In 2012, the HSE Laboratory of Media Studies launched a project to study media consumption among the rural population. The first study was conducted in the Kostroma Region. In 2013, the project was carried out in southern Russia, in the Rostov Region’s Koksovskoe rural settlement. The Don State Technical University (DSTU) joined the project as a partner.
The Koksovskoe rural settlement is home to 8,050 residents. The nearest city – Belaya Kalitva – is 15 km away, and the regional centre – Rostov-on-Don – is 160 km away. Most residents work at a factory and do not consider their private farms as a key source of revenue, said Evgenia Petrova, associate professor at the DSTU Department of Mass Communication and Multimedia Technology, in her presentation.
The study included 64 in-depth interviews with people from 59 households. Researchers attempted to investigate the role of journalism in how rural residents consume media. The primary focus was on television, which is an important source of information and one of the key leisure time activities for the rural population.
The surveys showed that rural residents generally use television as a way to spend their free time, to relax and to seek distraction from their everyday routines. They say: ‘TV is a way to relax’ or ‘I come home, I watch TV, I go to sleep – no stress, no worries’. People responded this way when asked about the role television plays for them.
Survey respondents look for light content on television and other media in order ‘to relax’. They are ready to perceive information that is close and comprehensible and interpret it in light of their own life experience.
At the same time, according to Petrova, respondents easily see through familiar images and don’t show interest in them unless they feel a contradiction, paradox, or conflict. ‘I never watch this Don TV [the regional TV channel]. It’s as rural as you get’, says a woman from the Koksovskoe rural settlement, who lives a traditional village lifestyle. Her neighbour brightens up when she sees how Mikhail Prokhorov visits a village in the film ‘Winter, Go Away!’ ‘The respondent knows that this is a millionaire. The film included scenes of his luxurious holiday before the elections. The respondent feels the paradox in the situation and shows interest in the rural scene’, the researchers comment. They say that from what they’ve seen on television, rural residents more often remember and discuss the things that lay beyond the limits of their usual impressions.
Rural residents are expanding and changing the way they consume media, the study indicates. ‘This includes serious transformations of their functional perception of the media as a whole and journalism in particular’, Petrova said. For example, reading periodicals is no longer common in the village. The researchers discovered that newspapers and magazines appear in houses from time to time, accidentally, and are not considered a regular source of information.
Many rural residents store books in storage rooms, sheds, and chests. ‘But verbally the respondents show respect for books and journals’, the researchers noted. Rural residents associate books and journals with the cultural and educational role that media play as a whole and that journalism plays in particular.
The internet in rural areas is becoming an important source of information, the researchers said. Respondents often look for expanded news content online. ‘When someone says to me: “Have you heard?”, and I say “No, I haven’t”, then I quickly check on the internet and read what is going on in the country’, they said. ‘For example, I heard something on TV, and then I try to find more information on it’ is how the respondents describe their reaction to news. When the details of an event become more or less clear, respondents purposefully come to television for commentary. Many respondents said that what they expect from television is not new information, but rather reflection and interpretation of content that is already familiar, Petrova said.
At the same time, rural residents are not worried about the fact that a message may be misrepresented. One respondent said: ‘Who needs the truth? You know that our nation is very sick today… everyone has hypertension. And the TV is on… Let the ones who need the truth know it – the police, the investigation committee, the prosecutor’s office, and the administration – Not everyone needs the truth’.
This trend is seen not only in rural areas. According to Anna Kachkaeva, Dean of the HSE Faculty of Media Communications, the number of people in cities who are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that information in the media may be untruthful has also been growing recently.
According to a Public Opinion Foundation survey published in March 2014, 54% of Russians believe that there are certain topics where it is permissible to misrepresent information for the sake of state interests, and 72% believe that it is permissible to conceal information when reporting on certain problems when state interests are concerned.