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Censorship and manipulation: How the media affected the outcome of the election in Russia

(April 16, 2018)



The movement “Golos” conducted a media monitoring program to analyze the situation in the media regarding observing constitutionally protected election principles during the presidential election campaign in the Russian Federation.

From 22 January till 18 March 2018, “Golos” carried out weekly monitoring of five central TV channels.The movement analyzed election-relevant content of news reports of the Channel One, Russia 1, NTV, Ren-TV, and Channel Five. For many Russians, television is one of the main sources of information. During the election campaign, it has a decisive influence on the opinion of most voters about the elections and the candidates.

Within the framework of the monitoring program, “Golos” conducted a quantitative analysis of media mentions each candidate received based on the data from the “Medialogy” system. The system analyzes 40,805 sources, including 11 federal TV channels, 36 radio stations, 528 magazines, 540 news agencies, 1,974 newspapers, 34,905 online media sources, and 2,574 blogs; it covers all regions of Russia. The database is updated daily. The observation period using the “Medialogy” system covered the official time of the election campaign (18 December 2017 – 18 March 2018).


The content and volume of information in a large portion of the Russian media about the course of the presidential election and the participating candidates was biased, suggesting a planned and coordinated political campaign. Despite the constitutional prohibition of censorship, there is every reason to believe that censorship is taking place, at least in regard to the restrictions on spreading an alternative (oppositional) view to the current government in state and municipal media. The authorities’ interference in the electoral information campaign and the restriction of free political discussion significantly influenced the results of the election and made it less possible for voters to make an informed choice.

Throughout the election campaign, there was a quantitative and qualitative imbalance in the coverage of candidates by the media. In terms of the number of media mentions, the leader had an almost ten-fold advantage over his closest competitors. This was largely ensured by the administrative control of most media.

The media, primarily those under state control or ownership, failed to fulfill their obligation of providing voters with objective and complete information about the ongoing election and the program proposals of the candidates.

Networks of different media under the authorities’ control participated in the manipulative coverage of the election campaign—they set certain “frameworks” through which the individual candidates were to be perceived. These media all used the same patterns, forming a carnivalized, scandalous image of opposition candidates. Even the chosen format of the election campaign “debate” did not help to clarify the politically important positions of the candidates.

Most media took the incumbent president out of the framework of the election campaign, artificially pitting him in this way against the other candidates. Vladimir Putin was represented in the media primarily as the head of state, and was portrayed in television newscasts with extreme restraint and mainly through comments from his representatives and supporters.

In a situation in which real public political discussion was lacking, the opposition candidates were not ready to conduct an active campaign and did not find ways to withstand the pressures of the state and state media.

The system of election commissions failed to ensure the equality of candidates in terms of access to the media. Formed by election commissions, working groups on information disputes proved unable to provide effective electoral advice to election organizers.

Please find the report below (in English):


The whole report is available in Russian.

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