The oligarch supporters of President Yeltsin discovered by accident how to get their drunken but reliably corrupt puppet re-elected, despite national embarrassment at his failings. In desperation, they bought the national TV stations, whose newsdesks informed the political opinions of a decisive majority. To their surprise it worked. Their unsavoury skins were saved.
When Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was made Yeltsin's political heir, their media machine got him elected. They were confident he would reward them, but they underestimated their man. He and his "Chekist" faction didn't want to depend on them for power, so they seized those TV stations "for the nation". They used them to develop what they amusingly call a "managed democracy".
Having ensured a consistent line from key news desks, they found they could cheerfully ignore the otherwise free press. You can read criticism of VVP in Russian newspapers and magazines. You can hear it on local TV and radio too. He will happily point to it as evidence of Russia's free press. But you won't hear a word of effective criticism on national TV, which is all he cares about.
The occasional murder of a journalist seems born of exuberance, not necessity.
Living in Russia for several years, I wondered if the Chekists got their ideas from observing the relationship between the BBC and the British ruling elite. Why did the Conservatives not win the last election outright, despite economic circumstances that would have made Labour unelectable in any other place and time? Two reasons. Firstly a rigged election system. Voting figures that would have given Labour a working majority were insufficient for the Tories. Secondly the BBC News team (and their incestuous faux-competitors at Channel 4) did the same job for Labour that their Russian counterparts do for United Russia. The same team now consistently keens and wails about "Tory cuts" despite the fact that public spending is still rising, thus keeping the hapless Boy David firmly to leftist lines in all key respects.
By the way, how can that rigged election system remain in place? Because the BBC will never give airtime to anyone who points it out - and will report any attempt to reform it as Tory election-rigging. So there's really only one reason.
Love him or hate him (and he doesn't make himself easy to love) Rupert Murdoch represented the only well-funded and plausible threat to the BBC hegemony in British opinion-forming. For the good of the same ruling elite that loved him when they were successfully bribing him to do their bidding, he therefore had to be stopped from gaining full control of BSkyB. His reported remark that Sky News would be more like Fox News if his British management ever listened to him made that very clear.
Search Twitter today for the hashtag #newsnight and see the vengeful, malicious British Left in full triumphant cry. Having pitched the pompous right-on comedian Steve Coogan against a carefully-selected rat-like specimen of the tabloid press, the BBC's Newsnight team could barely contain its near-sexual excitement last night. It was glorying (as the BBC has for days) in doing immense damage to its only serious enemy.
Today's Telegraph leader has it almost right.
To punish the whole of the press for News International’s misdemeanours is wrong; so, too, is the sneering disdain of the political classes for the tabloid newspapers that are read by the majority of their constituents. It was a revolting spectacle to see Labour politicians cheer the closure of one of this country’s oldest newspapers, with the loss of 200 staff, most of whom had nothing to do with the scandal – especially since they only found their voice once News International had ended its support of their party.
Why almost? Because this is not about "them" - the Press, but about us, the people. What the dangerous new coalition of vengeful slebs, spurned and furious Labourites and politicians determined to ensure no repetition of the expenses scandal threatens is our very way of life.
The Britain I knew and loved, now fighting for its feeble life, was formed by centuries of press freedom. The broadsheets might debate the issues of the day, but few were following them. It was the ferocious tabloid press that kept the elites in line. It instilled fear into those who, by dishonesty, excess, immorality or even mere snootiness towards the public that feeds them, deserved popular disapproval.
The BBC is a primary source of work for Coogan. It has the ability to enhance the career of Hugh Grant. They and other celebrities have their own reasons (for which the public had no sympathy before Millygate) to hate and fear the tabloids. After all these are the papers that personify the prurient interest in their private lives of the British public on whom they live - and for whom they feel such disdain.
We know what they want from new regulators. We also know what the BBC and Guardian will want. Most of all we know what the politicians of all parties will want. But it's not their disparate agendas that are the problem, it's what they have in common. That is a desire for working people to have neither ready access to anti-statist views, nor regular evidence of the moral corruption of the British ruling elite and its luvvie running dogs.
We don't need to like Mr Murdoch to recognize this. His employees' disgraceful misconduct has given our elites their greatest chance for decades to undermine that sturdy contempt for the powerful that makes us free men.