Russian State Narrative in the Digital Age: Rewired Propaganda in Russian Television News Framing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

18 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2020

See all articles by Sarah Oates

Sarah Oates

Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland

Date Written: August 1, 2014


This paper posits that an examination of strategic state narratives in the digital age can serve as a useful analytical vector in understanding evolving media ecology and political dissent in non-free states. Moving beyond the vague and unhelpful label of ‘online revolution’, this paper introduces the idea of ‘propaganda.’ This concept accelerates the intellectual trajectory that has increasingly rejected a traditional/online media dichotomy and moves to a more dynamic conception of how information communication technology changes the media ecology in non-free states. The rewired propaganda theory posits that the key challenge posed to authoritarian regimes by the internet is the way in which the online sphere challenges how the Russian state has traditionally dominated the information heights via television. While there has been compelling evidence of a gradual shift away from the power of nightly news as the key authoritative information source in Russia, the international attention on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 generated significant challenges to the Russian state narrative. Yet leaping to the conclusion that the internet can effectively undermine the state narrative and create an alternative, authoritative national news source has not proven useful in the Russian case. In addition, this idea is essentially too crude to analyze the situation in other countries. Rather, the focus of the research (the dependent variable) should be the national narrative as expressed on state television, with change measured by how the state narrative is challenged by a particular event. The independent variables include alternative sources of information online, but the critical forces that shape the state narrative are far wider in scope and embrace the nature of the story, the coverage in the international media, cohesion among elites, citizen attitudes, the strength of the opposition, the state of online news, and state manipulation of online sources. This paper will focus on how Vremya, the flagship news program on the state-run First Channel in Russia, created a strategic narrative within a new media ecology in the week after the attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014. This study uses the framing of the same event on one of the most popular worldwide news sites, BBC online, to highlight the challenge of fitting the Russian strategic narrative into the global media ecology created in the online age. This can help to construct the idea of a rewired propaganda model to apply it comparatively, providing a far more nuanced and useful understanding than the idea that information flow online will build to a particular critical mass and ‘overturn’ a regime. This model will allow analysts to consider the relative power of the new media ecology in challenging an authoritarian regime by measuring control of the state strategic narrative.

Keywords: Russia, rewired propaganda, strategic narrative, television, Malaysia Flight 17, BBC

Suggested Citation

Oates, Sarah, Russian State Narrative in the Digital Age: Rewired Propaganda in Russian Television News Framing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (August 1, 2014). American Political Science Association Annual Meeting 2014, Available at SSRN:

Sarah Oates (Contact Author)

Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland ( email )

Knight Hall
College Park, MD 20742
United States
3014054510 (Phone)


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