Ten years after the collapse of Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe the purported successfully completed consolidation of democracy is still very much in question in most of the countries of the region. Nevertheless, from the very beginning of the transitional processes, their leaders resolutely declared that the ultimate goal of the change of regime is to build democracy of the Western kind. In a democratic transition context, the key issue in the establishment of a new type of government is the speed and strength of the institutionalisation process. If democratic institutions are established more quickly, there seems to be a greater chance that some form of democracy will ensue. What role does the institution of mass media play in this process? The relationship between communication and democracy is such that freedom of public enlightenment has become a maxim of democratic theory. If there is to be effective participation of citizens in the decision making process it seems obvious that the public must have access to facts and interpretations upon which to base policy judgements.
In Schumpeter’s theory, which views the democratic process as a competitive struggle for the people’s votes between organised sides, the responsible use of the communication media would appear to be essential if there is to be “free competition for a free vote”. 2 Lasswell called this the “public intelligence function” of the mass media, and he has suggested that the “success of democracy depends in part upon whether the mass media do in fact reach public attention with the news and comment called for by democratic theory”. 3 The close connection between freedom of communication and democratic theory presupposes that an independent and responsible media should be utilised as a forum for democratic thought and a mechanism for the transfer of democratic ideals. And if it does not necessary follow that implementing democratic press reforms will lead to a democratic form of government, it has seemed to be helpful. 4 In the same way the mass media have been studied as facilitator of democracy, and the role of the mass media in the transitions from authoritarian regimes is important to consider.
This article is focused on the independent mass media in the process of finding a place in Polish and Russian society during their transition from the non-democratic rule. These countries are selected as the cases of study for several reasons. The location of these two states, their legacy of Communist rule and their common starting point in democratic transition make the regional comparison possible. Moreover, the mass media institutions in these countries have faced a similar set of problems which are precisely defined by Rogerson: “First, they will confront the economic problems stemming from the path taken toward a freer market economy. Second, they will have to deal with the pluralisation and fragmentation that is taking place within their own structure and within society itself. Third, they will need to recognise the democratic ideals about communication which conflict with those they have become accustomed to over the past decades”. 5
Based on McQuail’s 6 categorisation of the communication theories, Klapper proposed some generalisations about the effects of mass communication on social change. 7 According to him, mass communication functions with other factors and influences, which use mass communication in the process of change, but there are always situations in which mass communication will produce direct effects. One of the characteristics of mass communications and social change is that they play an extremely important role as one of the powerful agenda of the political socialisation process in the transitional period. 8 The media inform people about political reality, provide them with new terms and issues, focus their attention on certain personalities and events, and also activate and reinforce latent political attitudes, give political leaders large audiences as well as let individuals know what other people think, forming the public opinion.
This multiplicity of the media’s roles and its great importance in the democratisation process lead us to the conception of the Fourth Estate, very popular in the beginning of the transition in both Poland and Russia, which has foreseen the extent of media independence. It was not discussed whether the media have power or how it works, but who should have access to the use of this power. Generally this means asking questions about ownership and other forms of control, whether political, legal or economic. 9 After the collapse of the Communist regime, the mass media in both countries had their chance to acquire real independence and assert their own power. However, the inner logic of economic and political transition led to conflict between the hard reality and the media’s desire to succeed and survive, being uncontrolled.
The principle goal of the present work is to study the strategy chosen by the independent media under strong pressure of political circumstances. As an example of such circumstances a political event, significant for each country and comparable to the neighbouring country was chosen: the case of the second presidential elections – namely, the 1995 elections in Poland, won by Aleksander Kwasniewski over Lech Walesa; and the 1996 elections in Russia, won by Boris Yeltsin over Gennady Zyuganov. In both cases electoral campaigns were related by the controversy between the two main candidates, representing so-called “Democratic” and “post-Communist” forces of the country. Each of the campaigns promised to reflect this mutual antagonism and offer an additional basis for comparison.
In order to compare the media coverage of the campaign in each country the study is limited to the mainstream, elite mass media – so-called “independent press” (independent newspapers). It is hoped that by comparing the handling of the campaign by one nation-wide independent daily newspaper from each country something of value might be learned about the function of the press in the total political process. Unlike the electronic media (which are equally important, especially because of their wide exposure and the immediacy of their coverage), print media such as newspapers and magazines play a very significant role in the opinion making processes, because of the differences of format and dynamics between the electronic and the print media or press, and the durability and accessibility of the written word.
For the purposes of the study Polish Gazeta Wyborcza (“Election Newspaper”) and Russian Niezavisimaya Gazeta (“Independent Newspaper”) have been chosen. Did the strategy used by the newspapers during the presidential campaign fit these declarations of independence? Did Gazeta Wyborcza and Nezavisimaya Gazeta create the same picture in their coverage of the presidential campaigns in their countries? To answer these questions the two main objectives of the work are stated, taking into account the specifics of the political situation in both countries: (1) To describe and analyse the level of engagement of the press in the electoral campaign; (2) To describe and analyse the manner in which the press presented campaign news. These objectives are pursued by applying quantitative content analysis and qualitative textual analysis techniques to a sample of two newspapers under study for the two-week period preceding the second round of the presidential elections in Poland (1995 November 5 – November 19) and Russia (1996 June 16 – July 3).
The radical transformation that occurred in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 produced great changes in the mass media system. However, just before analysing the transition period, it is necessary to characterise the general situation in the mass media in both countries before the radical breakdown of the Soviet regime. As described by Siebert, 10 the communication system, like every other system and institution in a Communist state, existed only for what it was specifically assigned to do by the leaders of the state. As such, the Soviet press had to educate the masses about Communist doctrine, explain the policies of the party, mobilise the people to build Communism, develop bold and consistent criticism and self-criticism and seek the enemies of the state.
In addition, the Soviet media were economically dependent on the state: there was virtually no business side: no publisher, no circulation or advertising departments. Individual editors had little knowledge and no need to know about prices or profits. Throughout the Soviet bloc, there was a strict division of labour in the publishing sector. The job of finding ink and paper, printers and distributions, was done by giant media monopolies run by the Communist state (RSW Prasa-Ksiazka-Ruch in Poland and Soyuzpyechat’ in Soviet Union). Finally, to ensure that individual journalists and the press in general fulfilled their prescribed function, there was a pervasive censorship network that made sure that the channels of communication are free of inappropriate information. 11
Paradoxically, the history of the media system in Communist countries shows that in any society there is a natural demand for uncontrolled and uncensored information. 12 The still somewhat narrow use of the state media forced people to search for the credibility of unofficial sources of information, which was called, following the Soviet tradition, samizdat (self-published materials). Nevertheless, it has to be taken into account that within Soviet Bloc conditions for the existence of the samizdat differed from country to country. A significant exception was presented by Poland, with its tradition of the underground press which was prolonged somehow from the times of anti-Nazi resistance. Uncontrolled publications took an unprecedented mass scale there from the mid-seventies. 13 More than 1,400 underground magazines and newspapers were published, and about half of the titles appeared regularly with a circulation of hundreds of issues. 14
These publications were only a part, but the most important part, of a general self-defence of society against the authoritarian state, which the state understood well: most of those interned during martial law in 1981 were not union or political activists, but those responsible for writing, printing and distributing opposition press. 15 Nevertheless even in the 1980s several hundred underground newspapers were still publishing and had many thousands of readers. 16
By contrast, in the Soviet Union there was almost no strong political opposition or independent trade-unionist movements. Several samizdat periodicals existed, but the most active and well-organised of them were run by religious or national groups. 17 In general, political opposition did not influence the public opinion via the underground press within the country – much of what the people knew in diverse areas of Soviet life came to them mostly by word-of-mouth. 18 Another specific aspect of the Soviet situation was the traditional superiority of the Writer over the Journalist. The Russian people found that the literary form of the written word was an effective tool for the circulation of “truthful” information – for instance, many “closed” episodes of the country’s history were presented by authors banned by the authorities, such as Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Roy Medvedev. 19
The possibility for developing an uncensored mass press appeared in Soviet Union in the mid-eighties along with the perestroika political campaign, part of which was the so-called glasnost’. Free but controlled press and television were the only allies of Mikhail Gorbachov in his struggle with the “conservative forces” in the Party apparatus. Although glasnost’ allowed for criticism within strictly defined limits, it acted as a form of collective therapy and was followed by a politicising of the masses.
In both Poland and Russia the collapse of the old political regime led to the legal abolition of governmental control of the media and strict adherence to the Communist ideology. In Poland issues on freedom of speech were initiated by discussions during the Round Table talks which took place in Warsaw in 1989. 20 In Russia the process of radical media transformation started in early 1990 when the idea of what Gorbachev had termed “socialist pluralism” finally gave way to the widespread expression of openly anti-Communist views in the press. 21 Such a situation was soon legalised by the Soviet parliament with The Law of the Press and the Other Mass Media, and its successor, the Russian media law of 1992, was very similar in its broad outlines. 22
As a result of legal processes, the procedure for licensing newspapers was replaced by a simple system of registration. For the daily press in both countries began the short, but very intense period of “foundation”: most of the official newspapers moved from their “founders” – the Communist party and state institutions – to new owners (often the staff of the editorial board or different journalist’s co-operatives). At the same time, new periodicals appeared. The advantages of the new media market were obvious, particularly in the printed press: diversification of the media voices, multiplicity and plurality of purposes, views and opinions.
In many cases the event-oriented Anglo-American journalistic model resisted the old legacy of intellectual journalism which had a long tradition in that region of Europe. Many readers expected a more reflective type of journalism based on common values, objective and non-partisan. As a result, in the early period of transition the press started to play the role of the “Fourth estate”, acquiring enormous social authority. At the same time, many readers gradually became tired and disappointed with politics in the media and turned to entertainment: this coincided with significant changes in the press market with the appearance of new types of publications, such as erotic and sensational magazines, shoppers and advertisement bulletins, pop music papers and fan magazines, to name a few.
The transformation of the media also revealed plenty of problems which had to be solved: organisational, technical and juridical. The most serious were the economic obstacles that plagued the print media along with the trend toward a more liberal free market economy. The free media discovered that independence came with a heavy price – as the country’s economy changed, the national product dropped, signalling a similar drop in business among periodicals. From an economic standpoint, the main problem for many periodicals (perhaps except for advertising bulletins or the new breed of tabloids) at that time was very simple: how to survive.
In Russia the larger “old” nation-wide newspapers such as Izvestiya or Komsomolskaya Pravda were supported by the state, along with a special decree signed by Boris Yeltsin in February 1992. However if the newspaper wanted to stay on the market and had no support from the government or any political institution (as it was, for instance, in the case of former party publications Pravda and Sovetskaya Rossiya which gained help from the renewed Communist organisation), it had to fall into private hands. As a result, the “Russian media model” concerned the building and the development of powerful private media monopolies as the only way to improve the economic situation within the Russian media industry.
In Poland the initial period of the media transformation was characterised by large newspapers being rescued by foreign investment: the majority of the daily press was financed by Italian, French and German concerns. 23 It has to be noted that the international factor was quite important at the initial stage of the transformation of the Polish media system. In many cases, Western capital and expertise have helped the media to become more professional – particularly in the areas of marketing, advertising, financial accountability and technology.
Another set of problems related to the transformation of the media in Poland and Russia concerns the complicated issue of the relationship between the press and political power. In both countries, when the transition started, a strong government enjoying wide popular support came to power under democratic and anti-Communist slogans. It faced no serious opposition and when the critical voices started to appear, state power “demonstrated relapses into the Communist mentality, undertaking numerous efforts to control the mass media”. 24 The first crisis of this kind took place in Poland when Jan Olszewski, elected Prime Minister, started in December 1991 a campaign against the media: it was blamed for lying about the economic situation and hiding the gloomy reality from readers and viewers, exhibiting bias against the government. State authorities tried unsuccesfully to regain command over several former government papers including the major one, Rzeczpospolita. 25
A serious threat to media independence in both countries appeared in situations crucial for the consolidation of the emerging democracy, and media owners had to support one of the political forces just to defend liberal values from danger. Most scholars claim that the first step toward freedom of speech in Russia took place in 1993, during the conflict between the President and the legislature. At that time, most of the so-called “democratic media” silently supported Yeltsin in his conflict with the rebellious parliament and avoided objective analysis of the situation. 26
The next phase of the Russian media transformation started with the presidential elections of 1996, when all media authority was used for just a single purpose – namely, the re-election of the current President, Boris Yeltsin. Even formally independent from government, the media were involved in Yeltsin’s campaign: as it was revealed later, a group of so-called “oligarchs”, including among others the financial magnates Gusinsky, Chodorovsky, Potanin and Berezowsky, decided to use all the media controlled by them to stop the Communists on the road to power. 27 This mechanism of economic pressure on the media with political purpose led some scholars to the conclusion of the Russian media transformation “from the ideological to the economic dependence from the political power”. 28
The example of the 1996 Russian elections shows that the fusion of interests between economic and political powers results in the loss of media independence. However, even in a stable democracy journalists are constantly under pressure from different interest groups that control printing presses, advertising revenues, and sponsorship money, and each publication can become the mouthpiece of a particular political party or a faction, either due to economic reasons or the personal leanings of the editor. In spite of this situation, both in Poland and Russia there were nation-wide newspapers which consciously proclaimed their independence from any political force. This independent press was somehow excluded from the situation described above: in the initial phase of the media transformation it presented a particular phenomenon in both countries. Let us look now at the foundation and development of the most experienced independent publications in the two countries: Polish “Gazeta Wyborcza” and Russian “Niezavisimaya Gazeta”.
Comparing the foundation and growing of Gazeta Wyborcza and Nezavisimaya Gazeta one can find a number of significant similarities between them. Both newspapers appeared as the first alternative to the old Communist press, anticipating the major changes in the national media systems. Gazeta Wyborcza was the first child of the Polish democratic transition – permission to start the nation-wide legal opposition newspaper came from the 1989 Round Table agreement between the Communist Party and the Solidarity union.
The paper’s aim was to promote Solidarity candidates in the upcoming election (that is why it was called Wyborcza, meaning “electoral”). The newspaper’s front page proudly carried Solidarity’s logo and a slogan that proclaimed “There Is No Freedom Without Solidarity”. 29 Solidarity leader Lech Walesa nominated one of his advisers, the well-known charismatic dissident and one of the most known figures among Polish independent intellectuals, Adam Michnik, to be editor-in-chief. Almost all of the staff of the newspaper came from the underground press – namely, from the very popular Tygodnik Mazowsze.
The establishing of Nezavisimaya Gazeta was an unprecedented experiment of publishing a genuinely independent newspaper. Its first editor-in-chief, Vitalii Tretiakov, came to independent journalism from the old Soviet media system. At the end of 1990 Tretiakov found among Moscow intellectuals 83 shareholders who paid 1,000 roubles each and acquired the permission of the Moscow City Council to publish the newspaper. The majority of members of editorial board were relative newcomers to the profession, practically unknown as journalists, most of them from little provincial periodicals.
Another common point is the special position of the editors-in-chief in both newspapers in this period; without them it is impossible to imagine the very existence of the newspapers 30 . Both Adam Michnik and Vitalii Tretiakov not only managed their editorial boards but also actively participated in public life, presenting in editorial articles their own views and opinions. Adam Michnik published his editorials following each significant event inside and outside the country, sometimes puffing himself up into the position of a moralist or a prophet. However, in spite of the fact that in his articles the word “me” (Adam Michnik) is quite often mixed with “we” (newspaper), his voice is always placed within the newspaper’s general context, which is based on tolerance and a high-minded devotion to the ideals of democracy and free speech.
Vitalii Tretiakov, in his editorials, from the very beginning propagated the priority of “qualitative” elitist journalism over commercial. McQuail sees the source of the contemporary idea of the qualitative press in the elitist press of the nineteenth century with its ideals of formal independence from the state (and other structures with their own specific aims), and with high sense of social and ethical responsibility. 31 Tretiakov, following this professional tradition, formulated four principle aims of the newspaper in his editorial in the first issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta – (1) Complete information about the events; (2) Freedom of comments and presentation of all possible points of view; (3) “No” to the editorials with one and only one opinion; (4) Genuine independence: “Independence just from the official political power is not a real independence – it is only opposition”. 32 On the front page of the periodical was placed a Latin motto Sine Ira Et Studio (“Without Wrath and Predilection”).
Both editors-in-chief defined the role of their newspapers in almost the same words – Adam Michnik: “It is duty of Gazeta Wyborcza to write the truth – but all the truth” 33 and Vitalii Tretiakov: “A newspaper could not aspire to the presentation of only one truth”. 34 According to this, both newspapers tend to be the qualified informer of the audience without any attempt at influencing the public opinion. From the very beginning they openly proclaimed as their main purpose objectivity and lack of prejudice in presenting information, trying to be a non-partisan platform for the particular representatives of subjective points of view, whether they are political parties, state or economic structures or particular persons.
Although established with the goal of supporting the Solidarity union, Gazeta Wyborcza and Michnik himself in the early 1990s escalated criticism of Walesa and his so-called “war on top” against his former colleagues from Solidarity. In response, Lech Walesa tried unsuccessfully to fire the paper’s editor-in-chief, but could only take back the Solidarity logo – surprisingly without hurting the newspaper. 35 In the case of Nezavisimaya Gazeta the openly declared non-partisanship became a significant factor in its success – for instance, the popularity of the newspaper increased significantly after Autumn 1993 when it was one of the few Russian media which retained moderation and political objectivity during the sharp conflict between the President and the rebellious parliament 36 .
At the same time, there are also two significant differences between the newspapers. First of all it is visible in editorial policies. Gazeta Wyborcza tried to keep the balance between “information” and “discussion”: from one side it presented “real life information” using sometimes even a jocular tone; from the other it tried to connect popularity with a serious journalism, remaining the influential arena for the intellectual community of the country. On the contrary, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, whose journalists proposed to the reader a new style, informative and analytic at the same time, 37 has changed significantly since its foundation. According to Zasursky, “From the informative newspaper it became a kind of traditional Russian ‘opinion magazine’ based on the analytical articles of a limited number of journalists and oriented to a very narrow milieu of politicised readers”. 38
Another difference is the history of financial development of both newspapers: using an analogy with Western European newspapers of the same format, it is possible to compare Gazeta Wyborcza and the French Le Monde, with its system of the division of shares, in which the founders of the newspaper and members of staff have the majority. From its early days, “Gazeta Wyborcza” was owned by Agora, a limited liability company established in April 1989 (most of the participants of the co-operative were the employees of the editorial board) 39 . It also acquired some free help from the West: its first business plan was prepared by a management consultant firm from Boston, The New York Review of Books helped with $100,000, and the French Le Mondee provided its old presses. A French consultant also led the technical department of the newspaper during the initial period of its existence. 40 Gazeta Wyborcza expanded its format, conquered the national advertising market and in 1993 the paper found a foreign investor with capital, the American media company Cox Enterprises. As a result, Gazeta Wyborcza remained most influential newspaper in the country – in 1992, 25% of Poles read it. 41
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, on the contrary, followed the destiny of the British The Independent, which bankrupted and was bought by an industrial magnate who saw in the control over the newspaper a source of prestige and influence. From the very beginning the editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta also unified the roles of a political observer and a financial manager. Unfortunately, he was unable to find the necessary investment and throughout the first five years the newspaper had no stable financial basis. On 23 May 1995 Nezavisimaya Gazeta appeared for the last time. Attempts to find capital and establishing a joint-stock company were unsuccessful and Tretyakov himself proposed closing the newspaper. The initiative was taken over by financial magnate Boris Berezovsky, who proposed to Tretiakov financial aid – in fact, the newspaper was added to Berezovsky’s growing media empire. 42 Nevertheless, the bankruptcy of Nezavisimaya Gazeta did not mean defeat for the publication. Quite a good example of the continuity of the newspaper’s independence could be “Misanthropy” – a satirical column written under the pseudonym “Titus Sovetologov” which was the result of the collective work of the whole editorial board, criticising public figures from all parts of the political spectrum. 43
Did the similarities and differences between Gazeta Wyborcza and Nezavisimaya Gazeta create the same picture in their coverage of the presidential campaigns in their countries? Before answering this question let us look at the situation surrounding the presidential elections in both Poland and Russia: the positions and tactics chosen by the main candidates, the situation in the countries before the elections and the run of the electoral campaigns. The presidential elections of 1995 in the Republic of Poland and of 1996 in the Russian Federation were distanced one from another only by about half a year – and there were many common features between these two events.
First of all, it has to be said that in both countries it was the second democratic presidential elections after the collapse of Communism – it is possible to characterise these events as a certain step towards democratic consolidation. The very fact that the presidential elections were accepted as the only legal way of transferring power suggests certain results concerning the democratisation processes there. In both countries an unprecedented voter turnout took place (about 65-70%): the citizens seemed to feel personal responsibility for the outcome of the election, and, subsequently, the future.
The 1996 Russian election was significant also in terms of historical precedence: it was Russia’s first free presidential election as a fully independent state. The elections of 1991 were held in the legal borders of the Soviet Constitution and all candidates were members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. As Anatole Lieven formulated it, one of the positive results of the Russian presidential elections was “...most of all, the fact that the elections are actually taking place”. 44
It has to be underlined also that the economic situation both in Poland and Russia in the middle of the nineties was not satisfactory: market-oriented reforms squeezed money supplies, causing recessions that wiped out people’s savings, created marked economic inequality and worsened unemployment. The majority of people from these countries did not see a lot of improvement in their daily lives – the public was forgetful of the shortcomings of the Communism but had not yet enjoyed the benefits of capitalism. A significant part of the population freely expressed its nostalgia for the “good old days” of socialist order and to the feeling of the stable economic situation lost along with it.
Although in both countries there were numerous groups of people dissatisfied with their economic situation, the Polish economy at that period started to realise the benefits of the reform’s general measures. After years of economic pain, inflation and unemployment steadied and the currency stabilised. Russia, however, has never experienced economic reforms comparable by their intensity with the Polish case. By the end of 1995 it became clear that the macro-economic reforms had failed in pulling the country out of depression. The dollar was virtually the national currency and the IMF and the World Bank credits were a surrogate Federal Reserve.
The political situation before the elections in both countries can be placed in the context of the general phenomenon of “post-Communist stress trauma”. Leftist forces in Poland as well as in Russia went back to politics. The result was that in the middle of the 1990s in both countries “Communism versus anti-Communism” became the central organising concept of the presidential elections. Nevertheless, in Poland it was possible to talk about “post-Communist” forces, moderate and partly reformed in the European social-democratic way. They were oriented rather to the centre than to extreme left and did not reject liberal reforms.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation was neither reformed nor moderate. It was the ideological inheritor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and unified political extremists from both the left and right ends of the political spectrum (although the traditional Western use of “left-right” terminology could hardly be applied to the Russian mass politics). CPRF could be defined as a “still-Communist” party – and its officials on many occasions proclaimed their desire to re-establish the Communist regime.
In both Poland and Russia two rounds of presidential elections took place, but because of the lack of an outright winner, the first round was largely seen as nothing more than a preliminary rating of the candidates’ electoral popularity. In both cases there were two leaders in the electoral race: after the first round each of them had about 30% of popular support. Both in Poland and Russia those candidates were the current Presidents of the country (Lech Walesa in Poland and Boris Yeltsin in Russia) who ran as non-party candidates for the office, choosing a politics of charisma; and the head of the largest opposition party of leftist orientation (Aleksander Kwasniewski and Gennady Zyuganov respectively).
Nevertheless, Walesa, in contrast to Yeltsin, represented a strong democratic and anti-Communist tradition – he came from the Solidarity movement and could appeal, in a critical situation, for the support of all former and current members of the organisation, using their sentiments and collective memory. On the other side, Zyuganov, unlike Kwasniewski, was the candidate from a broader political movement ranging from Marxist revolutionaries and social democrats to far-right militarists and nationalists. It was very hard for Zyuganov to control his own supporters and there were a lot of contradictions inside his People’s Patriotic Bloc.
This sharp political polarisation drawn by the line of “Communism versus anti-Communism”) led to the highly negative character of the electoral campaigns, with enormous use of the symbols of the past. In both countries the Communist candidates were burdened with the experience of authoritarian rule, while democratic Presidents had to fight with the unsuccessful results of their first term in office. The situation was perfectly described by one of the Western advisers to Yeltsin’s campaign in Russia: “...this election will come down to a race between someone people hate and someone they fear”. 45
For the purpose of better understanding of the strategy chosen by each newspaper in coverage of the electoral campaign, it is necessary to present the structure of the newspapers’ content and to compare the ways in which both newspapers presented information to the audience. In both cases the sample was composed of two weeks’ worth of issues, anticipating the day of the second round of elections. The total sample contents were analysed by the number of articles in the sample; distribution of different types of articles (it was found that it was possible to identify four major types: News articles, Report articles, Analytical articles and Interviews); internal division by subject-matter sections; and distribution of the article types within the sections.
Studying the general characteristics of the newspapers, it is possible to conclude that both of them presented a strategy which can be labelled as “informational-opinion oriented”. This statement can be easily illustrated by the similar balance between different types of article and their distribution within particular parts of the newspaper. However, there was different balance between the use of report articles and analytical articles: 49% to 10% Gazeta Wyborcza and 37% to 18% in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Thus, in Nezavisimaya Gazeta the strategy given above had a special stress on the “opinion” – analytical articles were consisted a significant part of each particular section of the newspaper.
Another point is that the average content of one article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta was significantly larger than in Gazeta Wyborcza. This means that even in such types of articles as news or reports, journalists from Nezavisimaya Gazeta had more possibilities to present analysis or assessment of the event than simply to mention it. In Gazeta Wyborcza the main stress was placed on the use of a significant number of relatively short news and report articles which first of all informed the audience in detail about the event, and only then proposed a possible opinion on it.
Both newspapers had a stable structure formed by six main sections: Country, World, Culture, Opinions, Economy and Sports. At the same time, the editorial policy of Nezavisimaya Gazeta seemed to be oriented mainly to those subjects which could be defined as “humanitarian”: domestic and foreign policy and culture, with the visible domination of the “Country” section. Gazeta Wyborcza, at the same time, also presented abundant and detailed information about such “pragmatic” topics as economic life and sports events. According to distribution of the text content by sections, counted in characters, it is possible to see that in both newspapers, balance moved to the “Opinions” section; and in Gazeta Wyborcza the content of that section by average article was more than in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
Analysing the distribution of the four types of articles within the particular sections of the newspapers, significant differences can be mentioned. First of all, the balance between news and reports is completely different in both newspapers: while in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, in most sections the news articles prevailed, it seems that in Gazeta Wyborcza the reports were the main form of presenting information. At the same time, the percentage of analytical articles in Nezavisimaya Gazeta in many cases was significantly higher than in its counterpart. All of these specific features should be taken into account when analysing a situation such as coverage of a presidential campaign.
In this section the general approach of Gazeta Wyborcza and Nezavisimaya Gazeta to the presidential elections and their level of engagement in the electoral campaigns in their countries will be demonstrated. In order to present this, a special code was constructed on the basis of the word as the main unit of content analysis. Each article in the samples was checked for the presence of a series of indicators which appeared in the code. The materials which contained references to the electoral campaign were separated from the rest of the newspaper’s contents and later were unified in the new sample, labelled as “campaign sample”.
Articles whose contents were linked with the national presidential race comprised a significant part of the entire sample in both newspapers (Gazeta Wyborcza 22.11% and Nezavisimaya Gazeta 34.23%). However, in Nezavisimaya Gazeta such materials comprised about one third of the entire newspaper’s contents, and one could claim that the general level of engagement in the electoral campaign was higher than in Gazeta Wyborcza. Analysing the distribution of the campaign materials among the particular issues in the sample it is not possible to find any significant dependence between the phase of the campaign and the amount of material about it in particular issues. The campaign contents for one issue varied day to day, from relatively low (about 10%) to quite high (more than 30%).
The period of the highest interest in the topics connected with the election, when the percentage of campaign articles was above 30%, could be easily placed into the context of the development of the campaign in each country. For instance, in the case of Gazeta Wyborcza, the highest percentage of campaign articles was in the days after two television debates between the two major candidates. In my opinion, the mentioned inequalities in the distribution of the campaign coverage by particular issues could suppose a general lack of pre-planned editorial policy for the period of elections. We may suppose that in both Gazeta Wyborcza and Nezavisimaya Gazeta a significant part of the materials about elections appeared spontaneously – when there was an important piece of information within the normal running of the campaign.
In both newspapers the majority of articles covering the electoral campaign belonged to the category of reports (however, in Nezavisimaya Gazeta the number of reports were somehow balanced with news and analytical articles). As could easily be predicted, in both newspapers information about the electoral campaign was concentrated mostly in the sections “Country” and “Opinions”. However, in Nezavisimaya Gazeta a certain amount of campaign material appeared also in the sections “World” and “Economy”, a phenomenon which was absolutely absent in Gazeta Wyborcza. This suggests fact the somehow stronger engagement of the Russian newspaper in the presidential race.
In order to be able to analyse the level of newspaper engagement in the electoral campaign, I found it possible to define three groups of word units presenting different directions in the newspapers’ coverage. The first group was marked as “Election-Vote” (wybory, wybierac, wybrany, wyborczy, glos, glosowac, glosowanie in Polish; and vybory, vybirat’, vybrat’, predvybornyi, golos, golosovat’, golosovaniie in Russian). According to the concept previously originated, use of these word units in the newspapers’ contents indicate the general level of interest in the democratic elections.
The second group, “Result-Round” (wynik, wyniki, wynikac, tura in Polish; and rezul’tat, rezul’taty, tur in Russian) signalled the tendency towards analysing and making the prognosis about the outcome of the elections. The third group “Campaign-Candidate-Program” (kampania, kandydat, kandydowac, program, programowy in Polish; and kampaniya, kandidat, programma, programmnyi in Russian) tended to indicate the general interest in the running of the campaign, its details and specific features, as well as to the particular candidates and their behaviour.
According to the general numbers, this table seems to be another argument supporting the relatively higher level of engagement of Nezavisimaya Gazeta in the electoral campaign. At the same time, in spite of the difference in general number of word units between both newspapers, the average number of the word units in one issue demonstrates that this difference is not so great. On the contrary, in one group of word units Gazeta Wyborcza had a significant advantage over Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The fact that this group (“Campaign-Candidate-Program”) indicated specific stress on the running of campaign and competition between candidates seems to confirm the hypothesis about the more informative character of the coverage in Gazeta Wyborcza.
Nevertheless, the newspapers’ coverage of the electoral campaign can be indicated not only in impersonal terms – it is also presented in the frequency of the appearance of the candidates which are in competition with one another. The answer to the question of how often and in which part of the newspaper the name of the candidate appeared could demonstrate not only the newspapers’ attitude towards this nominee, but the more general strategy for presenting the news about the electoral campaign at all. That is why it was found possible to create, for the purposes of the content analysis, another code in which the word units were the names of the particular candidates. The table presented below unifies the data about the frequency of appearance of the two major candidates.
In both cases the majority of the candidates’ appearances were concentrated in the reports and analytical articles. But in Nezavisimaya Gazeta this number was divided almost in half between the two types of article, while in Gazeta Wyborcza twice as many of the candidates’ appearances were in the report articles, which could confirm my supposition about the more informative character of the national presidential campaign coverage in this newspaper. Although in both cases the name of the “democratic” candidate appeared more frequently, it has to be stressed that in Nezavisimaya Gazeta Yeltsin was mentioned almost twice as much as his rival, especially in news and analytical articles. However, this could be explained by his extremely active campaign. Unlike the Polish president, Yeltsin tried to use his position to participate as much as possible in official events before the day of election.
In conclusion, it has to be pointed out that the general level of engagement in the electoral campaign, and the character of its coverage, was more or less equal in both newspapers. In the case of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the newspaper was somehow more interested in the election in general, placing stress on the interpretative materials which concerned analysis and opinions. Gazeta Wyborcza, on the contrary, presented a visible tendency towards the use of informative texts about the current situation between the two electoral rounds, with special emphasis on the candidates’ behaviour. How were these differences presented in the newspapers’ particular texts? Is it possible to talk about specific strategies of the coverage of significant events during the campaigns? In order to answer these questions, in the following part of the paper I will analyse the content by looking at the textual dynamics in both newspapers.
For the purpose of a more detailed presentation of the electoral campaign coverage, the contents of the campaign sample was analysed from the perspective of the general characteristic of the particular groups of articles mentioning the presidential elections in both countries. Using the system introduced above, I found it necessary to originate two additional article groups – “Editorials” and “Electoral appeals”. The editorials group is composed of text materials analysed before as a part of the broader group “Analytical articles”. These texts were separated because their authors were the newspapers’ editors-in-chief: thereby, in their editorial articles they appeared as mouthpieces of the whole editorial board, presenting the general position of the newspaper they manage. In the group “Electoral appeals” all the articles containing direct appeal towards the electorate were unified.
In general, there were no significant differences in what role this kind of article played in each newspaper. News articles composed about 23% of the campaign sample in Gazeta Wyborcza and about 34% in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. In both cases articles generated by the newspapers’ employees significantly prevailed, and about one third of all news material came from the national state information agencies. However, in the case of Nezavisimaya Gazeta the greater number of news articles originated or prepared by the journalists, many of whom signed their full names (which means for an employee the first step from an almost anonymous correspondent to the more independent position of observer), should be taken into account.
News articles in the Polish newspaper were, as a rule, shorter then those in the Russian – in the latter case they quite often resembled mini-reports. As a result, the authors of the articles of such kind had more possibility to present somebody’s opinions or assessments (sometimes even their own, in a hidden way).
Most of the factual information about the running of the campaign, activity of the candidates and their supporters, and the reaction of their opponents, were presented in report articles. All reports without exception were the product of the professional activity of the journalists from the newspapers’ staff. Generally speaking, it is possible to define three main parts, or purposes of the common report. First, it summarised the event, when the journalist described “what has happened” and reminded the readers what the event was – even if this event was briefly related before, the purpose of the journalist was to place the event in broader context. In order to do so, the second part of the report presented the evaluation of the event, especially of actions and actors related with it. The third part provided the audience with a pragmatic conclusion: recommendation, advice, warning or reflection.
In my opinion, the majority of report articles in Gazeta Wyborcza stressed the two first parts of the described construction: they presented the details of the event, giving additional data about the situation, its origin and development. Although journalists quite often used quotation, attaching the relations given by the participant or eyewitnesses of the event, these remarks as a rule did not contain opinions or points of view – very often simple grammar constructions were used, such as “I did...”, “I deny doing this”, “I saw” etc. On the contrary, journalists from Nezavisimaya Gazeta always took into account the importance and even necessity of the presentation of one or several opinions on the event by prominent public figures.
Because of this, in the context of the electoral campaign, report articles gave the possibility to present more “candidate-originated” information – and it is quite important that in both newspapers the frequency of appearance of each candidate in the report articles was almost the same. In this sense the contents of the newspapers did not vary considerably in the amount of favourable and unfavourable attention given to the two candidates. It is possible to claim that because of the similar political situation in the two countries before the elections, the “democratic” candidate (in both cases the current President) was presented more as a state-servant than as a candidate. There was more factual information about his professional activity or about decisions taken by him as a part of the normal, common situation, and due to this democratic candidate “made” more news than his rival. On the contrary, the “leftist” candidates were shown as political activists, leaders of the opposition parties and their activity; their head-quarters or their supporters were more properly presented as a part of an electoral campaign.
Nevertheless, it would not be valid to say that the newspapers during the campaign distorted the news in favour of the more “energetic candidate” – it seems that coverage of the candidates’ activity in report articles was more or less balanced. In my opinion, in both the cases of Gazeta Wyborcza and Nezavisimaya Gazeta it can be assumed that the audience acquired a more or less equal amount of information about each candidate (whether in a favourable or unfavourable context), which contributed to the public’s familiarity with them as public figures.
Analytical articles and interviews
Analysing this group of articles, I approached each text with two main points of comparison: Agent (Author) and Agency (Means) with the aim of answering the question of who wrote the particular text and with which instruments he/she persuaded the audience. According to the professional orientation of the authors, in each case it is possible to state that there were five major professional groups: journalists, or members of the newspapers’ editorial boards; experts, specialists in law and political science; representatives of current political forces; state officials; and representatives of the non-governmental organisations and other public figures.
In Gazeta Wyborcza among the authors of the analytical articles, there was a balance between journalists, politicians and public figures; while in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the majority of opinions and analyses were published by the members of the editorial board. On the other side, the Russian newspaper almost completely avoided the publications of the analytical articles created by professional politicians; the editorial board rather preferred to use the authority of the historians and sociologists, and representatives of the scientific organisations, such as independent institutes, expert offices and non-profit communities. The strategy of Gazeta Wyborcza was the opposite: the majority of those who published their comments were current politicians, although not necessary representing the major competing forces. Quite often they were persons who presented the relation with the scientific analytical tradition and participation in real political life, such as Tadeusz Syryjczyk, economist and the deputy of the liberal Freedom Union, or Jerzy Wiatr, sociologist and deputy of the Union of Democratic Left.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta presented rather a lack of strategy in publishing such articles. Some analytical publications were dedicated to the economic and international situation of the country in relation to the prospects for victory of one or another candidate. Analytical articles published in this newspaper were, as a rule, longer, and most of them contained not comments on the current political situation, but rather presented complicated intellectual abstractions and long-term prognosis. In Gazeta Wyborcza, on the contrary, analytical articles of relatively small size with opinions of experts were published in groups, most of them in a special section with the same title, so that the reader could compare different points of view. The same situation as with analytical articles was with interviews – Gazeta Wyborcza presented short interviews with politicians from different political orientations, while Nezavisimaya Gazeta published extended interviews with key political figures and high state officials.
In both newspapers, there were no editorial articles which would appear regularly in a certain column; they were seldom signed; and did not present a collective opinion or position of the newspaper as an institution with a specific role in society. In Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Gazeta Wyborcza a very significant role was played instead by the articles written by their editors-in-chief, who presented their personal opinion; but at the same time their position was undoubtedly understood by the audience as the opinion of the editorial board. Vitalii Tretyakov, during two weeks between the electoral rounds, published three extended analytical articles where he placed himself in the position of a political expert, presenting explanation of the behaviour of the electorate and prognosis of the future voting. Adam Michnik published four significant texts, but only two of them were dedicated to the elections, and the author hardly underlined that he wanted to express the reasons why he would vote for a certain candidate, and that his point of view was not necessarily the point of view of his colleagues and employees.
It is impossible to say whether the information about candidates was presented in “fair” or “biased” way – it is apparent that these terms defy adequate definition. It would certainly be very difficult to reach any broad agreement as to what constitutes “fair” press treatment of a candidate’s appeal to the electorate. Nor would it be possible to reach agreement on the relative importance of particular news stories or feature articles. It is because of the difficulty of agreeing on a standard for measuring impartiality or fairness that it was not advisable to attempt to construct an index of bias.
The content of the press appeal to the electorate should tend to turn the attention of the voter toward the candidates and their programmes for the purpose of acquiring more votes. However, in the case of the independent press, which stresses its freedom from any political force, there are two main possibilities for presenting an electoral appeal: by giving it in a hidden way as a part of the usual publishing strategy; or by implementing the balance between appeals of different candidates. Analysing articles which contained direct appeal to the electorate in both newspapers, I came to the conclusion that Nezavisimaya Gazeta choose the first way – there was only one example of a character of appeal, the publication of the contents of a television address to the citizens performed by Boris Yeltsin a day before the second round.
Gazeta Wyborcza, on the other hand, gave to the candidates several opportunities to fight openly for the people’s votes; as it was in the issue of November 9, when candidates’ programmatic declarations were published. The same strategy was used in the publication of analytical articles containing direct electoral appeal: for example, with an article subtitled as “Walesa above all” was placed another one with the subtitle “Kwasniewski above all”. In Gazeta Wyborcza there was a lot of appeal material presented as short news articles, usually about support for one of the candidates proclaimed by various political structures and non-governmental organisations; among the appeals of such type, those in favour of Walesa prevailed.
It is possible to conclude here that both Gazeta Wyborcza as well as Nezavisimaya Gazeta in covering the presidential campaign followed in general the principles of non-partisanship and objectivity proclaimed by themselves. However, sometimes these rules were violated. The first newspaper implemented the balance among analytical articles but could have published more material about one of the candidates among news and reports. The second was overloaded with extended articles of analysis and prognosis, which also caused significant imbalance in the general coverage of the campaign.
Both in Poland and Russia the idea of the independent mass media never exhibited the desire to be controlled by political institutions Nevertheless, there are strong indications that the flow of the political, economic and social tides of a nation have an impact on the independent press. The mass media in these countries continue to give a voice to the wide spectrum of thoughts, meanings and political ideas which are sure to be a part of Polish and Russian life during the transition from the Communist rule. However, in both countries there are numerous external forces which try to affect the media, shaping and constraining it. After the collapse of the Communist regime, the mass media in both countries had their chance to acquire real independence and assert their own power. However, the inner logic of economic and political transition led to the conflict between the hard reality and the media’s desire to succeed and survive uncontrolled.
In order to demonstrate how the principles of objectivity and lack of prejudice in presenting information proclaimed by the independent media could be defended under pressure of political circumstances, the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza and Russian Niezavisimaya Gazeta were chosen. As an example of the extremely complicated political situation, the cases of the 1995 elections in Poland and the 1996 elections in Russia were taken. In both countries the period of elections was characterised by the sharp polarisation drawn by the line of “Communism” versus “anti-Communism”, which led to the highly negative character of electoral campaigns.
According to the findings, it is possible to conclude that both newspapers in their coverage of the presidential campaign followed in general the principles of non-partisanship and objectivity, tending to install some kind of a balance between the information about the two major candidates. Nevertheless, Gazeta Wyborcza as well as Nezavisimaya Gazeta sometimes violated these principles, providing the audience with more favourable information about the “Democratic” candidate (in both cases this candidate was the current President of the country). The Polish newspaper was consequently oriented to the balance between different points of view in reports and analytical articles (although not among news). The Russian newspaper, on the contrary, was overloaded with extended articles contained analyses and prognoses which also caused misbalance in the general coverage of the campaign.
This could be explained first of all by the initial difference in the newspapers’ formats. Nezavisimaya Gazeta tended rather to the analytical, sometimes even reflective journalism, whereas Gazeta Wyborcza presented a more informative style oriented to the broader audience. The former tried to keep the balance between “information” and “discussion”, while the latter presented a kind of “opinion magazine” style, based above all on the analytical articles of a limited number of journalists. Its behaviour during presidential elections shows that Nezavisimaya Gazeta still followed the tradition of the Eastern European “opinion-oriented” journalism, when journalist himself became a public figure who mostly interpreted reality than reflected it.
It is necessary to turn again to the example of the Soviet samizdat. In the Soviet Union only a few and weak underground informative bulletins existed, but despite this, the country was full of self-printed copies of literary works, historical studies and philosophical essays. In Socialist Poland, on the contrary, the two main functions of the free uncensored press (to inform and to explain) were well-balanced, and it is possible to claim that the function of providing the audience with current information prevailed among Polish underground publications. Perhaps this was one of the factors because of which Gazeta Wyborcza continuing the best traditions of underground intellectual resistance, turned it to the “Western European” model of qualitative press – mass and elitist at the same time.
This model provides the reader with all possible information about the event, and only then presents to him interpretations of it. One could claim that this organisation of a newspaper’s activity is more modern and better fits the atmosphere of the contemporary world; this, however, is another discussion. Nevertheless, looking at the history of the foundation and development of the newspapers, one important argument in favour of this model could be mentioned – financial success as a result of choosing this strategy in the case of Gazeta Wyborcza and lack of prosperity in the case of Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
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