‘RT and the calibration of Russia’s ‘war on truth’ – Professor Stephen Hutchings
In this paper I explore what RT’s unusually open-ended project commemorating the centenary of the Russian Revolution – #1917Live – tells us about its tendentious, mainstream output. I adopt an epistemological framework locating meaning in the marginal and different rather than the normative and recurrent, treating this ‘un-RT like’ project’s components as multi-layered cultural texts to be interpreted rather than sociological data to be counted and coded. I read them through a hermeneutically inflected version of mediatization theory. This theory’s central precept posits a fusion of media practices with those of politics and everyday life. An under-researched corollary of that precept is a short-circuiting of the ‘subject’ and ‘object’ of media representations. As well as influencing #1917Live’s emphasis on broadcaster-audience co-production, the short-circuiting effect foregrounds the modality of those representations – their truth claims and the subjectivities attached to the realities they depict. In analysing this effect, I highlight: (i) #1917Live’s chronotopic intertwining of past and present; (ii) its ‘event-ness’: the sense that it constitutes a news story in its own right; (iii) the ludic elements modalising its commemorative narratives by according them a distinctive ironic voice which re-establishes distance between ‘subject’ and ‘object’. Linked to a late Soviet cultural phenomenon known as ‘stiob’, such features render #1917Live reflexive, carnivalesque and deeply dialogic, re-aligning it with RT’s disruptive mainstream output and constituting a new kind of ‘media event’. They indicate that RT’s scandalous, ‘pariah’ reputation is internalised within a fragmented institutional identity key to the entire ‘information war’ dynamic.
‘Cultural memory and political legitimacy in a neo-authoritarian regime: Russian representations of the 1917 revolutions at home and abroad’ – Professor Vera Tolz and Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody
Prior to the centenary of the 1917 revolution, scholars predicted that official Russian commemorations would prioritise themes of ‘reconciliation and accord’. In fact, domestic state-aligned media was unprecedentedly negative about both the events and legacies of 1917. By contrast, Russia’s state-funded international broadcaster, RT, emphasised the revolution’s positive international legacies. Significant departures from previously-dominant domestic narratives and the marked divergences between domestic and international framing of the revolution were possible because – contrary to the default assumption of much work on post-Soviet cultural memory – Russia’s neo-authoritarian political leadership is not using history primarily to consolidate national identity. Rather, closely allied political actors offer conflicting and changeable historical narratives in a ‘hybrid memory regime’ which serves immediate political interests. Media commemoration of 1917 promoted ideational-identarian narratives that helped legitimate the power of Russia’s neo-authoritarian leadership in the absence of obvious benefits to citizens. Russia’s official politics of memory therefore demands comparison with how other contemporary neo-authoritarian regimes attempt to legitimate their positions whilst negotiating the challenges of an interconnected global media ecology.