MEDIA WATCH: Media slays Russian government in Kursk coverage

With the announcement on August 14 of the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, Russian government officials were forced to face a situation unheard of in Soviet times as a vocal press and public lambasted the government.

With the announcement on August 14 of the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, Russian government officials were forced to face a situation unheard of in Soviet times as a vocal press and public lambasted the government.

With the announcement on August 14 of the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, Russian government officials were forced to face a situation unheard of in Soviet times as a vocal press and public lambasted the government.

Detaching itself from the human side of the crisis, the US media took aim at the broad implications that the crisis will have for the Russian state - and, by extension, for US business and political interests in Russia.

CARMA found that the media focused on the implications of this crisis for Vladimir Putin's presidency. Many journalists noted the sharp criticism Putin has incurred from the Russian public due to the lack of information given by his administration about the status of the rescue attempt. 'The silence from President Putin was deafening,' said ABC News correspondent Hilary Brown (August 19). As contradictory accounts of the cause of the sinking were made public, many speculated as to what other misinformation the government was conveying to the press.

Analysts attributed the crisis to the issue of underfunding for the entire Russian military. The media reported that Russian navy ships, currently operating on a mere fraction of the Cold War-era defense budget, are in disrepair and that the military badly needs training and money. George W. Bush's foreign policy advisor, Condoleeza Rice, spoke of this potential cause behind the tragedy, and was questioned on how this might compare with her candidate's stance on funding the US military. 'We can see that aircraft are flying without sufficient fuel. Clearly, there are not the resources there to fund the military,' she said (CNBC, August 22).

The inadequacy of the military led many to ask why the Russians felt they had the capabilities to rescue the submariners, instead of asking for outside help. The media most often attributed the isolationist stance to Cold War-style secrecy and Soviet pride. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stated in an editorial (August 23), 'The Soviet mentality still exists and dictates that loss of human life is more tolerable than admitting to any weakness in military preparedness.' Regardless of the military's contention that international help was denied to reduce bureaucracy, a number of articles highlighted the beliefs of Russians that their military should have accepted any available help.

Critics accused the navy of waiting too long to respond, stating that any hope of survival was lost because of the disorganized government.

Putin's assurances that the government had been working around the clock to save the sailors were noted in a much smaller number of articles.

And some reports used the crisis as an example of the new kind of nuclear threat faced from the former Soviet republics. Environmentalists and analysts described the lack of funding and organization the government has over nuclear weapons and waste, and the potential for contamination.

It is no surprise that the American media writing for its US audience focused on the international implications of the crisis. As the Russian state adapts to a liberal press, the government must learn to develop the capabilities to communicate openly about the concerns of both its people and the global media.

- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com



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