Strict control of broadcasting on television was a key element during Vladimir Putin’s nearly 20-year reign. The vast majority of Russians continue to get most of their information from TV, giving the Kremlin a powerful tool for shaping public perceptions.
Leonid Krivenkov worked as a camera operator for the Rossia-24 round-the-clock news channel from 2006 until his retirement in 2016. He worked in Studio Seven, where live broadcasts are organized, and recorded programs featuring leading political and cultural figures. He learned the ins and outs of Rossia-24’s parent company, the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK).
Krivenkov told the services of the Russian Radio Free Europe (RSE) that he was always cautious regarding the ruling regime, because: “they are pursuing their interests and deceiving the public as they turn to the adoption of laws for the common good.”
During the first few years of working on the Russia-24 channel, he was shocked with the cynicism that people had toward their work, because they perfectly well understood that they disinformed the viewers. One of the favorite jokes of the TV Hosts and Directors was: “Now it’s your turn to lie“. That’s exactly what they were saying prior to going live on the TV.
According to Krivenkov, a large number of people are in a dependent position and have to speak what they are told to say. The official salaries on paper in VGTRK are laughable. If an individual for some reason behaves inappropriately, they begin to pay him only that official salary, written in the contract. Either he/she quits or apologizes.
The management has mechanisms to control the employees. Many employees have loans. Many came from different regions and bought apartments in Moscow. They have mortgages they have to repay. So they keep their positions and work as they are told.
However, the control of the media through the control of journalists and the TV Hosts does not end only on this.
In the interview he talked about the famous “146 percent” from 2011, as well as what’s behind it.
“The best known anecdote is about 146 percent of the votes won in the elections for the deputies of the State Duma in 2011. (During the broadcast of election results for each party by regions, state television showed several regions where the percentage of votes won exceeded 100 percent, including the Rostov region, in which seven political parties won 146 percent of the vote, prim.aut. ) I have been working for years in a studio with program leaders Ivan Kudrjavtsev and Anna Schneider, who published the results of the poll in a total 146 percent of the country. I asked Anna, Ivan and the chief editor of the TV channel Russia-24 for that. Of course, it was not exactly what Churov (Vladimir Churov, the then president of the Central Election Commission) said – that some employees got nice houses abroad for that move. The whole story is, in fact, much simpler: instructions to the Russia-24 TV channel that will be broadcasted specifically for the party Unique Russia came from the Kremlin. The editor asked, “What about the other parties?” The answer came, “Just show what they won.” The editor did not intend to argue with them. After all, the Kremlin knows best. The editor did exactly what she was told. So you had 146 percent.“
There were a couple of people who acted “appropriately“ during the preliminary interviews, but then during the live broadcast they began to tell the truth. That being said, he mentioned there was another big scandal with a guest who was invited to the show about the use of chemical weapons by the forces of Bashar al Asad. The guest began to tell the truth about how the Syrian government forces produce and use chemical weapons. The editor, Aleksey Kazakov, shouted at the leader of a live program: “Don’t you hear what does he’s saying“? Shut him up now!” The manager immediately interrupted the experts and said that there was no more time. A call from the Kremlin followed and then a scandal broke out. That expert never appeared on television again.
He also mentioned the editors are constantly getting calls from Putin’s office, but also from various agencies, which had the form of directives, concerning “correcting” of news content.
The interview was taken from Radio Free Europe. It is available at rferl.org