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The GMO case in the interpretation of the School of Economic Warfare

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In 1983 laboratory experimentation on genetic mutation seemed to pave the way for a future technological revolution. Entrepreneurs heavily invested in research and development of bio-technologies applied for agricultural purposes. In this regard, businessmen sealed a number of deals concerning new varieties of plants created through transgenic processes. European farmers were particularly concerned about this fast-paced development and aggressive propaganda in favor of transgenic products, especially because the agro-chemical sector had confirmed their resistance to pesticides and herbicides.

The development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) raised some concerns about their impact on human health and on the ecosystem. At the same time, the European agricultural business sector feared that the development of GMOs would have created a dependency on U.S. multinational agro-chemical corporations.

The European public opinion – whose trust had already been broken after the scandals of BSE (mad cow disease) and dioxin in chicken – has so far been caution and vigil towards this new form of agriculture and demanded specific labeling for all GMO products (officially approved in February 2000).

American consumers instead, relied on quality controls provided by the federal agencies like FOOD & DRUG ADMINISTRATION  and EPA , which were considered reliable watchdogs for public health and environmental safety. Since their approval is automatically considered as a guarantee for consumers’ safety, the GMO labeling procedure appears as superfluous. Free market regulations prescribe that every country intending to reject the import of a given product, must provide a proof of its health risks. The transatlantic debate on this topic mostly focused on food safety and environmental protection preserving biodiversity in the long run and promoting a healthy diet. The failure of Cartagena Convention to draft a protocol on biotechnological risks occurred during a phase in which European consumers demanded their governments to make clearer decisions. When in December 1996 the EU Commission authorized the placing on the market of transgenic corn (that benefited the company Novartis), many EU countries expressed their concerns. In February 1997, Austria and Luxembourg prohibited the import of that specific type of corn; similarly, in September 1998, Greece and the United Kingdom banned the rapeseed produced and distributed by Agrevo. Over the course of the same year, Denmark banned all kinds of GMOs and France suspended the farming of transgenic corn in accordance with the decision made by the Council of State on September 25th, 1998. Public opinion was also very worried and reluctant towards GMOs products. Fearing that governments would have not protected the interests of consumers, many associations and environmental movements vocally campaigned against GMOs and showed civil society’s response to the economic dominance of the United States. In January 1999, the Organization for Biological Certification Soil Association condemned the company Monsanto for the insufficient protective measures against the pollination of surrounding plantations. Soil Association  revealed  the risks of cross-contamination operated by  winds and insects moving the pollen of transgenic plants for long distances. At the same time, a poll conducted by the French NGO Friends of the Earth revealed that numerous fast food chains had already eliminated – or were about to do so – all GMO based food.

The environmental experts of the scientific community were concerned about the impact of the extensive use of chemicals on the crops whose genes were resistant to herbicides; they hypothesized that in response to this, insects might develop a gene mutation as well. The British Medical Association demanded the creation of a health agency and the ban of antibiotic-resistant marker genes in transgenic food. They basically asked for a moratorium.

Already in August 1998, the British researcher Arpad Pusztai pointed out some health risks caused by GMO potatoes and a few days later he lost his job at the Rowett Research Institute. This episode – that had received extensive media coverage – reinforced the stances of the GMOs critics as it was perceived as an attempt to bury a certain kind of scientific research in order not to spread fear. For their part, consumers were already shocked by the BSE scandal and started reducing significantly the purchase of transgenic products. Pushed by public opinion, the British government – that had previously welcome GMO biotechnologies – recognized the importance of a moratorium. Therefore, it commissioned two studies on the impact of GMOs on health, agriculture and environment. Large retailers were therefore forced to yield to the will of consumers. Sainsbury – second largest grocery store in the UK – together with Body and Mark and Spencer announced the withdrawal of all GMO products and some other big European groups followed their example: Carrefour (France), Esselunga (Italy), Migros (Switzerland), Superquinn (Ireland), Delhaize (Belgium). These latter issued a press release in which they committed to addressing the requests of consumers and only sell GMO free products, in agreement with agricultural and raw materials industries.

They appointed Law Laboratories Ltd, an independent research lab, for quality controls in cultivated fields and in food-production chains in order to detect the potential presence of GMOs. Some GDO companies offered consumers the choice between transgenic products and a GMO-free alternative of their own production. Paradoxically, the campaign against GMOs turned into a marketing strategy that favored national brands over the big industrial chains. On April 27th 1999, Tesco, leader in the UK food distribution, decided to collaborate with Greenpeace in order to identify suppliers that guaranteed GMO free products. Tesco’s commitment in the distribution of biological products resulted in both great enthusiasm of environmentalist groups and in Greenpeace’s success in the countries where Tesco was present (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland).

On April 28 of the same year, Unilever, the first grocery store that introduced GMOs on the UK food market, decided to stop distributing these products; so did Nestlé – the Swiss titanic food industry- and H. McCain, world leader in the frozen food distribution, that withdrew the sale of transgenic potatoes as consumers had requested. The actions taken by the European agro industrial sector led many foreign companies to adjust their policies. In the United States, for example, Gerber – company specialized in food for children – decided to utilize only organic corn. As a result, most American farmers realized that transgenic seeds were the reason of the drop in exports (60% drop in 1998). The reports issued by the federal agencies USDA  and EPA clearly showed that the amount of insecticides used for a transgenic sowing was exactly the same used for traditional sowing. Besides, and that certain types of insect were resistant to the toxins present in transgenic plants.

These revelations produced some troubles in the agro-chemical sector that controlled 2/3 of the global market of pesticides and one quarter of the seeds one and the whole market of transgenic plants. Multinational corporations like Monsanto (USA), Du Punt de Nemours (USA), Novartis (Switzerland), Aventis (France and Germany) and Zenecca (United Kingdom) had made huge investments in order to reach the global control of pesticide market. They engaged in the significant challenge of setting the regulations of a new market (norms, rules, financing) to secure their absolute primacy in the biotechnological field.  These companies also initiated a communication campaign on global food security with slogans like: “Acting in harmony with Nature” (Novartis); “You have the right to know what you are eating. Especially if it’s the best” (Monsanto).  Since June 1999, Monsanto Director-General, Robert Shapiro, launched a massive advertising campaign involving the most important news outlets in the UK and in Europe in response to the protests.  The leitmotiv of this campaign was the idea of improving people’s diet and health while protecting the environment. In an open letter addressed to the President of Rockefeller Foundation, Gordon Conway (that had previously discredited this technologies and highlighted the disadvantage of developing countries), Shapiro announced Monsanto’s intention to use biotechnologies to produce sterile seeds. Later, on October 6th, 1999 Shapiro intervened in a conference-call during the debate in London with Greenpeace. Loaded by the criticism of environmentalist and consumers, Monsanto tried to regain some credit. Since it was aware of the fact that the opposition to GMOs was caused by its obstinate attempt to acquire the absolute primacy in seed production and distribution, Monsanto decided to change strategy. The political change of course was due to the necessity of meeting market and investor requests, that started to share their very low expectations of growth for the agrochemical food sector.

In December 1999, thanks to the fusion with the group Pharmacia-Upjohn, Monsanto sold 20% of its agricultural division and developed its pharmaceutical branch, whose outcomes were very positive thanks to the sales of Celebrex – an analgesic medicine used in the treatment of arthritis. Most likely, this strategy paved the way and favored the increase in production of medicated feed, also known as “pharma-food”. These products that can be found on the counter of big food chains in the shape of candies for the sight-improvement or chewing gum for the cold. The core concept of the pharma-food is the focus on the advantages of a healthy diet and is one of the innovative challenges of the next century. This moment marked the beginning of a partnership between pharmaceutical laboratories and food industries on nutrigenetics, a new science that offered evidence for a healthy diet with healing properties. In recent years, about eight billion dollars invested in life sciences led to significant achievements in this new biotechnological branch. Nevertheless, the worldwide opposition of consumers and environmentalists made investor fear a sharp fall in sales and therefore the agro-chemical industry changed direction. The trade of transgenic products is a very important challenge for the U.S. government that traditionally supported the agrochemical industry. The United States never denied the favor towards the agrochemical industry and its ability to boost the production process, like in the case of the medicated feed. During the Cartagena conference in 1999, the opposition of a group from Miami led by the United States referred the matter to the World Trade Organization (Seattle, December 199) but no deal was reached anyways.

The US strongly supported the Montreal Conference (January 24 – 28th 2000) and managed to secure an important benefit. On the one hand, the act of the conference recognized the precautionary principle that granted the importer countries the right to ban GMO products; on the other hand, it was not very clear how these countries could claim this right in practice. The text of the agreement stated:  “the exporters are only requested to inform about the possibility that a load may or not contain GMOs, without specifying the nature or ensure the presence of GMOs”. This formulation allowed the US to buy time since there was no specific measure prescribing the creation of a separate production chain.

Congressional lobbies – agricultural professional organizations backed by scientists and academics – defended the GMO cause in front of the U.S. Senate and asked for the government’s unconditional support and opposed the compulsory labeling procedure requested by the EU. The President of the National Organization of Corn Producer, Tim Hume, strongly criticized the European skepticism towards GMOs: in his opinion, European or American organization opposing GMOs only aim at increasing their profits through the exploitation of people’s fears and concerns. According to several researchers, GMOs would be the only solution to fight world hunger and cure many diseases. According to John Oblorogge, Professor at the University of Michigan, the second generation of transgenic plants will allow to increase the nutritive content of the crops. Charles Arntzen, Emeritus Professor at Arizona State University and former President of the Research Institute Boyce Thompson, considered the labeling process as an unjustified scaremongering for consumers and concluded that “The microbiological contamination of food is a problem as much as the labeling”.

Scientists therefore requested public funding to support university research on biotechnologies in order to avoid big corporation funding that usually represents an obstacle to independence and objectiveness.

In order for their strategy to be effective, GMOs critics needed to cast doubts on transgenic product and amplify it through local and regional press, TV channels, environmental associations websites, internet forums (that are often loaded with information). Besides, due to GMO critics’ initial disadvantage, they had to identify the contradictions in GMOs supporters discourse and exploit them to their own benefit. On their side, businessmen in the agrochemical sector had to conduct a number of tests on their products in order to prove the absence of toxicity before putting them on the market. Entrepreneurs must anticipate the strategy and study the potential of the opponent in order to foresee its attacks towards their products or their company and be able to react rapidly. It is no more a matter of crisis management and substantial communication, but rather of managing the power during the attack and react accordingly, case by case.

Greenpeace has indeed contributed to boosting the campaign against multinational agricultural corporations Unilever and Nestlé, which were forced to withdraw their transgenic products from the United Kingdom. The analysis of Greenpeace French website reveals a manipulative communication strategy. The absence of transparency of the debate on GMOs is quite remarkable in the narrative employed in the brief introduction to the topic posted in the topical issues section: “Manipulators”; “Sorcerer’s apprentices”; “disturbing lottery”; “inadequate and weak responses”; “the future of our health is at stake”; “environmental impact”; “risks for public health”. This narrative reflects the clarity of the premises of Greenpeace as a protest movement: it portrays the duel between the weak (consumers) and the strong (agrochemical multinational corporations), and exploits the power of the general discontent linked to the primary need of nutrition that is common to each human being. Its technique consists in manipulating the consumers (both figuratively and tangibly) according to the following scheme from the INFO-CONSUMERS section on Greenpeace website, articulated in four simple concomitant steps:

  1. Spread the two lists of products with the producers’ names: the white list of GMOs-free products for which it is possible to track the origin of the ingredients and additives; the black list of products that might contain GMOs and for which the supplier (highlighted in bold) does not oppose GMOs possible presence and cannot formally deny it.
  2. Questions to the suppliers through spamming the administration of the targeted company with petitions, fax, mail, phone calls in order to push it to take some measures in response, usually through a public statement. For this purpose, the website offers some pre-compiled letter templates that are filled with the address of the negligent industrial groups (Danone Unilever France and Nestlé France). In addition, Greenpeace shared a successful story of a company that, after having found its name on the black list and received a number of petitions, had publicly apologized for the presence of GMOs and issued a written statement declaring their withdrawal from its production.
  3. Forwarding the response of the company and the letters to at least 5 people.
  4. Keeping Greenpeace posted with updates on the activist participation and the recruiting of new activists.

This pressing strategy against agro-chemical industries turned out to be effective because it forced producers to report on their activities. Greenpeace has recently published other two lists containing all the GMOs introduced in the animal feed and asked consumers to make sure that poultry farmers used the organic ones. Activists are also asked to communicate the answers through updating the lists.

Whenever necessary, Greenpeace may also resort to disinformation. In its magazine, the organization reports that in 1998 the Council of States favored Greenpeace in revoking the authorization for the cultivation of GMOs corn that had been granted at the beginning of the year. Although on February 5th 1998, Greenpeace and other organizations had requested the annulment of a decree of the French Minister of Agriculture, the Council of State had simply decided on September 25th 1998 to suspend that decree and refer to the EU Court of Justice for the interpretation of the EU law. The activists did not actually win, but they have leveraged on a free interpretation of reality and deliberately spread misinformation across public opinion. In fact, what is important for Greenpeace is to push the intervention of national courts, no matter the result obtained. Greenpeace has also proved capable of considering all the nuances of a given issue, when it decided to admit a mistake and play the transparency card. In 1998, British researcher Arpad Pusztai was fired because he had proved that some test animals fed with transgenic potatoes presented some organic atrophies. In reality, the variety of potatoes that the researcher used in his experiments had been transformed with a gene of a toxin of a different species; therefore, these potatoes were not harmful because of the presence of GMOs, but because of this toxin that was harmful per se. In August 1998, Greenpeace had presented Pusztai as a renowned expert that had been unfairly fired after proving the toxicity of transgender plants. The following year, Greenpeace specified: “The conclusions of this research is still fragile, as some varieties of potatoes produce their own insecticide. Besides, similar vegetables are regularly sold in Canada”.  In this specific case, Greenpeace managed to appear as genuinely misguided by this research, and recognizing to have made a mistake just like anyone else.

Transgenic market represents a strategic field for the U.S. government. Since the early ‘80s, multinational chemical and pharmaceutical corporations have freely operated in the field of genetic engineering and allowed the US to establish their worldwide primacy. Nowadays a consistent part of EU and U.S. public opinion (consumers and farmers) strongly opposes these initiatives. On the other hand, US government criticized the European public opinion and attacked the EU weaknesses in response, without offering justifications for its own support for GMOs. According to Alan Larson (Undersecretary ad interim for Economic, Trade and Agricultural Affairs):“because of the EU, many U.S. corn producers are deprived of almost 200 million dollars in exports. (…)Some EU agencies specialized in food safety revealed to be easily influenced by politics and should take inspiration from the FDA. I had never witnessed such a level of scaremongering in Europe between consumers.”

It is important to note that there is no independent health agency at the EU level. The only authorities that can effectively address this issue belong to Member States, that is the reason why it is legitimate to question their impartiality. According to James Murphy, U.S. adjunct representative for international trade:

Our ability to sell these products goes beyond economic data. It is more a humanitarian, ecological and food safety issue. We are witnessing a strong opposition from Europe … with the lack of trust of public opinion towards science … the opposition group were able to exploit the anxiety of consumers that have consequently lobbied their political representatives.”

David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, that represented the US at the Montreal Conference in 2000, declared to the Washington File that

Focusing on biodiversity and environmental protection can sometimes overshadow the debate on food safety. Negotiations…should not be focused on trade regulations…that could hinder international trade. The United States will not support it. According to many experts, the scaremongering in Europe towards GMOs, risks to let thousands of people die from hunger and millions of children of developing countries, if scientists and institutes financing researches refuse to apply modern biotechnologies. The safety and the quality of the food produced through modern biotechnological techniques are not different from traditional food”.

The skepticism of the scientists and of the EU politicians is the proof of their incapacity to support research on GMOs and this delay is the cause of many deaths in developing countries. The defense strategies that the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Agencies put in place consisted in a discourse centered on accountability and justification: on November 1st1999, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its new internet website in order to inform consumers on the state of biotechnological research applied to the agricultural sector. The website was aimed at providing an answer to the most Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) and shed light on regulations and information on international trade related to agricultural products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration organized three public conferences on the GMOs issue: Chicago – November 18th; Washington November 30th; Oakland – December 13th1999. These public debates allowed U.S. consumers to express their views on the policies of the FDA: many associations like Consumer Union demanded the labeling of transgenic product to ensure the respect of the right of choice.

During the Washington session, Joseph Levitt, Director of the Center of Food Safety at FDA declared: “Taken note of the controversy … we want to point out your recommendations in order to improve our verification of food safety strategies and optimize the sharing of information on the public level.”

According to the Director of the Center for Biotechnologies for Agriculture and Environment of the University of Rutgers, the skepticism of European consumers towards GMOs was the result of ineffective norms that had been proved incapable of preventing the BSE diseases and the sale of animal feed containing dioxin. James Maryanski, FDA Coordinator of biotechnologies maintained that EU regulations focused on product, foods and additives rather than on the plants used in the production process. Today FDA is managing to adopt new regulations to apply when a product does not comply to certain safety standards. The only law controlling the food obtained from transgenic plants dates back to 1992 and essentially consists in the same safety measures foreseen for traditional food. This law was heavily criticized by an American author, because it allowed the commercialization of GMOs without any proof of safety or authorization. It seems that at the moment FDA is imposing the agrochemical industries to carry out preemptive checks in order to avoid any risk for the health. Multinational corporations like Monsanto and Du Pont de Nemours were forced to batten down the hatches and tried to adopt a new approach based on accountability and justification. On October 6th, 1999 during a debate with Greenpeace, Monsanto took the initiative and admitted its lack of listening and conciliation spirit. Similarly, Du Pont de Nemours, recognized that businessmen were incapable of addressing the concerns of public opinion and considered them as the result of ignorance. Between the counter-offensive techniques used by Monsanto, the use of advertising campaigns as communication weapons plays a prominent role: “The protests of farmers, consumers and businessmen forced Shapiro to publicly withdraw Terminator technology from the market”.

This principle – an open letter addressed to a famous Foundation – allowed to orient the message towards the desired direction, limiting the competitor’s operating space.

“(…) The decision has therefore taken into account the opinions that you have expressed and those of a huge number of experts and personalities, included the representatives of our important agricultural community. We have consulted many international experts in order to get to a deep and independent evaluation of the subject. We will continue to encourage a free and transparent debate”.

This press release portrays Monsanto as a responsible company that pays attention to collective interests and partners up with farmers to help them improving their harvest, rather than a monopolistic corporation that exploits on its power.

The strong mobilization of GMOs detractors and its media echo provoked a sudden halt in the GMOs scientific progress. In fact, transgenic plants were created in order to improve agricultural output, but their long-term impact on people had not been considered. To this day, nobody is able to guarantee that GMOs are fully harmless. This is a key issue that is capable to persuade part of the U.S. population.

This year, the FDA has been subject to a legal action because of its politics on food biotechnologies that was considered too lightly regulated. This is the commercial reason why some U.S. retailers must obtain supplies of non-transgenic corn, so that they comply with the traceability designed at the EU level. The European campaign was not addressed to cope with the economic rivalry with the US on GMOs, but rather from a complete absence of clear information and from food safety issues (BSE and dioxin in chicken).

Agrochemical industries completely misinterpreted the balance of power and this precluded the chance of anticipating and foresee such a campaign. It was too late when they understood the necessity of changing communication strategies, since US farmers refused to buy their seeds.

When the protests broke out, companies showed their lack of global vision and knowledge of the fields, environment in general and of the other actors, so that the ignorance on competition principles dragged them into a crisis.

Managing information risks cannot be improvised but needs to be based on a substantial plan. This episode shows the power of information as offensive strategy and the limitations that companies go through when they have to reorganize their communication approach to attract consumers.

In a meeting, it is not so important to know the interlocutor, but rather having the ability of putting oneself in the other’s shoes.

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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.”

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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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