distinct bias that pervades media coverage. Perhaps it is inevitable that any news reporting would reflect the sort of biases and power structures that are inherent in a country. Ultimately though you can’t really say that Western media is less free than Russian media. After all, it is unusual for a journalist to be murdered on the orders of the government in most Western countries, something you probably can’t say about Russia.

But the bias in our media is there all the same. Try to be aware of it. Don’t be afraid to seek out alternate sources of information, even if it is from someone you would normally disagree with. Take a critical and fair approach when forming your opinions. And don’t feed the Russian internet trolls.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can follow him on Twitter @WyattRedd.

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