Breaking the News: The Role of Authoritarian State-Run Media

January 28, 2014
04:00 pm - 05:30 pm

Sponsored by The International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy and The George Washington University’s Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies.

About the Event

Despite the rapid rise of the Internet and social media, governments in places as diverse as China, Russia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Iran are finding stubbornly effective ways to use state-run media to help themselves stay in power.

They are achieving this feat through a combination of selective censorship of political expression and the use of state media to influence crucial audiences.

Authoritarian rulers know that they need state-controlled media to survive; therefore real liberalization of such media is unlikely. The state’s grip on the media, once tightened, cannot readily be loosened without opening the floodgates and endangering the regime itself. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last top official of the USSR, discovered this with his policy of glasnost.

Today, authoritarian governments are willfully depriving hundreds of millions of people of authentically plural and independent information and analysis, with profound implications for these countries’ ability to reform and prosper.

The event, which featured experts on China, Russia, and Iran, was organized around the ideas in the January 2014 Journal of Democracy article, “Breaking the News: The Role of State-Run Media,” written by panelists Christopher Walker and Robert Orttung.

featuring introductory remarks by

panelists include: 

moderated by Marc F. Plattner, Founding Co-editor of the Journal of Democracy

Read the January 2014 Journal of Democracy article, “Breaking the News: The Role of State-Run Media.” 

Read the op-ed “Authoritarian Regimes Re-Tool Their Media Control Strategies” by Christopher Walker and Robert Orttung published in the Washington Post on January 10, 2014.


About the speakers

Anne-Marie Brady is an associate professor of political science at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. A fluent Mandarin speaker, she specializes not only on China but also on the politics of the polar regions. She is editor-in-chief of The Polar Journal, and has written eight books and multiple scholarly articles on topics ranging from China’s modern propaganda system, and foreigner-management in China to competing foreign policy interests in Antarctica. Her latest monograph examines China’s polar policies, which is also the topic of her research fellowship at the Wilson Center. Her book Marketing Dictatorship (2009) and her edited volume China’s Thought Management (2011) discuss the ways in which propaganda and “thought work” are a key means for maintaining the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy and its continued hold on power.

Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent in RFE/RL’s Central Newsroom and editor of the award-winning Persian Letters blog. She previously worked as the Chief Editor of RFE/RL’s Persian service, Radio Farda. She is the author of the Iran chapter of Freedom House’s 2012 “Countries at the Crossroads” report. Ms. Esfandiari has reported from a number of countries including Haiti and Afghanistan, where she covered the country’s first parliamentary elections. Her reporting and analysis on Iran has been cited by The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, The Los Angeles Times, and The Weekly Standard. Ms. Esfandiari (@GEsfandiari) was tagged two years in a row in Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Twitterati list.

Sarah Oates is a scholar in the field of political communications and democratization. A major theme in her work is the way in which the traditional media and the Internet can support or subvert democracy. She has published widely on these topics, including a recent book that compares election coverage in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Russia (Terrorism, Elections, and Democracy: Political Campaigns in the United States, Great Britain, and Russia with Lynda Lee Kaid and Mike Berry, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010). She is the author of a forthcoming book in the Oxford University Press Digital Politics series (Revolution Stalled: The Political Limits of the Internet in the Post-Soviet Sphere). As the founder of the Google Forum to bring together academics with Google U.K., she currently serves as an expert for the European Commission’s Digital Futures project.

Robert Orttung is an associate research professor of international affairs and the assistant director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He is also a visiting scholar at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. Professor Orttung is a co-editor of the Russian Analytical Digest and the Caucasus Analytical Digest, bi-weekly electronic newsletters that examine political and economic developments in their respective regions. Previously he worked at the Jefferson Institute, American University’s Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, the EastWest Institute, and the Open Media Research Institute. Professor Orttung is also a member of the International Forum for Democratic Studies Research Council.

Marc F. Plattner is founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy, vice-president for research and studies at the National Endowment for Democracy, and co-chair of the Research Council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies. He is the author of Democracy without Borders? Global Challenges to Liberal Democracy and Rousseau’s State of Nature, and co-editor of more than twenty books on contemporary issues relating to democracy in the Journal of Democracy book series.

Peter Rollberg, director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at The George Washington University, is also professor of Slavic languages, film studies, and international affairs and director of the graduate program in European and Eurasian studies. Born in the former East Germany, he studies the history of Russian and Soviet culture, with a focus on literature and film. His latest publication is The A to Z of Russian and Soviet Cinema (2010). Rollberg won the Bender Teaching Prize in 1999 and the Trachtenberg Teaching Award in 2001.

Christopher Walker is executive director of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies. Prior to joining NED in 2012, Mr. Walker was vice president for strategy and analysis at Freedom House, where he helped oversee a team of analysts in devising overall strategy for Freedom House’s analytical projects on democratic development and media freedom. He has been published in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Journal of Democracy, and a range of other publications.