There have been increased efforts toward professionalizing Orthodox media in Russia in recent years, reports Anna Briskina-Müller (University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany) in Religion und Gesellschaft im Ost und West (October).
Although some media do not always manage to find a tone different from the older, Soviet-inherited style, some new projects attempt to convey a more modern view of the Church. In the late 1980s, there was as yet no religious journalism in the Soviet Union and Orthodox media were either pious or official publications. Suddenly, freedom of expression was available, but everything had to be built from scratch. When a first meeting of Russian journalists writing on religion was organized in 1996, fewer than 10 people attended.
Official Orthodox media work within the Moscow Patriarchate used to be divided among several departments and there was no dedicated media department. After the current Patriarch Kirill took over as head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), one of his early decisions was to establish a Synodal Section for Information (SINFO) in March 2009. The goals of this unit are not only to improve the quality of church reporting, but also to bring some level of supervision over content. There have also been initiatives such as the creation of a video canal on YouTube. Some efforts have been made in the field of journalistic training, as well as monitoring errors made by the media on the Church and responding with corrections and clarifications.
In order to win over the (sometimes critical) Orthodox bloggers, the Patriarch has already twice invited bloggers to join him during his official travels and report on events in their blogs. In fact, very few Orthodox media are under Church control. Currently, there are around 1,000 registered Orthodox media in Russia, showing great differences. Briskina-Müller cites the example of Portal-Credo.ru, which presents itself as an independent news agency that reports critically on the ROC. But its main editors actually belong to Orthodox groups that have separated from the ROC and thus report in a way that suggests that “true believers” are looking for alternatives to the “official” Church.
Besides official ROC media and others that are critical, there are also a number of church-friendly media (some independent, some less so) that strive to provide exchanges of information and reliable analysis, although they will usually prefer to avoid some topics that might be too sensitive. Regarding secular media, while they were rather eager to report on the Church in the years after the end of communist rule and were also initially quite interested in Patriarch Kirill’s reform efforts, they tend to provide less coverage today, except regarding some of the Patriarch’s official appearances or when something extraordinary happens (e.g. miracles).
(Religion und Gesellschaft im Ost und West, P.O. Box 9329, 8036 Zürich, Switzerland)