Mediatization and journalistic agency: Russian television coverage of the Skripal poisonings

Tolz, Vera; Hutchings, Stephen; Chatterje-Doody, Precious N. and Crilley, Rhys (2020). Mediatization and journalistic agency: Russian television coverage of the Skripal poisonings. Journalism (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884920941967

Abstract

The 2018 Skripal poisonings prompted the heavy securitisation of UK-Russian relations. Despite the ensuing tight coordination between the Russian government and state-aligned television, this article argues that in today’s mediatised environment – in which social and political activities fuse inextricably with their own mediation – even non-democracies must cope with the shaping of global communications by media logics and related market imperatives. With a range of media actors responding to events, and to each other, on multiple digital platforms, no state could assert full narrative control over the Skripal incident. Counterintuitively, Russian journalists’ journalistic agency was enhanced by mediatisation processes: their state sponsors, seeking to instrumentalise reporting, delegated agency to journalists more attuned to such processes; yet commercial imperatives obliged them to perform independence and professional credibility. These competing forms of agency clashed with one another, and with that of the audiences engaging in real time with the journalists’ outputs, ultimately undermining the Russian state’s efforts to harness news coverage to its political and security goals. The article concludes that in today’s global communications environment, mediatisation substantially constrains the ability of non-democracies to micro-manage journalists’ treatment of major events relating to national security.

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