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Islamic State after ISIS: Colonies without Metropole or Cyber Activism?

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With the world constantly following the events in the Middle East, much now depends on the shape, form and ‘policy’ Islamic State is going to take. What form will the IS take? What role will cryptocurrencies play in funding terrorists? How can Russia and the US cooperate in fighting mutual security threats? RIAC expert Tatyana Kanunnikova discusses these issues with Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis, Associate Professor of Political Science in the Intelligence and National Security Studies program at Coastal Carolina University.

Islamic State is perceived as an international threat. In which regions is it losing ground and in which ones is it on the rise? Could you please describe IS geography today?

Groups like the Islamic State are mobile. They tend to move and redeploy across international borders with relative ease, and are truly global in both outlook and reach. It is worth noting that, from a very early stage in its existence, the Islamic State incorporated into its administrative structure the so-called vilayets, namely semi-autonomous overseas provinces or possessions. These included parts of Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Nigeria, and of course Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. By the first week of 2018, the Islamic State had all but eclipsed from its traditional base of the Levant. How has the loss of its administrative centers affected the organization’s strategy?

Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis

There are two competing answers to this question. The first possible answer is that ISIS’ plan is similar to that of the Great Britain in 1940, when the government of Winston Churchill was facing the prospect of invasion by the forces of the German Reich. London’s plan at the time was to use its overseas colonies as bases from which to continue to fight following a possible German takeover of the Britain. It is possible that ISIS’ strategy revolves around a similar plan —in which case we may see concerted flare-ups of insurgent activity in Egypt, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kenya, and elsewhere. The second possible answer to the question of ISIS’ strategy is that the group may be entering a period of relative dormancy, during which it will concentrate on cyber activism and online outreach aimed at young and disaffected youth in Western Europe, the Caucasus, and North America. According to this scenario, ISIS will use its formidable online dexterity to establish new communities of Millennial and Generation Z members, and renegotiate its strategy in light of the loss of physical lands in the Levant. This scenario envisages an online geography for the Islamic State, which may eventually lead to the emergence of a new model of activity. The latter will probably resemble al-Qaeda’s decentralized, cell-based model that focuses on sharp, decisive strikes at foreign targets.

Commenting for an article in Asia Times, you said that ISIS returnees are extremely valuables sources of intelligence. How can they be effectively identified in the flow of migrants? How exactly can security services exploit the experience of these militants?

In its essence, the Sunni insurgency is a demassified movement. By this I mean that its leaders have never intended for it to become a mass undertaking. The Islamic State, like al-Qaeda before it, does not depend on large numbers of followers. Rather it depends on individual mobilization. Senior Islamic State leaders like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Mohamed Mahmoud, Tarad Muhammad al-Jarba, and others, have no interest in deploying 10,000 fighters who may be reluctant and weak-willed. They are content with 100 fighters who are unswerving in their commitment and prepared to devote everything to the struggle, including their lives. Consider some of the most formidable strikes of the Sunni insurgency against its enemies: the attacks of 9/11 in the United States, the 7/7 bombings in the United Kingdom, the November 2015 strikes in Paris, and the fall of Mosul in 2014. There have been more large-scale strikes on Russian, Lebanese, Afghan, Egyptian, and other targets. What connects all of those is the relatively small number of totally dedicated fighters that carried them out. The fall of Mosul, for example, which brought the Islamic State to the height of its power, was carried out by no more than 1,500 fighters, who took on two divisions of the Iraqi Army, numbering more than 30,000 troops.

The reliance on a small number of dedicated fighters mirrors the recruitment tactics of the Islamic State (and al-Qaeda before it). The latter rested on individual attention paid to selected young men, who are seen as reliable and steadfast. This is precisely the type of emphasis that should be placed by European, American and Russian security agencies on suspected members of terrorist groups that are captured, or are detected within largest groups of migrants. What is required here is individual attention given by security operatives who have an eye for detail and are knowledgeable of the culture, customs and ways of thinking of predominantly Muslim societies. However, most governments have neither the patience nor expertise to implement a truly demassified exploitation campaign that targets individuals with an eye to de-radicalization and — ultimately — exploitation. The experience of the Syrian migrants in countries like Italy and Greece is illustrative of this phenomenon. The two countries — already overwhelmed by domestic political problems and financial uncertainty — were left primarily to their own means by a disinterested and fragmented European Union. Several members of the EU, including Poland, Hungary, and the United Kingdom have for all practical purposes positioned themselves outside of the EU mainstream. At the same time, the United States, which is the main instigator of the current instability in the Middle East, shows no serious interest in de-radicalization and exploitation programs. This has been a consistent trend in Washington under the administrations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

In your opinion, will cryptocurrencies become a significant source of terrorism funding? Some experts believe that pressure on traditional methods of financing may facilitate this process.

In the old days of the 1970s and 1980s, most terrorist groups raised funds primarily through extortion, kidnappings, bank robberies and — to a lesser extent — drugs. Things have changed considerably in our century. Today, cryptocurrencies are not in themselves sources of funding — though it can be argued that the frequent rise in the value of many cryptocurrencies generates income for terrorist organizations — but more a method of circulating currency and providing services that generate funds. With the use of cryptocurrencies and the so-called Darknet, terrorist organizations are now able to engage in creative means of generating cash. They include the sale of pirated music, movies and, most of all, videogames. They also engage in the sale of counterfeit products, including clothing, electronics and other hi-tech accessories. Additionally, they sell counterfeit pharmaceutical products and even counterfeit tickets to high-profile sports events and music concerts. Those who buy those products often pay for them using cryptocurrencies, primarily through the Darknet. Looking at the broad picture, it is clear that the use of cryptocurrencies constitutes a form of asymmetric finance that circumvents established financial structures and operates using irregular means that for now remain largely undetected. Few terrorist groups will resist the temptation to employ this new method of unregulated financial transaction.

How can Russian and US intelligence and security services cooperate in combating terrorism? In December 2017, media reported that CIA had helped its Russian counterpart foil a terror attack in St. Petersburg. What should be done to deepen and broaden such kind of cooperation?

Despite friction on the political level, cooperation between Russian and American intelligence agencies in the field of counter-terrorism is far more routine than is generally presumed. Last December’s report of the CIA sharing intelligence with its Russian counterpart was notable in that it was publicly disclosed. Most instances of intelligence cooperation between Washington and Moscow are not publicized. In February 2016, the then CIA director John Brennan stated publicly that the CIA works closely with the Russian intelligence community in counter-terrorism operations directed against Islamist militants. He described the CIA’s relationship with Russian intelligence officials as a “very factual, informative exchange.” He added that “if the CIA gets information about threats to Russian citizens or diplomats, we will share it with the Russians”. And he added: “they do the same with us”. Brennan gave the example of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He said: “We worked very closely with [Russian intelligence agencies]” during the Sochi games to “try to prevent terrorist attacks. And we did so very successfully”. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Brennan’s statement.

Professionals are always more likely to find common areas of interest. So, in what areas, apart from combating terrorism, can Russian and US intelligence services cooperate?

There is a virtually endless list of common concerns that ought to and often do bring together American and Russian intelligence agencies. To begin with, there are two major existential threats to the security of both countries and the whole world that demand close cooperation between Washington and Moscow and their respective intelligence agencies. The first threat is the black market in weapons of mass destruction, notably chemical weapons, biological agents, and even radioactive material. In the past 20 years, there have been several cases of individuals or groups trying to sell or trade radioactive substances. The fear of such weapons possibly falling into the hands of non-state insurgents should be sufficient to entice close cooperation between American and Russian intelligence agencies. The second existential threat is that of global warming and its effects on international security. It is no secret that the rise in global temperatures is already having a measurable negative impact on food production, desertification, sea-level rise, and other factors that contribute to the destabilization of the economies of entire regions. Such trends fuel militancy, political extremism, wars, and mass migrations of populations, all of which are serious threats to the stability of the international system. Solving this global problem will require increased and prolonged cooperation on the political, economic, and security/intelligence level between the United States and Russia. The two countries must also work closely on a series of other topics, including standardizing the global regulation of cryptocurrencies, diffusing tensions between the two rival nuclear powers of India and Pakistan, tackling the tensions in the Korean Peninsula, preventing the destabilization of Egypt (the world’s largest Arab country), combating the growth of Sunni militancy in West Africa, and numerous other issues.

Among other things, you are an expert in the Cold War. At present, Russia and the USA are experiencing a period of tensions in their relationship. In your opinion, what should be done in order to overcome these challenges and mend fences?

For those of us who remember the Cold War, and have studied the development of Russia–US relations in the postwar era, the current state of affairs between Washington and Moscow seems comparatively manageable. Despite tensions between Washington and Moscow, we are, thankfully, very far from an emergency of the type of the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or even the 1984 collision between the US plane carrier Kitty Hawk and the K-314 Soviet submarine in the Sea of Japan. How do we avoid such dangerous escalations? The answer is simple: regularize communications between the two countries on various levels, including executive, political, economic and security-related. Such communications should continue even or, arguably, especially at times of rising tensions between the two nations. The overall context of this approach rests on the indisputable truth that Russia and the United States are the two central pillars on which the idea of world peace can be built for future generations.

First published in our partner RIAC

*Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis is Associate Professor of Political Science in the Intelligence and National Security Studies program at Coastal Carolina University. Prior to joining Coastal, he built the Security and Intelligence Studies program at King University, where he also directed the King Institute for Security and Intelligence Studies. An award-winning professor, Dr. Fitsanakis has lectured, taught and written extensively on subjects such as international security, intelligence, cyberespionage, and transnational crime. He is a syndicated columnist and frequent contributor to news media such as BBC television and radio, ABC Radio, Newsweek, and Sputnik, and his work has been referenced in outlets including The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Politico, and The Huffington Post. Fitsanakis is also deputy director of the European Intelligence Academy and senior editor at intelNews.org, a scholarly blog that is cataloged through the United States Library of Congress, and a syndicated columnist.

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How Putin’s Russia is Exploiting Jihadists Against pro-Navalny Protesters?

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Who is Putin’s terrorist: Navalny or Jihadist?

Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin is considering using old tactics to stem the growing wave of nationwide protests in support of his fiercest critic, popular opposition leader Alexei Navalny. This tactic was developed in the late 90s by the KGB ideologists and successfully applied in order to bring to power Vladimir Putin, who is ruling the country with an iron hand longer than all his Soviet predecessors except Joseph Stalin. The tactical skills of the Putin’s policy architects were aiming to frighten Russian citizens by Islamist terrorism and Chechen separatism and unite patriotic and nationalist forces around a new leader capable of challenging the West.

Thus, when the nationwide protests in support of Navalny from Yakutia to Kaliningrad became the most serious challenge, the Kremlin began to trumpet the threat of Islamist extremists and international terrorists. This time, the Putin regime is intimidating protesters with impending terrorist attacks of Central Asian and Caucasian jihadists and their Syrian parent organization, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

On the eve of the next nationwide protests on February 14, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Investigative Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russia warned of the inadmissibility of calls to participate in an unsanctioned rally. Russian state news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS have disseminated information that the most powerful Sunni militant faction of HTS in northern Syria is preparing a series of lone-wolf attacks during the upcoming mass street protests of Navalny’s supporters in various Russian cities. In doing so, however, the pro-Kremlin media cited its undisclosed law enforcement sources and ultimately spread merely conspiracy theories.

According to anonymous sources of Russian security services, HTS-backed Uzbek Jihadi battalion Katibat Tawhid wal Jihad(KTJ), Chechen militant groups Ajnad al-Kavkaz (AK) and Jaysh al-Muhajirin wal-Ansar (JMA) are planning to carry out explosions and attack protesters. To achieve these purposes, terrorist groups allegedly recruited Russian citizens and Central Asian migrants, who expect their leaders’ commands.

pro-Navalny protesters

The Putin regime faced the most serious challenge when anti-government protests took place across the Russia in support Navalny in recent weeks. As is known, in mid-January, Navalny returned to the country after recovering from a chemical Novichok poisoning that nearly took his life and was immediately detained and later jailed for alleged parole violations. The robust Putin regime first demonstrated its grave alarm when tens of thousands pro-Navalny protesters demanded his resignation in more than 100 cities and towns, chanting Putin as a ‘thief’. Police detained more than 11,000 people at what they say were unsanctioned protests that the Moscow condemned as illegal and dangerous.

Alexei Navalny’s political creativity and tactical skill inspired Russian liberal youth weary with the corruption-plagued political order presided over by Putin. Fierce clashes between protesters and riot police during the mass rallies indicate that a new generation is not afraid of arrests and the repressive state machine. And to stop the pace of marathon confrontation with the opposition, Putin resorted to his long-standing KGB tactics, intimidating society with possible terrorist attacks and explosions by Islamists.

Will Uzbek and Chechen Jihadists hit pro-Navalny Protesters?

But the fact is, it’s not the first time Putin’s Russia has intimidated society with possible terror attacks by Islamist terrorists and Chechen separatists to achieve political goals. During the transition of power from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin at the end of the second millennium, Kremlin ideologists successfully tested anti-Islamist tactics to overcome the challenges of the political opposition. The ideologists of Putin’s election campaign created his image as a decisive and strong leader, the one who can defeat Islamist terrorism, Chechen separatism and preserve the integrity of Great Russia. His image as the only savior of the Russian Empire was accompanied by radio and television spots and news about the atrocities of Chechen militants and their beheading of Russian soldiers.

Meanwhile, there is a conspiracy theory in Russian political circles that the powerful FSB orchestrated apartment bombings in the Russian cities of Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999 to boost Putin’s approval rating aiming to ensure his victory in the presidential elections. As a result of these “terrorist attacks”, 307 people were killed, more than 1,700 people were injured. Russian officials concluded that there was a “Chechen trail” in the bombings, but no proof of their involvement was adduced. Many still doubt the results of the investigation and consider Putin to be the culprit of this tragedy.

That’s when Putin uttered his famous phrase: “We will pursue the [Islamist] terrorists everywhere. If they are in an airport, we’ll kill them there. If we catch them in the toilet, we’ll exterminate them in the toilet.” Many still believe that the apartment bombings and the FSB’s tactic against Islamist extremists catapulted Putin into the presidency. Putin soon launched a second war in Chechnya and emerged victorious in the intra-Kremlin struggle. His ratings soared. He met with huge approval in a society weary from the economic collapse, corruption and crime of the Yeltsin era.

Usually people prefer to keep quiet about this tragedy. Russian political figures Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and Boris Berezovsky worked to unravel the mystery of apartment bombings. But all of them were brutally murdered under mysterious circumstances. Ultimately, the Kremlin’s tactics to combat Islamist terrorists not only helped to rocket Putin to the political Olympus, but also increased Islamophobia, nationalism and chauvinism in Russian society.

Today, even 22 years after Putin came to power, the Kremlin’s ideologists have begun to intimidate Russia’s liberal society with likely Islamist terrorist attacks again as the nationwide protests seriously threaten his regime. This illustrates the regime exhaustion and the lack of confidence in face of the strategic sophistication of Navalny’s team.

So far, neither HTS, nor Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups have officially responded to the FSB on the plotting of terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition rallies. However, in encrypted Telegram chats, Uzbek and Chechen jihadists actively discussed the “leak information”.

Thus, one of the KTJ’s followers on Telegram under the name Al Hijrat said in Uzbek: “Kafir Putin frightens his people with the just sword of Allah.But the people of the blessed land of Sham know that he himself is the main terrorist. Russian infidels and Putin’s Nusayri puppy (Alawites regime of Bashar al-Assad) bomb Greater Idlib to destroy Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. Executioners will have to hold a harsh response before the Almighty for their crimes.”

A pro-Jihadi chat “Inspire” in Telegram wrote in Russian: “the information about the impending attacks by Ajnad al-Kavkaz is fake. The authorities are trying to hold Russia’s awakening people from mass protests against Putin’s criminal group. To intimidate civilians, the Russian siloviki (FSB) can and are ready to commit terrorist acts, blaming HTS for this, which are not interested in what is happening there in Russia. The Putinists have a lot of experience in killing their own citizens and blowing up their houses.” In this message, Chechen militants indirectly protect HTS from accusations by pro-Kremlin media on impending terrorist attacks in Russian cities during opposition protests. This is no coincidence, since Ajnad al Kavkaz is known for its close ties with HTS.

On Telegram channel, some Russian-speaking jihadists from the post-Soviet space mocked at the ‘leaked information’, some expressed their anger against the “Russian occupants” in Sham, some advised protesters to be vigilant before the FSB provocation. A pro-Jihadi chat Icharkhoin Telegram recommended Muslims of Caucasus be ready for new repressions of Russian infidels and local Murtad (apostate), because after the bombings of houses in Volgodonsk, Putin started the 2-Chechen war and took away the independence of Ichkeria. The Telegram chat “Muhajireen” says that the Kremlin is preparing for a harsh suppression of the mass protests.

It is not the first time the Russian authorities have accused Central Asian and North Caucasian Jihadi networks of organizing terrorist act. On April 3, 2017, the Russian FSB blamed KTJ for the bombing on a subway train in St. Petersburg that killed 16 people and injured 67 others. On October 15, 2020, the FSB once again accused the Uzbek KTJ militants of preparing subversive and terrorist acts in Russian cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ufa, Maikop and Volgograd. In a statement, the intelligence services claimed that during the counter-terrorist operation, they prevented explosions and eliminated two members of KTJ. Then FSB distributed photos and videos of firearms, ammunition, IED’s chemical components, and religious literature seized during the operation.

On October 16, 2020, KTJ in its statement denied the Russian authorities’ accusation in these attacks. The Uzbek militant group stated that “according the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s policy, our activities are limited to the territory of Sham, and we do not conduct jihadi acts outside of it.” Further, KTJ assured via its Telegram channel that it “does not have its cells in Russia and is not involved in organizing terrorist acts there.”

Jihadi factor of Russian democracy

The Russian authorities often make thunderous statements about plotting terrorist attacks by “international terrorist groups” and how siloviki (FSB) successfully prevented its. This time, trumpeting about terrorist plots by HTS and its foreign subsidiaries during mass protests in various Russian cities, Moscow hoped to hit two birds with one stone. First, the Kremlin hopes that alarm on terrorist attacks could become a cold shower for Navalny’s supporters, as a result of which the activity of protesters will subside and the scale of the rallies will decrease. Second, by accusing HTS of plotting terrorist attacks, Russia is trying to justify its bloody bombing in northern Syria before the international community.

However, experts on jihadism and political Islam were skeptical about accusations of HTS for plotting terrorist attacks in Russia.HTS, Syria’s most powerful rebel group, is trying to implement a new strategy to transform itself from a global jihadist outlook into a local “moderate national liberation movement”. Today its new agenda is entirely dedicated to Syria and the Syrian local Sunni community. Within this new strategy, HTS severely restricted external attacks by its subsidiaries – Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups –KTJ, AK and JMA. Consequently, HTS, which holds the last major rebel bastion in Idlib province and backs the local Salvation Government, is focused only on the internal Syrian jihad than organizing external terrorist attacks.

HTS emir Abu Mohammed al-Julani is well aware that any terrorist attacks in Russia could place his group among the global terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and al Qaeda, from which he decisively disavowed. HTS pursues a pragmatic approach to the political context, and its external attacks outside of Syria could undermine its fragile legacy, which Julani has achieved with great difficulty.

According to the new strategy, HTS has excluded Central Asian and local hardliners from its ranks. Those jihadists who did not want to submit to its new policy, such as former KTJ emir Abu Saloh al-Uzbeki and HTS Shura Council member Abu Malek al-Talli, were arrested or taken out of the Syrian jihad zone. Given the ability of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to pressure Russian-speaking militant groups to abandon its global jihadist ambitions, it can be concluded that the Russian FSB’s accusation against HTS raises many questions.

In conclusion, the Russian authorities alert about Islamists terrorist attacks during pro-Navalny protests is aimed at an internal audience and pursues exclusively domestic political goals. And these goals are clear as plain as the nose on the face. Using these methods, the Kremlin wants to stop the turbulent development of mass protests and divert the attention of people from the Navalny factor. If they succeed, the authorities will take time out to gather strength for the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2021.But if the wave of protests grows ever stronger and threatens Putin’s regime, then a repetition of the 1999 scenario is quite possible. As then, radical Islamism and terrorism can become a starting point for strengthening authoritarianism in Russia.

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Corona pandemic: Realism limitation in solving 21st century security threats

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Today, most serious threats of the 21st century are not ones we can protect ourselves by using armies or advanced weapons. Indeed, the popularity of extreme-right politics, unilateralism based on nationalism and COVID-19 are threatening the world’s post-war security architecture. 

The state-based unilateralism and the trends of national response to the 21st century’s biggest security threat trigger lack of coordination, diplomatic divisions, and incoherent global answer to COVID-19. Hence, as we face the biggest challenge of the contemporary century today, we need to rethink the very nature of our comprehension of national security threats. By doing so, we need a different approach to facing security threats.

With the Corona pandemic as a security threat, one of the foundational international relations theories, the realism, has been revealed to be far limited in terms of its explanatory power than it declares. The argument is that realism has a valid logic and reasons for confidence since answers to the pandemic have confirmed the supremacy of sovereign states, the grounds for the state’s power competition. Nevertheless, the pandemic also presents realism’s weaknesses as a source for successful policy answer to this security challenge. In other words, realism is better at defining risks and threats than suggesting solutions. Put simply, realism’s explanatory power lies in diagnosis rather than treatment or prevention. To make this clear, one insight the theory emphasizes is the representation of states as the fundamental actors in world politics. 

As the coronavirus hit, states shifted quickly to close or tighten international borders, controlled movement within their borders. However, while much independent national action is understandable from a realism’s point of view, it’s insufficient. Unilateralism and state-based measures, such as border controls did not spare states from the pandemic, and unilateral measures risk ending up in national economic and social crisis. 

To fight the Corona pandemic most efficiently, policymakers will have to shift to other theoretical traditions to overcome this security threat. They will depend more and more on greater international openness, trust and cooperation. Hence, while from the realism’s view, unilateral and state-based actions may serve national interest to fight the pandemic “within the national borders”, the pandemic is a global security threat and thus remains unsolved so long as other states and non-state actors have not done the same and states move on unilaterally. 

Solving global crises and security threats such as a pandemic, similar to world economic or other security crises cannot be solved based on the realist considerations of zero-sum competitive logic. Instead, transnational security threats, such as Coronavirus, is unmasking the limitations of individual states actions in the global system. Thus, while realism does an excellent job of “diagnosing the problem”, it does not offer solutions to that problem.   

Considering the necessity of worldwide medical items and actions, coordinated and offered by international organizations and non-state actors, the uncoordinated state-based actions result in an ineffective solution to this security crisis. The perspective this article aims to offer is that given the limitations of realism, we need more faith in international transboundary cooperation based on mutual trust, especially trust vis-a-vis international institutions. However, neither the United Nations nor the World Health Organization (WHO) nor any other non-state actor can overcome the Coronavirus on its own; nor non-state actors such as international institutions are alternatives to national states in international relations. 

Instead, they are an instrument of foreign policy and statecraft and states need to rely on them, incorporating them in finding solutions to global security threats. According to constitutionalists, Robert Keohane and Lisa Martin, “States are indeed self-interested, but cooperation is often in their interest and institutions help to facilitate that cooperation.”

From our partner Tehran Times

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The Media System Within and Beyond the West: Australian, Russian and Chinese Media

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This article takes Australian, Russian and Chinese media as three examples to differentiate media systems and elucidate their political or economic context to understand media systems globally. Arguably, the concept of media systems “does not possess a normative or even generally accepted definition“, mainly because the notion is posited on existing publications and empirical research rather than normative theory. More precisely, “this is so for two reasons: firstly—because of the term’s content specificity; secondly—because it is dynamic and variable in time and therefore difficult to precisely define“.

Drawing on the current research of advanced capitalist democracies in Western Europe and North America, Hallin and Mancini propose “there are two main elements of the conceptual framework of Comparing Media Systems (setting aside political-social system variables): the set of four “dimensions” of comparison, and the typology of three models that summarizes what we see as the distinctive patterns of media system development among our 18 cases”. Furthermore, they clarify the four major dimensions that can be compared in different media systems: “first, the development of media markets, with particular emphasis on the strong or weak development of a mass circulation press; second political parallelism; that is, the degree and nature of the links between the media and political parties or, more broadly, the extent to which the media system reflects the major political divisions in society; third, the development of journalistic professionalism; and fourth, the degree and nature of state intervention in the media system”.

Drawing on the four dimensions, Hallin and Mancini summarize three modules from Western Europe and North America: “the Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist Model, the North/Central European or Democratic Corporatist Model,

and the North Atlantic or Liberal Model”, which will be elaborated on by the next tables.

Table 1 Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist Model

Country ExamplesFrance, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain
Newspaper IndustryLow newspaper circulation; elite politically oriented press
Political ParallelismHigh political parallelism; external pluralism, commentary-oriented journalism; parliamentary or government model of broadcast governance—politics-over-broadcasting systems
ProfessionalizationWeaker professionalization; instrumentalization
Role of the State in Media SystemStrong state intervention; press subsidies in France and Italy; periods of censorship; “savage deregulation” (except France)

Table 2 North/Central European or Democratic Corporatist Model

Country ExamplesAustria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland
Newspaper IndustryHigh newspaper circulation; early development of mass-circulation press
Political ParallelismExternal pluralism, especially in the national press; historically strong party press; a shift toward neutral commercial <p>press; the politics-in-broadcasting system with substantial autonomy
ProfessionalizationStrong professionalization; institutionalized self-regulation
Role of the State in Media SystemStrong state intervention but with protection for press freedom; press subsidies, robust in Scandinavia; strong public-service broadcasting

Table 3 North Atlantic or Liberal Model

Country ExamplesBritain, the United States, Canada, Ireland
Newspaper IndustryMedium newspaper circulation; early development of mass circulation commercial press
Political ParallelismNeutral commercial press; information-oriented journalism; internal pluralism (but external pluralism in Britain); professional model of broadcast governance—formally autonomous system
ProfessionalizationStrong professionalization; noninstitutionalized self-regulation
Role of the State in Media SystemA market dominated (except strong public broadcasting in Britain, Ireland)

Source: created by the author of this thesis and based on Hallin and Mancini.

Furthermore, it is unfeasible to simply apply the conceptual framework to other countries without appropriate modification. In fact, the “four dimensions” and “three models” are just perfect types, only loosely matched by the media systems of different countries. The ultimate purpose is not to classify individual media systems but to identify the “characteristic patterns of relationship between system characteristics“. Consequently, these inherent patterns of media systems offer “a theoretical synthesis and a framework for comparative research on the media and political systems“.

The Australian media system as an outlier in the Liberal Model

Hallin and Mancini illustrate that Australia should be another example of the Liberal Model. It is because firstly, the “Liberal Model is the broadest, attempting to bridge the trans-Atlantic gulf that regularly emerges in the comparative literature“. Secondly, Australia has historical connections with the UK and the US regarding “early democratization and highly professionalized information-based journalism“. This association has led to strong characteristics of Anglo-American conventions in the Australian media structure, with the quintessence of a dual media system. The binary design has combined the UK-style PSBs (public service broadcasters) such as ABC and SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) with the “US-style commercial networks“. Thirdly, Australia is famous for one of the highest commercial media ownership concentration rates globally, particularly in the newspaper area.

However, the Australian media system does not offer the quintessence of the Liberal Model. Jones and Pusey apply the Liberal Model to the Australian media system and identify four remarkable discrepancies. More precisely, compared to the Liberal Model, Australia has “historically late professionalization of journalism; comparatively low levels of education of journalists; low per capita investment in PSBs; poor regulation for accuracy and impartiality of commercial broadcast journalism; and slow development of relevant bourgeois liberal institutional conventions and rational-legal authority, e.g., formal recognition of freedom of the press”.

Furthermore, Jones and Pusey contend that Australia has several similar features with the Polarized Pluralist Model, especially in clientelism. Based on the definition of Hallin and Mancini, “clientelism tends to be associated with instrumentalization of both public and private media. In the case of public media, appointments tend to be made more based on political loyalty than purely professional criteria”. More concretely, Jones and Pusey outline the following examples to indicate the similarities of the Australian media system with the Polarized Pluralist Model: “the widely accepted recognition that appointments to the ABC Board have been more often than not party-political; the infamous ‘Murdoch amendments’ by the Fraser government to broadcasting legislation in the late 1970s to facilitate Murdoch’s concentration of television ownership; and the long history of proprietorial intervention in the political world”.

Thus, to this extent, there is a certain degree of political parallelism in the Australian media system. However, the Australian one does not match the Polarized Pluralist Model in some key areas. More precisely”, Australia does not have a highly polarized political culture and a strong tradition of mass-circulation party newspapers“. Therefore, it is arguable to perceive the Australian media system as an outlier of the Liberal Model, which can be shown in the following figure:

Figure 1 Relation of individual cases to the three models

Source: derived from Jones and Pusey.

Beyond the West: the unique Russian and Chinese media model

Although the Australian media system is an outlier in the Liberal Model, it still belongs to the typology and scope of the three models, posited on the empirical reality of Western Europe and North America. However, bringing the Russian and Chinese media models into this global comparative apparatus involves two distinct and peculiar systems into the Western-centric framework. Thus, the three models’ classification cannot apply to Russia and China’s two unique systems. Nevertheless, the four dimensions of comparison as a tool for analyzing systemic characteristics still work. However, they are not perfect and need to be modified in the application, as mentioned before.

The Russian media system as a statist commercialized model

After the disintegration of the USSR, Russia took a series of measures to adopt elements of the Western media apparatus, such as “abolition of censorship, freedom of press concepts and related legislation, privatization of media, a shift to more objective reporting, and increasing control by journalists and editorial boards over news production“. However, arguing that the Russian media have been westernized only shows “a poor understanding of” the legacy of the Soviet Union and the “complexity and dissimilarities of the post-Soviet society“, ignoring the most influential factor in the Russian media system: the state. Arguably, the interplay between the state and media has defined the essence and main features of the Russian media system. Historically and culturally, “in Russian public communications, relations between the state and a citizen have involved a clear subordination of the individual to a social power that has always been associated in the Russian context with the state“.

Thus, even though the Polarized Pluralist Model is the most similar of the three models to the Russian one, the Russian media system is still far from the Mediterranean apparatus. The Russian state’s role has exceedingly overshadowed that of the Mediterranean states, suggesting that they cannot be classified as the same type. Ivanitsky differs the Russian media system from the Polarized Pluralist Model in that “it is the state which defined the particular journalism modes such as Court journalism, Imperial journalism, Communist Party journalism in Russian history. Currently, while liberating the media’s economic activity, the state is not ready to relax the control over the content”.

This overwhelming influence of the state also reflects in Russian political parallelism. Although new political parties have appeared after the formation of the Russian Federation, Oates argues that “rather than encouraging the growth and the development of a range of political parties, media outlets in Russia have worked at supporting relatively narrow groups of elites”, part of which have been formed due to the privatization. These elites, combining old political and new emerging business elites, “became key players in the media scene“. More concretely, they created “a particularly Russian form of political parallelism” by using “political media as traditional instruments of political elite management“. Besides, due to the dominant role of the state in Russia, “media, particularly television, have been used to subvert the development of a pluralistic party system“.

Furthermore, in terms of the media industry, the influence of the state is also ubiquitous. Ivanitsky believes the state “has produced practically unsolvable tension for the media themselves trying to function both as commercial enterprises and as institutions of the society”, even though Russia has achieved rapid development in its advertising and media market. Hypothetically, these tensions between the media and the state are supposed to be the “decentralized market competition as a vital antidote to political despotism“. However, Vartanovaargues that “the aims of the state converged with those of the advertising industry, and commercially determined content became both a means of increasing depoliticization and instrumentalization of political communication, and of stimulating consumption”. From another angle, de Smaele believes that the Western influence on Russian media has only been limited to market demand, with the lack of Western notions such as “independent Fourth Estate”.

As for Russia’s professionalization, “journalism as a profession had a rather late start” with a strong censorship history, thus resulting in a self-censorship tradition until now. Another factor contributing to the self-censorship is that “formally declared freedom and autonomy of media professionals came into conflict with the efforts of the new owners”, deeply connected to the state and political elites, “to use these new professional values to further their own interests” rather than the public interests and social responsibility. Thus, to notch economic successes and avoid potential political risks, Russian journalists have become increasingly market-driven and apathetic to politics. Due to the different “professional identity“, Russian journalists have a dissimilar “literary style and attitude to facts and opinions“, which has restrained them from integration into Western journalism.

However, this statist media policy does not mean there is no freedom regarding the Russian media system’s political news. Admittedly, the state has strong influences on “television channels with national distribution“, which has been regarded as “the main source of information about Russia and the world“. By comparison, the pressure of the state has become weak and even non-existent in some less disseminated areas such as the television channel “REN-TV“, the radio station “Ekho Moskvy“, and the newspapers “Novaya Gazeta“, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” and “Kommersant“, as well as almost the whole of the internet.

Therefore, it is possible to say that the duality of authoritarian attitudes to mass media and journalism—a statist media policy deeply rooted in the framework of state influence on media combined with the growing market-driven economy—has become the most crucial characteristic of the Russian media system“. To this extent, the Russian media system can be described as a statist commercialized model.

The Chinese media system as a state-dominated model

If there is still a likelihood to compare the Russian media system with the Mediterranean Model due to a certain extent of similarities, “bringing the Chinese media system into a worldwide comparative project is to bring one of the most dissimilar systems into the non-Western empirical reality“. Furthermore, if the role above of the state in the Russian media system can be portrayed as “strong influence”, the Chinese state’s position or the sole ruling party CPC in its media apparatus should be regarded as dominant. As mentioned, regarding the political news, Russians still enjoy some freedom in less influential media. In contrast, there is no autonomy in the Chinese press, with the omnipresent regulative measures such as media censorship and the internet Great Firewall in China. Thus, considering the state’s special role, the Chinese media system is far beyond the intervention framework in the West.

In fact, despite Deng Xiaoping’s reform, the Chinese media system of the post-Mao period has still applied the “different versions of Marxism and socialism” to “build socialism with Chinese characteristics” by “providing moral guidance to the population and engineering economic development and social change“. One of the most important reasons that may clarify this “guidance”, namely, strong and resilient media control, is the media ownership in China. It is undeniable that the post-Mao economic reforms have expanded the private capital to some areas that had been commanded by the Chinese government or state-owned enterprises for decades. However, Zhao argues that “in the media sector, although the Chinese state has not only drastically curtailed its role in subsidizing media operations but has also targeted the media and cultural sector as new sites of profit-making and capitalistic development, the state continues to restrict private capital, let alone the privatizing of existing media outlets”.

In fact, the Chinese state has opened the door to private and even foreign capital participation in “the media’s entertainment function” such as the film industry with the intention of profit-making. However, this profit-making entertainment also needs to be filtered by the ideological orientation of the state. More importantly, “the production and distribution of news and informational content” and the “ownership of news media outlets” have remained “monopolized by the state“. Furthermore, this monopoly also results in the fact that the state has appointed major media agencies’ leadership.

Despite the state’s overwhelming control, the Chinese media market has boomed for years since the economic reform of Deng Xiaoping, attributable to the power of marketization. For instance, in 2004, there were 6,580 daily newspapers published worldwide, and the number of daily newspapers published in China ranked first in the world, accounting for 14.5% of the global daily newspapers. However, the commercialization of the Chinese media industry has not surmounted the ideological control of the state. The media market has constituted “two distinct and yet institutionally intertwined press sectors or subsystems“. The first press sector is market-based as the film above industry, while the second is “the party organ sector“, which combines the duality of the political instrument and profit-making. This is because “most state media outlets no longer receive large government subsidies and have largely to depend on commercial advertising“. Nevertheless, rather than causing tensions, the dual roles the party organ sector plays have adopted and contained the marketization within the current political control by the statist implementation of “licensing system and the sponsor unit system“. Consequently, these two systems have guaranteed the predominance of the state over the commercialization and marketization.

As for the political parallelism, the state-dominated Chinese media system has top-level political instrumentalization, indicating “all the features of a quintessential party-press parallelism“. Almost all the media content should and, in practice, have revolved around the official ideology and slogan of the state. This is pertinent to another aspect of four dimensions, based on the theory and standard of Hallin and Mancini: the utterly low professionalization in Chinese journalism, where journalists have to successfully balance the “market forces and the party-press system” to obtain financial benefits and political security. Furthermore, Pan and Lu argue that Chinese journalists “do not fit their practices into the universal model of professionalism”, but “utilize and appropriate diverse and often conflicting ideas of journalism through their improvised and situated practices”, leading to the “truncated and fragmented in Chinese journalism”. Also, unlike the Western conception of relative objectivity in journalism, Hackett and Zhao create a term “regime of objectivity” to describe how Chinese journalists portray information on the precondition of conforming to the state ideology.

Therefore, due to its restricted commercialization and dominated state, Chan summarizes the Chinese media industry’s development as commercialization without independence. Drawing on the above, the Chinese media system can be described as a state-dominated model.

References

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