An offhand remark made by Ksenia Sobchak, the socialite daughter of assassinated St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, has led led to the cancellation of the NTV television program “NTVshniki.” Not one episode – the entire program.
The influential pop diva, who has a background in international relations and political science, commented on a chance encounter with a member of the Kremlin government’s youth division at a posh restaurant, suggesting the Putin associate, Vasily Yakemenko, was not of such modest means as he had let on.
Ksenia Sobchak posted a video of her meeting with Yakemenko on her blog, which she followed with Twitter comments. One Twitter comment by Sobchak that she “recommended the oyster” – a 500 ruble or more than $15 a mussel dish – prompted a flurry of jokes on the social media site, once again showing the power of new media to threaten the elites.
The cancellation of the show NTVshniki, and the abrupt ending of another program critical of the establishment that same week, shows the perceived vulnerability the government currently feels. New media is placing pressure on governments to hide their corruption, which is difficult to do in a mafiacracy like Russia. Though public opinion has not greatly damaged the regime yet, such uncharacteristically odd events as Putin getting booed at a Thanksgiving address to a mixed martial arts audience shows that state authority may be slightly more fragile than is commonly perceived.
More broadly, the regulation of the culture by the state is immensely important to maintaining the perception of legitimate authority, and therefore, control. The Russian government closely monitors news and entertainment media, and cracks down swiftly when it feels threatened. The mysterious disappearances and murders of journalists and activists both suggest to the masses the brutality of the state and to analysts, the regime’s vulnerability.
Americans should take lessons from other states abroad and adapt them to analyzing our own situation. Though censorship is not being officially implemented by the U.S. government, the doctrine of political correctness has been used to silence the left’s critics and opponents.
It should be noted the arbitrary nature of such implied speech codes; never are big government leftists silenced with contrived outrages against perpetual victims’ feelings, but it is always the advocates of media and civil freedoms who are censored for chance utterances of purported racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual stereotypes. Leftists are always given carte blanche to say or do whatever they want; only conservatives are demanded to police their own speech and thoughts.