Breaking the News: The Role of State-Run Media

Issue Date January 2014
Volume 25
Issue 1
Page Numbers 71-85
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Despite the rise of the Internet, state-dominated media—especially television—remain a crucial tool for regime control in authoritarian societies. Governments in China and Russia are the forefront of the state media model, but such systems dominate in countries as diverse as Azerbaijan, Iran, Rwanda, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. To achieve dominance state media seek to influence four audiences: regime coalition elites; the populace at large; Internet users; and the opposition and civil society. The authoritarian media strategy is not designed to block everything, but instead is aimed at obstructing news about politics or other sensitive issues from consistently reaching key audiences. The Internet may offer a freer alternative to state-dominated media, but the Internet’s fragmented character makes it a poor match for the disciplined messaging of authoritarian regimes that have a single-minded focus on self-preservation.

About the Authors

Christopher Walker

Christopher Walker is vice-president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy. He is the author (with Shanthi Kalathil and Jessica Ludwig) of “The Cutting Edge of Sharp Power,” which appeared in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Democracy and “What is Sharp Power?” from the July 2018 issue of the Journal.

View all work by Christopher Walker

Robert W. Orttung

Robert W. Orttung is assistant director of the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and visiting scholar at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

View all work by Robert W. Orttung