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Ilya Bykov
Freedom of Speech in Russian Internet: Does It Matter?

There is a widely adopted point of view that internet is a perfect medium for freedom of speech. Internet allows direct communications between political organizations and their voters. Therefore authoritarian political regimes have to control Internet as well as other media in order to make necessary results during elections. However, last elections in Russia have shown unprecedented decline of democratic and liberal parties, which took part in elections. Despite significant amount of internet-users in Russia (about 25% of total population) democratic forces have been failed to achieve even minimal results and overcome 7%-barrier to be a parliament parties.

The main purpose of the study is to verify correlation between freedom of speech, internet-usage and democratic voting in Russia. In order to achieve this purpose, two major research strategies have been chosen: (1) a quantitative analysis of county-level data and (2) two case studies. Data have been collected from the official election results, published sociological reports, interviews, newspapers and other media resources. The time period studied in this paper includes parliamentary election campaign to ‘Gosudarstvennaya Duma’ (September 2007 – December 2007) and presidential election campaign (December 2007 – March 2008).

According to survey research conducted by “Levada Analytical Center” in February 2008 (http://www.levada.ru/press/2008022700.html) 63% of Russians prefer to receive political information from TV. In this way television became a key factor of political communication. Understanding this, the state-controlled television devoted about 90% of all time reserved to political issues to the persons of the President V. Putin and Vice-President D. Medvedev. These figures were collected by Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations during presidential election campaign (http://www.memo98.cjes.ru).

In Russia there is no significant suppression of political communication in cyberspace by administration. But there is unfair media system, which is dominated by state television. Russian authorities are managed to manipulate media and to provide effective media-strategy in television, radio, newspapers, as well as Russian-speaking Internet. There are a lot of web-based media which supports official statements. Freedom of speech enjoyed by Russian Internet-users is accompanied by effective political propaganda from ruling authorities. There is no need for limitation of internet-communication.

Internet cannot compensate the lack of freedom of speech and support democratic political forces. Freedom of speech, which exists in Russian Internet, newspapers and some insignificant radio- and TV-stations is considered by authorities as a kind of limited feedback mechanism or as decoration useful for foreign affair purposes. Our analysis shows that there is no strong correlation between internet-usage and democratic voting in Russia. Internet cannot support political organizations addicted to liberal and democratic values in the circumstances of unfair media system.

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Быков И.А., Copyright ©, 2008

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