The “Gardening” of an Authoritarian Public at Large: How Russia’s Ruling Elites Transformed the Country’s Media Landscape After the 2011/12 Protests “For Fair Elections”
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In response to the massive street protests “For Fair Elections” that shook Russia in 2011/12, the country’s leadership implemented a range of measures aimed at curbing dissent. How, why and with what consequences have Russia’s political elites transformed the country’s media landscape in the years since 2011? In order to answer these questions, this article leverages a recent theory of “authoritarian publics” proposed by one of the authors. According to this theoretical account, the multiple public sphere of contemporary authoritarian regimes can be productively imagined as being comprised of a myriad of competing partial publics of three types: (1) uncritical, (2) policy-critical, and (3) leadership-critical. Adopting this framework as a lens, the article argues that the measures implemented by Russia’s leadership in the wake of the protests significantly reduced the audience reach of leadership-critical publics, but did not entirely eradicate publics of this type. On a more abstract level, the measures taken are interpreted here as measures of “institutional gardening” deployed by the country’s ruling elites in order to fine-tune the balance between the three types of publics. By so doing, they created an authoritarian public at large that better met their reconfigured needs.
KeywordsPolitical communication Authoritarian communication Public Public sphere Russia Elections Media freedom Institutionalism
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