March 1, 2016: Just brainwashed? Domestic reception of Russia’s strategic narrative about the West—Joanna Szostek

On March 1, 2016 Joanna Szostek will present findings from her research in Moscow exploring how Russians interpret the strategic narratives about their country's role in the world offered by Putin, Lavrov and other leaders, and how interpretation is mediated by their presentation in Russian media. Are Russians being brainwashed or are things slightly more complicated? Below are full details of the talk and Joanna's project. 

Time: 5.15pm

Place: FW101

Full abstract:

Over recent years the Russian state media have become notorious for their emotive and partisan coverage of international news. Russian TV channels convey a narrative originating from the Kremlin, which angrily attributes most global problems to Western ‘interference’, ‘aggression’ and ‘double standards’. Negative views of the USA and Europe have meanwhile intensified among the Russian public, a trend widely blamed on the ‘brainwashing’ effect of Kremlin propaganda. Yet the ‘magic bullet’ theory of media messages being wholly and automatically absorbed by a homogeneous audience has long been discredited by communication scholars. Moreover, the majority of Russians now have internet access and are not obliged to rely on state-controlled media for news – alternative sources are only a click away. How, then, should the relationship between news consumption and views of the West in Russia be understood?

This talk will examine the association between news media ‘repertoires’ and support for the Kremlin’s negative narrative about the West, presenting findings from a survey and interviews conducted among Moscow university students. It will demonstrate that research subjects who used at least one state-aligned news source tended to agree more strongly with the Kremlin’s narrative than those who did not use any state-aligned news sources. However, even students who neither used nor trusted the leading Russian state media expressed agreement with much of the Kremlin’s narrative. It will therefore be argued that direct exposure and blind faith in state propaganda are insufficient explanations for sentiments about the West in Russia.

Joanna is currently in the first phase of research in her new Marie-Sklodowska Curie Global Fellowship examining how narratives from Russia are understood and interpreted in Ukraine. Her project website is here. She was previously a postdoctoral research at University College London and completed her PhD at the University of Oxford.