Mr. Medvedev, Please Stop Lying!
While being interviewed by the utterly clueless milquetoast Fareed Zakaria on CNN last Sunday, Russian “president” Dima Medvedev stated: “Whether some bosses like it or not, in the modern age of global information, there are no subjects you can conceal. You can sometimes be silent about or hold back certain things on TV, but remembering the fact that there are around 40 million Internet users in Russia today, people from across the country will learn the news within five minutes. Therefore, trying to curtail press freedom is a totally hopeless thing to do.”
He was, of course, lying. According to ComScore, in June 2008 Russia had less than 18 million total visitors to the Internet per month. That’s half the figure Medvedev quoted, and it’s a vast overstatment. According to ComScore, Russia’s level of Internet penetration was a pathetic 14%, the lowest of any country in Europe. That means that a whopping 86% (that’s right, eighty-six percent), of all Russians have no monthly access to the Internet at all. And Russia’s rate of per capita of Internet activity, because of its poverty and social repression, is far lower than in developed countries too. This means that a Russian who accesses the Internet each month spends far less time online than a European counterpart, and if you were to measure daily activity as opposed to monthly Russia’s Internet population would be far smaller than even the pathetic 18 million figure.
The “40 million” figure, by contrast, comes from a bizarre Russian source called the “Fund for Public Opinion.” The CIA explains how this absurd figure is generated: While in civilized countries the number of people who access the Internet on a daily or weekly basis is counted, in Russia the Kremlin attempts to use a yearly figure to cover up the government’s brutal crackdown on Internet freedom combined with the appalling economic poverty in which ordinary citizens live, all resulting in a total in ability amongst ordinary people to access the Internet. An organization like ComScore, of course, has no interest in such propaganda.
What it means in simple terms is this: Russia has roughly the same number of people accessing the internet at least once per year as France has who access it at least once per day. And France has a population one-third the size of Russia. So France has three times more people accessing the Internet each day as Russia has accessing it each year.
To put it mildly, Mr. Medvedev, a person who accesses the Internet once per year (or for that matter once per month), for just a few minutes each time, is hardly able to keep up on the news. If he watches state-sponsored Russian TV every night, he’s deluged with lies he will never be able to dispel by visiting the Internet for a few minutes each year. There’s virtually no free Internet access in Russia, such as you find in almost every American library, and little use of Internet in schools. Bloggers are routinely arrested, sued, harassed and persecuted in Putin’s Russia. Service providers experience the same fate. So those few who do manage to get online have to fight a daily war to get real information and express themselves.
And let’s be clear: Even under Medvedev’s own formulation, which is a shameless, lie, more than two-thirds of the Russian population is cut off frmo the Internet. Which is why, of course, Medevedev and Putin enjoy such high levels of public approva, and why Medvedev’s statement is so personally self-serving. It’s why he can tell such ridiculous lies on national TV and get away with it.
It’s pretty telling, of course, that Zakaria is so clueless that he wasn’t even able to call Medvedev on this ridiculous lie, so in fact it’s not only in Russia where Medvedev and his ilk can count on ignorance to protect them from exposure.