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Russian journalist uncovers Moscow City Hall's propaganda guidelines for local newspapers

When writing news stories in local newspapers about Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, authors observe a “Three Moscows, Three Sobyanins,” where the mayor’s name has to come up three times, staff writers at regional news media told the Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev.

Meduza reviewed several dozen news stories and confirmed that Sobyanin’s name does in fact appear exactly three times in most local news stories about him. Sometimes the mayor’s name comes up four times, and very rarely it appears just twice in a story. The rule can be observed in stories appearing in the newspapers Bibirevo Nash Dom, Biryulevo Vostochnoe, Zvezdnyi Bulvar, and Orkhovo-Borisovo Yuzhnoe.

Kovalev argues that Moscow City Hall exercises tight control over the editorial policies of local newspapers, distributing weekly guidelines to newsrooms that allegedly describe what topics should be discussed in published stories and how certain stories should be written.

In his investigation, Kovalev published an example of one week’s guidelines, including instructions to publish articles claiming that Moscow’s sweeping renovations project was developed in response to a supposedly grassroots movement of Muscovites. The guidelines reportedly specify that news coverage should point out how widely the project was discussed and debated publicly, and emphasize the city’s guarantee that homeowners’ rights will be protected.

Moscow’s city budget for 2017 allocates 12 billion rubles ($209.2 million) to “mass media” spending. For comparison, this amount of money is equal to a third of Novosibirsk’s entire city budget, and almost half the budget of Chelyabinsk.