Enough to Make Goebbels Green With Envy
26 June 2009
Translated by Dave Essel
On 24 June, President Medvedev issued an Executive Order entitled On Russia-Wide Compulsory Total-Access Television and Radio Channels. The aim of this Order is to ensure that certain TV and radio channels are available in every household. That great lover of the ‘power vertical’ Adolf Hitler had the idea down pat ages ago: “In the future Germany, we will have wired radios, that’s evident. No sensible government can allow its people’s minds to be poisoned”. [AP – quoted in Oleg Plenkov, The Third Reich]. Hitler may have failed to carry this out but we won’t!
Medvedev is by no means the innovator when it comes to propaganda. He’s neither a founding father nor a disciple in this glorious field – just a borrower. Just when we thought agitprop was dead and gone for ever, suddenly – in the right hands and with the right political will – it and its cousins are back again. Can we deny that our government is sensible and that it won’t allow anyone from anywhere to poison the people?
The talk is of eight TV and three radio channels. These privileged broadcasters are the TV channels Kultura, a kids and young persons channel amalgamated from the Telenyanya [TV-Nanny] and Bibigon channels, the Sport channel, Channel 1, Petersburg Channel 5, Vesti [News], Rossiya, and NTV and the radio channels Vesti-FM, Mayak, and Radio Rossii. Don’t let the obfuscatory wording of the ukase’s title fool you. The key words in it are “compulsory” and ‘total-access”. These compulsory channels are to “broadcast to the whole territory of the Russian Federation”, the ukase goes on to state. Total access will be ensured in one easy step – the money to pay for beaming these channels to every home will come from the state budget.
The Order includes a wily statement that these channels will be “available free of charge to consumers”. A con, of course, since viewers and listeners will be paying for them not by subscription but out of their taxes, with the obvious difference that one has a choice as to what one subscribes to while that selection is entrusted to the government when the broadcasting is paid for out of tax money. So, entrust the government or not, you’re going to get the channels it chooses. President Medvedev has decided for you which channels are good and deserve state support and which channels will get no helping hand. He did this, of course, “to ensure the freedom of the mass media and provide citizens with socially significant information”. Why should citizens have to choose for themselves what channels to watch or listen to when Mr. Medvedev can relieve them of that chore! And what a boon for the selling of advertisement time – if one’s channel is being retransmitted nation-wide for free!
Of the 11 TV and radio stations, 8 belong to VGTRK, the All-Russia State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company while the remaining three are indirectly controlled by the government. The aim of turning the mass media into a mass propaganda source is barely concealed – in fact, it has already for the most part taken place, with only a few technical issues left to settle: ensuring the whole country and every inhabitant is blanketed by it.
We’ve seen this in other times. “A radio in every home!’ was a Nazi slogan. In Summer 1933, 28 German radio manufacturers were instructed to begin producing a simple, cheap, and reliable radio receiver. These were made and earned themselves the nickname of Goebbels’ Mouthpiece [AP – from Valentina Zholkver-Krasnopolskaya, Radiopolitics and Radio-Propaganda in the Third Reich). The ‘volksradio’ was designed to be able to receive only local broadcasts. In order to ensure that curious citizens were not tempted to listen to anything from further afield, listening to foreign broadcasts was made a criminal offence. Infringers were accused of treachery and sent to concentration camps, prisons, or corrective labour. By late 1939 Germany had over 35 major broadcast centres and 70% of German households had receivers. Listener numbers rose for 4 million in 1933 to 16 million in 1943. The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda headed by Heidelberg University PhD Paul Joseph Goebbels had complete control of the content. Goebbels’ efforts in the field of total propaganda helped the Nazis unify Germans under Nazi slogans but did not in the final count prevent the global defeat of national-socialism.
Strange as it may seem, in the USSR, the Communists approached the task of total propaganda with even greater thoroughness than the Nazis. In 1925, the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) passed a decree entitled “On Radio-Agitation”. Radio broadcasts were placed under the control of the Party and a special Radiocommission was created to provide political control of broadcasting. From 1927 onwards, all programming was obligatorily reviewed by Party committees prior to broadcast and in 1933 houses began to be wired for radio as this was the best way back then to ensure that most people only received totally controlled information. Sockets for plug-in single-channel radios appeared in all housing.
The Nazis were actually jealous of the Soviet school of radio propaganda. When Hitler visited his military command in the Ukraine in 1942 and learnt that there radio was delivered by wire to a socket in every village hut, he exclaimed: “The Soviets not only correctly estimated the importance of radio broadcasting but also understood how dangerous it could be.” The main danger – recognised in good time by Stalin and a little late by Hitler – was of its being possible to listen to foreign broadcasts. Wired delivery of radio did away with this entirely. Fortunately, neither total wired coverage of households nor other ploys by the Soviet propaganda machine were able to save the Communist system from eventual collapse in the late 1980s.
The concentration of media resources in the hands of the state for propaganda purposes that we are witnessing today is a very bad sign. It evidences a serious new twist of the régime. Alas, this is far from the only indication of a shift towards authoritarianism in Russia today. The next logical step will be to restrict access to the internet – initially with the excuse that this is to shield the young generation or protect morals, then later with no excuses at all. Not for nothing did the good Dr. Goebbels say that whether propaganda appeared nice or not did not matter at all – what was important is that it led to success and that was all that counted.