Special to iVoryTowerz
A casual Google news search of "financial crisis" results in more than fifty thousand English-language articles in the world over the past week. These articles may repeat each other while some of the diversification attempts include labeling the crisis differently: turmoil, meltdown, fiasco, collapse, mess, catastrophe, storm, hurricane. Such creativity perhaps attracts many readers which is desirable for any news outlet. But the implications of the sensationalist craze so revered by the media are literally frightening. The sense of panic is overwhelming for any casual headline reader let alone investors whose indecisiveness and lack of trust keep driving stock indexes up and down.
So when the government of Russia urged its media to restrain from covering too much of the financial crisis it seemed reasonable.
To avoid panic, the Kremlin advised major television stations not to refer to the current financial situation as a crisis or collapse. Stock indexes in Russia were not supposed "to plummet" but rather "decrease." TV made it sound to the general public that the financial crisis is some distant American/European phenomenon that the Russian people do not have to worry about. Curiously enough though, television reports do extensively cover measures taken by the Russian government to tackle the crisis. Anti-crisis policy without crisis? This paradox resulted in either public confusion as to why supermarket shelves look deserted or in opinions that any domestic difficulties are temporary and are solely due to the crisis outside of Russia.
The Russian print media, and, most importantly, the internet, are now teeming with articles analyzing the financial crisis inside and outside of the country. The first October wave of articles criticized the absence of domestic coverage of financial and economic troubles. The main argument was transparency. If the government is so protective of its people and remains secretive about the status quo, it seems Russia's paternalistic instincts keep its decisions concerning the crisis under the table. However, critics insist that people have to know the cruel truth that Russia is not "an island of stability" and that it is the media's job to keep them informed. That view may be in flux, however, as reporters seemingly come to a realization point that a change of thinking is healithier: less information might be better.
Last week, Russian Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin surprised ordinary citizens by his pessimistic economic predictions. Addressing the lower house of Russia's parliament (the Duma), Kudrin said that "a harsh recession is now beginning." While Russia may not want any analogies drawn to the U.S., the effect produced by those gloomy statements is identical to the ones produced by statements and speeches by the U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. And the effect was more panic in the financial markets and plummeting stock indexes. It might be a coincidence that the market neurotically reacts to statements by high-profile officials, but it might as well mean that less media attention will allow the government do its work while calmed investors invest and consumers consume.
So next time you want to write a piece about the financial typhoon or tornado, don't talk about the mess it's creating; neither try to predict where it's going. Rather, think about the cleared fields it leaves behind and how we can make the most of them.
*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.
(Graphic by AZRainman. To see more of AZRainman's work, please check out his blog.)
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