Mark H. Teeter: “Whaddaya know — an upbeat story on Moscow news media!”

Satellite Dishes

Subject: Whaddaya know — an upbeat story on Moscow news media!
Date: Mon, 8 Apr 2019
From: Mark H. Teeter <>

by Mark H. Teeter, Moscow TV Tonite
Mark H. Teeter, a former opinion page editor and media columnist for The Moscow Times and The Moscow News, is the editor of Moscow TV Tonite on Facebook.
[Also here:]

(Moscow, April 7). The accepted wisdom among high-dome media analysts here is that Muscovites who check on-the-hour radio news either
(1) tune in Ekho Moskvy or Kommersant FM for actual news, in larger and smaller doses respectively, plus commentary from sources who are relevant and informed or ought to be; or
(2) get an earful of untruths, half-truths and/or misrepresentations of the news from just about everywhere else on the dial, along with pseudo-commentary from various professional spokesliars (presidential, ministerial, other-institutional) or professional dimbulbs (the State Duma, selected idiots-on-the-street, somebody’s cousin Vanya).

Whether or not you accept this accepted wisdom, there’s an interesting recent development you should note: an intriguing Third Way that you may have missed – as I did until recently – has opened up here in the New Muscovy ether for listeners keen on locally-sourced radio news coverage. Its creators have given their project’s genre the high-falutin name avtorskie novosti – auteur news, a parallel to avtorskoe kino (auteur cinema) – but by the sense of it you might call an actual broadcast in the genre The News from Somebody Noteworthy Who Doesn’t Do Radio News for a Living and Might Offer an Interesting Take on Today’s Edition of It. Auteur news is the brainchild of the modest-sized NSN news service (Natsionalnaya Sluzhba Novostei), which describes the project, as I discovered on its website, in alluring terms:

“‘Auteur News from NSN’ is a radio program broadcast simultaneously by three stations (NASHE Radio, Rock FM, Radio JAZZ) with a daily audience of 1.5 million people in Moscow and four million in Russia. The host-presenters of Auteur News are well known to listeners, as they are among the most famous people in the country. Currently 200 contributors are participating in the project.”

That thumbnail should pique the interest of listeners numbed by both Ekho’s necessary-but-wearisome good accounts of bad news and by the embarrassing agitprop elsewhere on the dial (“Today President Vladimir Putin signed another new law to make life better and happier”). That said, question No. 1 in potential listeners’ minds is likely to be “Wait, just who are the Auteur 200?” And they’re right to ask. Nikita Mikhalkov is certainly a famous person, for example, but many people would feel more confident getting their news and commentary from a bag of doorknobs.

But let’s start with the glass half-full – a brief retelling of how I came across Auteur News.

The wife and I often put on Radio JAZZ [1] quietly as background music to dinner – when grandson, who hates jazz, isn’t joining us – and we were listening to it with one ear, as usual, when the news came on at 8:00 p.m. one recent evening. Imagine my surprise when a measured female voice from the seemingly politics-free JAZZ station launched into a four-point litany of items-plus-commentary that seemed like something you’d call Real News with Real Attitude:

(1) The Ministry of Finance, JAZZ told us, has “refused to provide the Russian Academy of Sciences funding for international scholarly/scientific cooperation,” which will result in Russia “finding itself in the backwaters of science again, the fruits of which we already know from the Soviet period” – and a repeat of that would be, the voice continued, a “very sad” prospect.

Hmm! My one-ear listening quickly ratcheted up to 1.5.

(2) The JAZZ news then continued on a more upbeat note: “Kirill Serebrennikov’s ballet ‘Nureyev’ was named Ballet of the Year by the jury of the professional music award BraVo,” with the presentation taking place at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

This wouldn’t seem a particularly newsworthy story for a number two item; the ballet has won a sizable basket of international awards since its premiere in 2017. Ah, but when one recalls the scandals that surrounded the production here, including the arrest of the director, and the general public attitude toward things artistic that are identified with “non-traditional orientations”….

But the announcement of the award was not the end of the item, as the presenter continued: “I had the good fortune to see the ballet ‘Nureyev.’ It really is a wonderful ballet, striking from many points of view. And considering that Kirill Serebrennikov, in fact, staged the ballet by long distance, so to speak, then the result is little short of a miracle. It is sad that our national know-how is linked to creative events in ways that are not positive. But I would like to congratulate Serebrennikov on this well-deserved award. May he have the strength to overcome all his trials.”

Wow, just wow. It dawns on me that what I’m hearing is not only not The News in Putinese, it’s news-plus-opinion that would together make many Putinistas angry, hostile or both. Are black sedans and a police van heading toward Radio JAZZ as we speak, I’m beginning to wonder…

(3) Next JAZZ informed us that an ominous institution called the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia – which is even more ominous in Russian as the Federalnaya Sluzhba Ispolneniya Nakazanii (literally the Federal Service for the Enforcement of Punishments) – anyway, this creepy-sounding organization now “wants to oblige its employees to apologize to prisoners in cases where their rights and freedoms have been violated.” As in what, one wonders – “Sorry for the rubber hoses and the knuckle sandwich there, Petrov, we didn’t mean to, y’know, violate your rights ‘n’ freedoms and stuff.” As absurd as that sounds to me, it sounded even worse to the JAZZ news commentator:

“‘That’s some kind of Kafkaesque reality, there! We will torture people but then apologize. I don’t really understand how one is related to the other. And in general, lately I’ve been seeing various features of the old Utopian Soviet consciousness in a great number of legislative acts. You get the feeling that lawmakers don’t understand what is happening in reality at all and create an attractive little decoy of it for themselves, to placate their consciences. As in Go right ahead, citizens, demand an apology from your jailers for beating and torturing you.”

Kafka and sarcasm are surely justified in passing along this news item, I agree, but it’s still hard to believe one’s ears. At this point I am experiencing a flashback-impulse to close the kitchen door and huddle around the radio so the neighbors don’t hear us listening to, y’know, illegal “foreign voices”!

(4) The final item that JAZZ news offered for evening listeners to ponder asked a question about as philosophical as a news broadcast gets: How happy are you? First the context:

“Finland has become the happiest country in the world,” JAZZ tells us in its coverage of the annual World Happiness Report. “This ranking of global happiness takes into account the level of GDP per capita, life expectancy, charitable contributions, social support, the level of freedom and the level of corruption in terms of their impact on residents ‘vital decisions.'”

Well, Ms. JAZZ news gives the neighboring Finns plenty of credit.

“Frankly speaking, I am ready to agree right off with this award, because in Finland they do a huge number of social projects. This, in general, represents an attempt by the people to be at the center of their culture. For example, if a festival takes place in a large city in this country, the residents of the surrounding villages are brought there free of charge by bus, so that they can take part in the culture. I won’t even mention many other important laws related to social status, support for the population, and so on. In sum, we should follow the path of Finland, and not, say, North Korea.”

The last time I heard a Russian newsreader say “Let’s not be North Korea” was, let’s see here, carry the two, ah, that’s right: never. Which is why I almost lost a mouthful of after-dinner decaf doing a Danny Thomas spit-take over the kitchen table as the news ended. A little went up my nose, but it was still worth it.

After the shock wore off, a little laptop skating yielded some background on the host-commentator of that evening’s Auteur News: “Irina Prokhorova, editor-in-chief of the publishing house New Literary Review, specially prepared the top news stories of the day, in her opinion, for NSN.” [2] All I could say was Nice job, Irina, and here’s hoping you get another turn at Auteur News before unpleasant men in ill-fitting suits are sent to chat with you at your place of work.

A further bit of websurfing still did not yield what I wanted most – a list of the Auteur 200 and a schedule of their appearances for, say, the upcoming month – but did cede a bit more background: a second, more recently updated NSN site revealed that “The [Auteur News] project has existed for nearly five years, and over 200 presenters who need no introduction have taken part: politicians, actors, athletes, musicians and writers have contributed, among them [politician] Vladimir Zhirinovsky, [politican-TV commentator] Pyotr Tolstoy, [soccer star] Ruslan Nigmatullin, [actor] Sergey Bezrukov, [pop/rock musician-activist] Andrei Makarevich, writer Sergey Lukyanenko and other nationally famous people.”

Aha, this is clearly a very hit-and-miss kind of thing, I could tell. One can imagine setting a long jump record with a sudden vault across the kitchen to turn the radio off before “Auteur News with Vladimir Zhirinovsky” (or Pyotr Tolstoy) starts abusing your eardrums – but if such leaps of faith are what it takes to get the likes of Makarevich [3], long de facto banned from state-controlled media as an “enemy of the people,” back in the public arena, then maybe it’s worth it, I figured. Yes, perhaps sharing the airwaves with the loud and confused is not too great a price to pay for getting a great unheard voice of reason heard again.

And that, it has long been assumed here, is the same devil’s bargain by which the majority Gazprom-owned Ekho Moskvy stays on the air: lowbrow types and state shills get air time so that real news and sane views can get to millions who would otherwise have to scan the dial for Foreign Voices – or, more likely, give up the dial altogether and simply glue their eyes and ears to social media. Which doesn’t sound so bad at first blush, until one recalls that social media were instrumental in blessing our brave new millennium with President Donald Trump – who has in turn introduced us to a new and apparently effective form of zombie-generating, masses-manipulating monologue that substitutes for press releases, news conferences and indeed governance itself: the Auteur Tweet. Yikes.

In any case, I was still bothered by one thing: how a longtime listener to Radio JAZZ could have remained blissfully unaware of Auteur News for the first five years of its existence. Were the presenters less outspoken before? Or did my long-suffering ears simply click automatically onto OFF for any radio news that happened to reach them from a station other than Ekho or Kommersant? Possibly both, but one more net search yielded a more likely answer.

This time I turned up NSN’s original announcement of Auteur News, dated November 7, 2012, which noted that the program would air only on weekdays, and only twice daily – at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. If you were merely a one-ear listener and your dinner usually ended before eight, it obviously took a bracing shot of Irina Prokhorova to get your attention.

This last search also produced a much better picture of the fabled Auteur 200, as the original announcement named names bigtime – indeed, almost all of them, as the list ran to some 178 people (if my finger-count was correct). And the Big Picture spectrum is a broad one: there are plenty of choser-presenters whom an educated listener would definitely like to hear an earful from: beyond Makarevich the list includes director Serebrennikov himself, historian-journalist Nikoai Svanidze, progressive politician Irina Khakamada, saxophone legend Igor Butman, political scientist Nikolai Zlobin, filmmaker Aleksei Uchitel, theater director Konstantin Raikin, satirist Mikhail Kononenko, producer-composer Stas Namin, election commissioner Ella Pamfilova and a bunch more.

That said, there are just as many – probably more, actually – who would make the same listener wish he had taken that highschool long jump practice more seriously. Beyond Zhirinovsky and Tolstoy, you find motorcycle gang leader “Khirurg,” the “pranksters” Vovan and Leksus, dim Duma stalwarts such as…but why list the losers here, have a look for yourself. [4] And relax: while there are definitely some wildcard types – including several rock musicians who use a single name (ask your grandson) – you won’t find Director Doorknobs on the list. At least not yet.

Which is a reminder that while Auteur News is a real find, without an updated contributor list and a schedule for it you’ll need to be wary. Irina Prokhorova was a great way to start, but the next presenter you hear might well focus on the adventures of Putinista bikers running amok in Crimea. Prepare to leap.



[featured image is file photo, not directly related to article subject matter]