By Maia Efrem
At 9 o’clock every night, Brooklyn’s Russian speakers tune in to Channel One for a roundup of the day’s news broadcast from Russia. The day’s headlines might include the preparations for the Eurovision contest in Oslo, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s meeting with economic experts, a new valve to aid doctors during cardiovascular surgery, and a conference about the Russian public’s opinion of the new 500 billion ruble railroad trains. That would make a relatively tame evening.
Because on Channel One humor on any given night might include a black man being called a monkey, jokes are made about a Jew’s nose, and Ukrainians are reminded that Russia is just a shut down gas pipeline away.
The channel is broadcast to an estimated 690,000 Russian speakers in New York, most heavily centered in southern districts of Brooklyn who subscribe to Russian channels from their cable provider. Channel One’s direct competition in Brooklyn is the New York based channel RTVi.
Channel One has enjoyed high rating and an average 15 percent of the imperative 35-44 age group preferred it to other Russian channels, with RTVi a low seven percent, according to a survey by Global Advertising Strategies.
The channel was launched in 2002 with the Kremlin controlling 51 percent of its shares, a protocol remnant of Boris Yeltsin’s decree giving the government majority control over the broadcast media. The balance comes from three giant financial institutions owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. The channel effectively functions as the official mouthpiece of Medvedev and Putin.
And while there are those who turn away from its brand of news, plenty more have their world views shaped by the politicized entertainment shows.
After the news, it is time for Mult Lichnosti, a cartoon show featuring computerized caricatures of celebrities and politicians. On one episode Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dances in to the Oval Office to a Busta Rhymes song. Dropping off documents to be signed by a gyrating depiction of President Barack Obama, she twirls around to say “What’s up my nigga?” Signing them, he pumps a hand into the air, “Respect girl,” he exclaims in a Russian accent. Then a simpering Clinton makes a phone call to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, calling him her teddybear she schedules a rendezvous in Paris. Clinton bats her eyelashes, leans her chin onto her hands and winks, “Anything for you, angel.” A basketball twirling Obama smiles a toothy grin into the camera.
Or consider this segment: during a New Year’s show, Russian comedian Garik Martirosian joked that “The Ukranians are causing problems again, did they forget what we did to them with oil? No problem, we’ll remind them in 2010.” When Ukrainian parliamentary arguments erupted over Russia’s continued control of a Ukrainian navy base, Channel One played the footage repeatedly along with the jokes about Ukrainians.
When Lyubov Mikityansky tunes in to her favorite Russian show, Dve Zvezdy, she is greeted with Channel One’s most popular singing reality show. An hour later Mikityansky watches the news briefly to see the Russian government’s interpretation on the day’s headlines. Exasperated by the anti-American and glorified Putin coverage, she usually changes the channel to RTVi.
An immigrant from Ukraine, Mikityansky works at a Bensonhurst Jewish Community House where an “I heart RTVi” sticker is displayed prominently in her office. “They are so anti-American, anti-Israel, and the information they give out is so obviously twisted to make the Russian government look good that it makes me laugh,” she said. “I love this country, it gave me more than I had before, so I will not listen to unfair criticisms and lies,” she tapped a finger against a table to emphasize each word.
Anna Simakova, a Brooklyn resident and Global advertising representative says that “in terms of analysis, news, and local opinions, RTVi is the community leader because it is closer to the Russian population in Brooklyn.” RTVi was established to offer opinions beyond those of the Russian government opinion. She is not surprised by Channel One’s content and believes watching the news is a “duty of the Russian speaker to educate himself on what the Russian government’s stance on politics is.”
Marina Lapidus, an administrative assistant from Kings Highway, strongly believes there is a correlation between increasing anti-Americanism among Russians in their native land and the parlous state of the world economy. Over the last five years the Russian news coverage has gone from a muted critique to a frontal attack, she says. “Medvedev will hold a press conference and say ‘America tricked us’ and is the reason for the state of the Russian economy,” Lapidus said. With no alternative opinion she believes the older and uneducated population in Russia is the target of the channel’s one sided coverage.
Among Channel One’s most popular commentators is Mikhail Leontyev, a journalist known for his accusatory stance towards all but those in the Russian government. On his weekly show Odnako, Leontyev discusses economics and politics with a running motif of anti-American banter. On a recent show discussing the economic crisis in Greece, Leontyev asked “What is the only difference between America and Greece? The Americans can print their own money and create further world debt,” he said as he lifted up his hands in an expression of defeat.
Hard-hitting news is not the only place where anti-American ideas are served on a platter. The morning show Dobroe Utra has a segment that reports the day’s Hollywood gossip. In a recent broadcast, footage of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie was shown with the report of Jolie’s jealousy slowly poisoning the couple’s relationship. Russian celebrities meanwhile discuss how differently they would act in the situation. Invariably, the American celebrity is shown in a bad light. It is the Russian celebrity-no matter how vapid or foolish- who is cast as the soul of maturity.