How do authoritarian governments use mass media to shape public opinion during times of crisis? We propose to study agenda-setting and propaganda in Russia’s most-watched news source, the state-owned Channel 1 television station, to investigate how information about a deadly health crisis—the Covid-19 pandemic—is covered by state media. This project uses text analysis and machine learning to distinguish between different strategies that could be used to shape public opinion about the nature of the crisis and the appropriateness of the government’s response to it. To better understand how crisis conditions affect the regime’s choice of information manipulation strategies, we compare Channel 1’s coverage of Covid-19 to its coverage of other recent crises that differ on key dimensions: the 2008–9 global economic recession (where crisis severity and recovery were more readily observed by individuals) and the 2011–12 anti-regime protests (a homegrown domestic crisis not shared by other countries).
Associate Professor, Political Science, Florida State University
Associate Professor, Florida State University