Framing the Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
Member of female punk band Pussy Riot Nadezhda Tolokonnikova gestures before a court hearing in Moscow on August 8, 2012. | Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova | Pussy Riot, Russia, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Fist, Protest,

Freedom fighters or anarchy promoters?

Depending on who you ask, Vladimir Putin and Russia are either better off now, or worse off now from both Putin's actions and the media coverage of the troubled country. Regardless of my bias in either direction, I have watched the political, financial, and social climate in Russia endure some of it's most challenging times in recent years. As such, I am continually amazed at how media, not withstanding, remains influenced and even trapped by events of the past. Manaf Bashir and Maria Fedorova have used the situation with the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, to demonstrate this fixation on the past. Hopefully some Western outlets and leaders can learn from this and operate in the future more responsibly;

Although the Cold War officially ended over 20 years ago between the USA and the Russian-led Soviet Union, the contemporary nature of media coverage in the former 'camps' seems to be imprisoned in that era (Favret 2013). The media seem to employ a 'Cold War' thrust in its coverage every time there is a crisis between the two countries (Bayulgen & Arbatli 2013). However, with the proliferation of the media industry, news outlets should provide alternative perspectives to the former camps and in media coverage in general, and not remain constrained within pro-West and pro-Soviet perspectives. They should diminish the ideological and historical affiliations with these camps. The situation with the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, provides a recent case of how media coverage can remain influenced and even be trapped by events of the past. With the current political turmoil between Russia and Ukraine, these events bring back memories from the Cold War era where different media might describe Russia and Ukraine differently. The nature of media coverage can also be consistent with the position of its corresponding government. Focusing particularly on the Pussy Riot band, this research study attempts to investigate how the American and Russian media covered this band. The overarching research questions that guide this study are: Does the coverage of the Pussy Riot reflect a governmental stand toward the band? And is it possible to spot a 'Cold War' thrust in the media coverage of the Pussy Riot between Russian and American media?

It is widely accepted within the academic circles that media coverage plays an immense role in how society perceives reality and makes sense of it (Iyengar 1991). The mass media, both in traditional and new forms, tend to cover events reflecting its ideological beliefs (Grunwald 1993; Al-Azdee 2010; Kothari 2010). Media framing, in other words, plays a great role in selecting the way a news story is covered and told, which in return, can influence how the audience perceives reality (Entman 2007; Papacharissi & Oliveira 2008).

This study attempts to put the Pussy Riot controversy within the framing context by comparing how it was covered by Russian and American media. The controversy surrounding this band has become global where governments, celebrities, and social movements have expressed concerns toward the band. It has also ignited a global opposition toward the Russian government's handling of the issue. Therefore, in addition to its timeliness, such research would show the discrepancies in news frames that were used by the two countries' media to cover the Pussy Riot. It shows whether or not a 'Cold War' thrust and governmental alignment existed within media coverage. This research used qualitative framing analysis to uncover the frames and framing devices that were used by these media. Due to the novelty of the topic, no empirical research on framing the Pussy Riot exists, which gives significance to this current study.

Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk rock protest group based in Moscow. Founded in August 2011, it has a variable membership of approximately 11 women ranging in age from about 20 to 33. | Photo: Archives |
The Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot is a punk rock group based in Moscow, Russia. The band was founded in 2011 and positions itself as feminist (Glazko 2011). The band was named after Riot Grrrl (Glazko 2011), which is an international underground feminist movement that originated in the USA in the early 1990s. The members are usually dressed up in short dresses and colorful knitted masks. They do not tell their real names but use nicknames such as Balaklava (helmet), Blondi (blonde), Kot (male cat), Serafima (flaming angel), and Shlyapa (hat). It is not certain how many or who exactly forms the band. The band members change from a performance to another. Some members of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyohina, and Nadya Tolokonnikova, were former members of an art group Voina, Russian for war, which was established in 2007 ( 2014).

According to one of the group members, the band chose punk rock and unauthorized performances because their goal is to express their opposition toward the total control over traditional media by conservative state institutions. (1) Their performances are spontaneous and more about acting and extravaganza. (2) Some of them were held in prison roofs, tram roofs, and subway stations. The band seeks the following demands: feminism, fight against law-enforcement, defense of LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender), radical decentralization of government, saving Himki forest, and moving the capital of Russia to Eastern Siberia (Turovskyi 2012). They are also against Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia), the communist party, and the liberal-democratic party of Russia. As shown, the band is not clearly distinguishing between its demands and stands toward issues.

The church performance
One of their most controversial unauthorized performances was on 21 February 2012, when five members performed in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The performance was recorded and turned into a music video clip titled Punk Prayer - Mother of God, Chase Putin Away. Both the Church and many public figures were offended by the punk prayer. Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of Vladimir Putin (then prime minister), said that the head of the Russian government had a negative reaction toward this performance. Peskov called the performance 'disgusting' (Press Secretary of the Prime Minister 2012). On 26 February 2012, a 'hooliganism' criminal case was filed against Pussy Riot. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyohina were arrested on 3 March 2012; followed by the arrest of Ekaterina Samutsevich on 16 March 2012 (ORT 2012). At first, all three women were denying their affiliation with the Pussy Riot and involvement in the Punk Prayer. Shortly after, they admitted their participation in the church performance.

After a six-month period of court hearings, the three members were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and sentenced to two years of prison on 17 August 2012 (ORT 2012). After the appeal, the verdict was slightly amended on 10 October 2012. It remained unchanged for Tolokonnikova and Alyohina, but Samutsevich's sentence was changed to probation (ORT 2012).

The performance in the cathedral and the court hearings have caused various reactions worldwide, both in support and opposition to the band. Those who oppose base their opposition on hooliganism and religious disrespect while those who support the band believe the band stands for freedom. 'The women of Pussy Riot should never have been charged with a hate crime' (Human Rights Watch 2013). Amnesty International announced the three members of the Pussy Riot to be 'prisoners of conscience' (Free Pussy Riot 2013). Throughout 2012 Pussy Riot was nominated for the Kandinsky Award and among the top 100 (16th position) global thinkers of the year by Foreign Policy (Anti-Putin Punk Group Nominated 2012; Foreign Policy Special Report 2012). On 31 July 2012, the US State Department expressed its concern regarding the situation with the trial of Pussy Riot and called the case 'politically motivated' (US Department of State 2012).

To uncover the American and Russian media frames toward the Pussy Riot, this study used framing as its theoretical framework. Frames are embedded in media content and are made salient in the newspaper articles through organizing ideas, word choices, and arguments that provide different interpretations of issues (Entman 2007). Framing conceptualizes 'texts as a system of organized signifying elements that both indicate the advocacy of certain ideas and provide devices to encourage certain kinds of audience processing' (Pan & Kosicki 1993, pp.55-6). A frame manifests itself in media content through various framing devices, such as word choice, metaphors, exemplars, descriptions, arguments, and visual images (Gamson & Modigliani 1989; Pan & Kosicki 1993). The following provides relevant research on how media organizations reflect its government's stand by framing international issues.

Framing international issues - media alignment with government's position
A number of framing studies have tackled media coverage in an international context. The majority of these studies conclude that the nature of coverage reflects the government's official position toward an issue. They also conclude that a government's position can have a reciprocal influence on the nature of media coverage of various events. For example, Kothari (2010) investigated the framing of the Darfur conflict in the New York Times. She noted that the US media coverage of Africa tends to focus on a limited number of topics such as war, famine, and disease, which reinforces a negative image of the region (Kothari 2010, p.212). Kothari's textual analysis identified four major frames used to report the Darfur conflict: 'United States as savior of Sudanese people', 'ethnic conflict', 'fatalist', and 'hybrid' (2010, p.215). Kothari concluded that the coverage of Darfur in the New York Times largely reflected support and justification for the enforcement of US foreign policies in Sudan which was in tandem with the government's official stand toward the conflict (Kothari 2010, p.221).

Al-Azdee (2010) studied the press coverage of the Syrian nuclear facility in terms of episodic frames. The author compared Syrian press coverage (Al-Baath, Al-Thawra, and Tishreen) to Western coverage (the Guardian, the Irish Times, and the New York Times). Al-Azdee (2010) concluded that the Syrian press was framing the issue of the Syrian nuclear facility by omitting some facts and misrepresenting the rest, reflecting the government's stand on the issue (p.18).

Papacharissi and Oliveira (2008) focused on the analysis of frames that were employed in US and UK newspapers toward terrorism in general. The findings revealed that the US newspapers engaged in more episodic coverage and the UK newspapers in more thematic coverage. The American newspapers focused on presenting news associated with the military approach, while British newspapers were oriented toward diplomatic evaluations of terrorist events (Papacharissi & Oliveira 2008, p.52). The authors concluded that the media frames and government frames toward an issue are in many cases similar.

A similar study found media alignment with government stand. In their study of the US Associated Press (AP), Chinese Xinhua, and South Korean Yonhap toward the North Korean nuclear test, Dai and Hyun (2010) found each agency in its coverage of the nuclear test reflected the governmental stand toward the test. The AP's coverage connected the nuclear test to the 'War on Terror' framework which was initiated by the US administration following the 11 September attacks. The coverage of Xinhua emphasized on the negotiation process with North Korea which corresponded with the Chinese government's position on the issue. The coverage of Yonhap focused on the issue using a 'Cold War' framework which was also reflected in how the South Korean government handled the nuclear threat.

Several research studies found support toward how media coverage of a news organization corresponds with the stand of its affiliated country and culture. In their study of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and Al-Jazeera during the Iraq war, Aday, Livingston, and Hebert (2005) found that the nature of coverage of these channels was by large consistent with its culture of origin where the American networks had a more favorable coverage toward the war and Al-Jazeera being critical of the war. A similar study by Aday (2010) found that Fox News was sympathetic to the US administration in its coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan, reflecting a favorable coverage and stand toward the administration's handling of the wars.

In sum, prior research suggests that media coverage tends to reflect frames that are consistent with a government's position. Drawing the research questions from the literature, the authors find that it is important to identify the frames in which both the American and Russian media have used in their coverage of the Pussy Riot. It is equally important to identify the framing devices that constituted these frames as it has been indicated previously in the literature that what constitutes a frame can be the devices it uses. This is also conducted in order to find whether or not the media coverage from both countries was consistent with the stand of its corresponding government. Therefore, based on the literature review, this study attempts to answer the following questions:

  1. What were the frames and framing devices that were used in the coverage of the Pussy Riot by the Russian and American newspapers?
  2. If at all, to what extent do these media frames and framing devices align with the two governments' stands toward the Pussy Riot?

Framing studies have included various methods of measurement, categorized as hermeneutic, linguistic, computer-assisted, and deductive (Matthes & Kohring 2008). Qualitative textual analysis techniques have been also used in framing studies (Fairclough 2003; Van Dijk 2012) and are called qualitative framing analysis (Van Gorp 2007; Van Gorp & Van der Goot 2012). They expand on the possibilities of quantitative content analysis by providing a thorough explanation of meaning in a text. This study used qualitative framing analysis to answer the research questions.

This qualitative approach has enabled the authors to extract the frames in the newspapers surrounding the Pussy Riot controversy. Although there are no studies directly addressing the case of Pussy Riot, this study utilized similar methodological and coding measures that were used in previous research (Gamson & Modigliani 1989; Van Gorp 2005; Aday 2010; Dai & Hyun 2010; Kothari 2010; Van Gorp & Van der Goot 2012). This study uses framing analysis for several reasons. First, the majority of framing studies tends to use a deductive approach where a list of priori-defined frames is provided in order to identify them again in different media content. In this case, the deductive approach narrows the possibility of identifying more and new frames. Second, framing analysis provides further details on what constitutes a particular frame: their framing devices.

The authors conducted the analysis of news articles in four major newspapers in the USA and Russia (two from each country): the Washington Post and the New York Times (USA); and Izvestiya and Argumenty i Fakty (Russia). The newspapers were selected based on their high readership rates and their influence in their respective countries and abroad. According to different annual ratings, the two Russian newspapers are ranked among the highest in terms of readership and credibility both within Russia and in the diaspora.

In identifying frames, the authors referred to Gamson and Modigliani (1989), Van Gorp (2005), Aday (2010), Dai and Hyun (2010), and Van Gorp and Van der Goot (2012). Before identifying a frame, there are frame indicators or precedents in a media content which are called 'framing devices' (Gamson & Modigliani 1989). Framing devices are manifest elements of a frame such as catchphrases, depictions, metaphors, exemplars, and visual images (Pan & Kosicki 1993). According to Gamson and Modigliani (1989), catchphrases are sentences that use a play on words to communicate an idea while depictions are divided into general description, statistics, and testimony. Exemplars are realistic or hypothetical examples while metaphors include both an implied comparison to another scenario and analogy. Visual image is defined as using a photograph, video, drawing, and animated text.

The first research question is concerned with the identification of frames and framing devices while the second is concerned with whether or not the newspapers' frames reflect the official position of each government toward the Pussy Riot. For the measurement, the authors created a codebook defining each framing device as it was used in the literature in order to see their occurrence in the sample and identify the corresponding frames accordingly, similar coding procedures found in previous research (Gamson & Modigliani 1989; Pan & Kosicki 1993; Van Gorp 2007; Dai & Hyun 2010; Kothari 2010; Van Gorp & Van der Goot 2012). As the findings will show, identifying the frames and the framing devices were very sufficient to answer both research questions but the authors added more coding variables to enhance the measurement for the second research question. The authors added 'tone' and 'identity of source' in the codebook. These variables are similar to Aday, Livingston, and Hebert (2005) and Aday (2010) where the researchers measured if a news story is more slanted toward support or opposition for the US government on its war in Iraq. Aday, Livingston, and Hebert (2005) created a 5-point scale where media 'support' to the official stand to the war is coded as 5 or 4, media 'neutrality' is coded as 3, and media 'opposition' is coded as 2 and 1. We have utilized this measure because a news story can have some elements of support and opposition toward its government but the overall picture of the story can be more slanted toward one side over the other. 'Identity of source' was used to identify which official sources were used and quoted to indicate their support or opposition to the band.

Time frame and unit of analysis
Although members of the Pussy Riot were active months before the cathedral protest, we narrowed our time frame from 21 February 2012 to 24 August 2012. The day in which the band performed inside the Moscow Cathedral was 21 February. This event in particular was the most attractive to international media. A week after which the verdict was announced to jail three band members was 24 August. Our choice of this period stems from the importance of 21 February as the day in which the church performance and Pussy Riot became global news. As for choosing a week after the verdict, it is widely acceptable that the media coverage would not seize to exist after the day of the verdict, but would remain after the verdict as well. Among the events that took place during these six months was the re-election of Putin as president on 4 March, marking 8 March as the International Day of Solidarity with Pussy Riot as well as various protests worldwide. Throughout April, May, and June, the Russian court rejected several bail attempts to the band members.

The news articles were collected using the newspapers' official online archives from their websites during October 2012. The authors also referred to LexisNexis and Factiva databases to check any missing news articles from the newspapers. For each newspaper the keywords 'Pussy', 'Riot', and 'Pussy Riot' were used to yield the most comprehensive sample. The initial full-text search yielded 521 articles. News summaries, opinion articles, articles that only mentioned Pussy Riot as a minor event and did not focus on Pussy Riot as a primary subject, and duplicate articles were excluded from the analysis. After the elimination, a total of 173 articles was reached. The distribution of the 173 articles was: 38 from the New York Times, 21 from the Washington Post, 68 from Izvestiya, and 46 from Argumenty i Fakty. The unit of analysis was the news article. After a one-week comprehensive training in defining, identifying, and reaching agreement on the coding procedures, the authors read each article twice; to get an overall impression and to extract the key frames and devices using the coding measures employed in this study. Both authors are fluent in English but the second author is fluent in Russian as well. The first author analyzed the English news articles while the second author analyzed the Russian articles.

The coding revealed the presence of multiple frames and framing devices in the news articles of the four newspapers. Generally, the findings show that the news articles from the American newspapers were aligned with the official stand of the US government while the Russian news articles provided both support and opposition (in the form of advocacy and accusations) toward the Russian government in its handling of the church performance and Pussy Riot. The differences in all the news articles were mainly on the use of events covered, celebrity endorsements, official sources used, and the angles in the identification of who were the victims and the perpetrators, particularly in the American newspapers. The following shows the identified frames and the corresponding framing devices. Further details are included in the tables.

The New York Times and the Washington Post
Starting with the frames and their devices in the American newspapers (Table 1), the 38 news articles from the New York Times heavily focused on the global support and acts of solidarity toward Pussy Riot. The dominant and most recurring frame in the New York Times was the 'Global Solidarity' frame in which it emphasizes the efforts of protestors around the world to support Pussy Riot ('the moral duty of protestors to support and stand with Pussy Riot'). This support was expressed in relations to the harsh prosecution measures taken by the Russian authorities (described 'as dangerous as tigers') and for the freedom of expression that Pussy Riot is entitled to. The news articles mainly covered global acts of protests in Berlin, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles in addition to protests within Russia ('protestors flooding the squares'). Several articles focused on events taking place in New York City such as the CBGB music festival (country, bluegrass, and blues) whose organizers expressed their support to the families of the three jailed band members by selling T-shirts and other merchandise. The organizers also indicated their efforts to promote a 'Global Pussy Riot Day'.

Pussy Riot: Table 1
Pussy Riot: Table 1

Frame Matrix of the Pussy Riot Issue in the New York Times. | Photo: Archives | Pussy Riot, Russia, New York Times,

Within the 'Global Solidarity' frame, there were heavy mentions of celebrity support to Pussy Riot who ranged from musicians to the former world champion in chess. Among those who were quoted in the articles were Madonna, Sting, Paul McCarthy, Icelandic pop star Bjork, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, American artist Simonne Jones, and Garry Kasparov. These celebrities focused mainly on the members' courage to speak their minds and practice their democratic freedoms.

Amnesty International was also covered in its reaction to the 'harsh prosecution' of the Russian court toward Pussy Riot which was considered a 'violation of human rights'. The news articles that used this frame dominantly employed a supportive tone toward the US stand on the Pussy Riot issue. The New York Times cited US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen when they were talking to different media explaining their support to the Pussy Riot.

The second frame, 'State and Church Pursuit of Control', emphasizes several actions of 'tyranny' and 'dictatorship' in relations to the prosecution of the three band members ('relentless efforts to curb dissent'). It also emphasizes the cooperation between the Russian regime and the church for 'control over society'. The frame ranges from emphasizing on Russia's increasing repression of political dissent ('iron fist toward democratic freedom'), led by 'invincible' Putin, to the church's increasing influence in politics and society ('political control with a religious twist'). In addition to the frame's focus on the harsh prosecution measures, it connects these measures as part of the efforts of the recently 'reinstalled' president to 'clamp down' on opposition with the help of the church ('uncanny control', 'total control and dominance'). It describes that the prosecution is no longer about crimes of 'hooliganism' or 'disrespect to holy shrines' or 'blasphemy', nor about the handling of the prosecution of the band members (who are 'prisoners of conscience'); it is about the length the Russian system is willing to go to squeeze political dissent. Past and historical events were mentioned in the articles such as the 'Cold War', 'Glasnost', 'KGB', and 'The bay of pigs'. While employing this frame, in many instances the articles from the New York Times indicated a new authoritarian system of control that Russia has not witnessed in the last century. This new system is the integration of state and religion as a new type of governance in Russia. On many occasions, the articles from the New York Times focused on the Orthodox Church's close ties to the Kremlin and constantly quoted Patriarch Kirill I when he expressed his support to Putin.

As for the tone and the cited sources in this frame, the news articles showed opposition toward the Russian government in its treatment of the Pussy Riot. Among the articles that employed the 'State & Church Pursuit of Control', the official sources that were cited were from Russia and the USA, expressing their support to Pussy Riot and opposition to the Russian government.

As for the Washington Post (Table 2), its coverage is not considerably different from the New York Times. It also employed the 'Global Solidarity' frame but had fewer mentions of it. This frame in the Washington Post emphasized, as it did in the New York Times, the various efforts around the world in supporting the Pussy Riot ('protests and flash mobs in solidarity with Pussy Riot'). Sting, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Madonna were mentioned in regard to their support to Pussy Riot and described them as 'freedom fighters'. The Post also mentioned several solidarity events such as a collaborative event between the Washington social-justice community in the DC area and artist Andrea Collins, organizing a Global Pussy Riot Action Day. The event was a concert that would take place outside the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC. The newspaper articles referred to the official statements of international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International ('desperate efforts of an evil regime to curb dissent', 'violations of human rights').

Pussy Riot: Table 2
Pussy Riot: Table 2

Frame Matrix of the Pussy Riot Issue in the Washington Post. | Pussy Riot, Russia, Washington Post.,

However, the Washington Post heavily emphasized the direct connection to the prosecution of the Pussy Riot to the church, the Kremlin, and particularly to Putin's influence on state and society. Hence, 'Putin's Rule' frame emphasizes a new system of control that the Post calls 'Putinism' in several of its articles ('Putinism', 'Putin's Russia', 'Putin and his iron fist', 'Putin's grip on power'). This frame describes Putin's ability to keep the masses 'ignorant' or 'apathetic' about the regime and the regime's opponents. Past events were mentioned in the articles to reiterate on 'Putinism' such as the murders of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova in 2009. 'Who opposes Putin happens to be arrested or murdered', according to one of the news stories. On several occasions, stories compared Putin to Stalin. Moreover, the frame describes the situation in Russia under this new ideology of 'Putinism'. The system constantly monitors the Internet, employs intimidation tactics to halt bloggers' activism, and cracks down on opposition 'who are trying to spread democracy in the country'. Along these elements, the 'Cold War', 'Soviet Union', and 'KGB' were mentioned in the stories.

When the Post's articles are directly discussing Pussy Riot, the 'Putin's Rule' frame emphasizes the harsh measures taken by the court and reiterates on the band's innocence. It indicated that the punk group spoke their minds ('and challenge the establishment') and the Russian authorities should not prosecute 'expressions of freedom and art'. A quote from Amnesty International was constantly mentioned in the news articles of the Post indicating that the jailed members are 'prisoners of conscience'. The Post's articles expressed the opinion that jailing the band members is a severe punishment. According to the articles, the church performance is no more than a 'disorderly conduct that does not deserve prison time'.

The Post's articles also expressed the belief that Pussy Riot was singled out and heavily targeted by the Russian regime 'to discourage others from challenging the establishment'. The band represents a 'voice of dissent in Russia' and they are 'victims' of 'unruly proceedings'. They claimed that the Russian Parliament's 'quickly written' laws aim at curbing protest by 'imposing hefty fines for slander, government limits on the Internet and forcing foreign organizations to register as foreign agents'.

The overall tone in the majority of the Post's news articles had varying degrees of support and opposition. It was supportive toward the US government but expressed opposition to the Russian government. Quotes from US officials were used in the context where members of the Pussy Riot are victims of the Russian regime while Russian officials were quoted when they were talking about the guilt committed by the band. Among these officials were White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Hillary Clinton, and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill I were cited to demonstrate the new system of 'Putinism' that Russia has witnessed.

In general, the employed frames and framing devices in the American newspapers tended to reflect the oppositional stand of the American government to the Russian handling of the Pussy Riot. The news articles showed that Russian authorities were determined to prosecute the band despite the belief in their innocence. The American newspapers also tended not to mention the other argument and justifications that the band might be guilty and could be accused of blasphemy, hooliganism, disrespect of the church, and carrying on an unauthorized protest. In very few cases, the New York Times reported that the church performance was offensive to some, but it did not provide any further explanations or justifications for why it was so.

Izvestiya and Argumenty i Fakty
Both Izvestiya and Argumenty i Fakty employed the same frames in an identical manner, despite the former's more coverage than the latter by 22 news stories. Both newspapers covered the church performance and the court measures based on the two sides of the argument. On one hand, the church performance was covered as 'an act of hooliganism' and as 'a freedom of expression'. On the other hand, the court measures were reported as 'normal proceedings in the Russian court' and as 'harsh measures to oppress dissent'. 'Church as the Victim' was the most recurring frame in the news articles for both newspapers, but was more visible in Izvestiya than Argumenty i Fakty. This frame emphasizes that the action inside the church was an act of 'hooliganism'. 'Blasphemers', 'hooligans', 'criminals against religion', and 'trouble singers' were used to describe the band members. Religiously, the performance was framed in the articles as 'a sin'. Both newspapers quoted church's officials and religious figures and referred to their opinions about the performance which was an 'ethical and religious mistake'. Several justifications were mentioned for why the performance was a sin that should be punished. Among which was the claim that a church is a 'divine place' and the only place where 'people could bring their pain and leave without it'. It is the only place where people can 'run away from their daily noise and busy lifestyles'.

The overall tone in these articles did not show any support or opposition toward the Russian or the US governments. Quotes from official sources were used as an enhancement for the news articles, and not to show where a particular government stands toward the issue. Among the officials were Vladimir Putin, a statement by the Higher Council of the Russian Orthodox Church and the former vice president Dmitryi Rogozin.

Another frame emphasized that the performance was a 'mere act of protest' which should be considered 'a free expression existing within all democratic societies' ('spreading freedom and justice'). 'Church Action as Freedom of Expression' frame referred to news stories and the argument that the action was not an act of hooliganism and was justified mainly by using celebrity endorsements who believed that the performance did not deserve jail time because it was an act of 'freedom and self-expression'. Among the celebrity figures that were mentioned in the news articles were Bjork, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Danny de Vito, and Yoko Ono. Russian celebrities were also quoted supporting the Pussy Riot such as singer Andrey Makarevich, TV broadcaster Kseniya Sobchak, and writer Vladimir Voinovich.

On several occasions the newspapers also mentioned Russian public figures who opposed the Pussy Riot such as singer Vaenga who believed in punishing the band members for committing the action. The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin believed that 'the band members should be punished'. He also criticized Madonna for defending the members of Pussy Riot. Despite quoting government officials and celebrities, the overall tone in the news articles did not show support or opposition toward the stands of the US and Russian governments (Tables 3 and 4).

Pussy Riot: Table 3
Pussy Riot: Table 3

Frame Matrix of the Pussy Riot Issue in Izvestiya. | Pussy Riot, Russia, Izvestiya,

Pussy Riot: Table 4
Pussy Riot: Table 4

Frame Matrix of the Pussy Riot Issue in Argumenty i Fakty. | Pussy Riot, Russia, Argumenty I Fakty,

Overall, the news articles show different angles of the church performance and the prosecution measures. The coverage in the American newspapers was more concerned with events of solidarity with Pussy Riot, both within the USA and abroad. This was supported with celebrity endorsements and statements by government officials to either describe the implications of the church performance or prosecution measures. The American newspapers were also concerned with the attempts of the Russian regime and the Orthodox church to control Russia and curb dissent, emphasizing the direct role of Vladimir Putin in what is happening to Russia. As for the Russian newspapers, they were more concerned with showing the two sides of the argument: the church as a victim of an offensive action, and the action as an act of freedom of expression. The Russian newspapers also showed the two sides of the arguments toward the court measures. Their coverage included different celebrity views. The Russian articles reported more facts about the issue without aligning with a particular government. To conclude, the American newspapers had a greater focus on the public and governmental reaction that followed the Russian handling of the issue while Russian newspapers had a greater focus on the latest developments and its two sides of the argument. This general finding is further discussed below.

In regard to answering the two research questions, the study found that the four newspapers employed frames and framing devices in their coverage of the Pussy Riot. As illustrated in the findings and the tables, some of these frames and their devices were similar within the American and Russian newspapers while others were different. Some of them were more or less visible than others. For example, both the New York Times and the Washington Post employed the 'Global Solidarity' frame but it was more visible in the New York Times than the Post. The same pattern took place in the Post's news articles in terms of the court measures toward the band members. The Post had more details on the court proceedings than the New York Times particularly on describing their harsh nature. As for the Russian newspapers, the extracted frames and devices were dominantly identical but differed in their visibility as explained in the findings. Among the slight differences between the Russian newspapers was that Argumenty i Fakty had more quotes from officials expressing their opinion toward the Pussy Riot than Izvestiya.

Within the New York Times and the Washington Post, the latter seemed to be immensely more opinionated in its coverage of the Pussy Riot than the former. It focused more on what it described as harsh measures by the Russian authorities toward the three band members; and directly connecting these measures to Putin's iron fist in controlling Russia. Several historical exemplars were used to enhance the argument, more often in the Post than the Times. According to the Post's coverage, the church performance is without a doubt an act of freedom which was also emphasized by the constant referrals to celebrities supporting the band members. It is important to note that the New York Times did provide both sides of the argument (as an act of hooliganism or as a freedom of expression) but provided and allocated more space to the freedom of expression argument. The overall coverage of the American newspapers was more toward showing global support to the band members as well as toward Russia's harsh measures in curbing opposition with the help of the Russian church.

The Russian newspapers were less opinionated toward the church stunt and the court measures. They showed both sides of the argument in regard to the band's guilt or innocence. They also reported on international and Russian celebrities who opposed the band and those who supported it. The overall coverage of the Russian newspapers was more toward showing different views as well as the latest developments on the court proceedings and public reaction, both the local and global.

This was a surprising finding in the Russian newspapers considering the widely spread belief that the Russian media, particularly the traditional, is pro-government, pro-Kremlin, and pro-Putin. This belief is supported by many practices since Putin's reign over Russia where Becker (2004) believes that Putin has installed a neo-authoritarian media system. In press freedom, Russia was ranked 142 in 2012 (the year of the church performance and court decision) and 148 in 2013, out of 179 countries (Reporters Without Borders 2013). Freedom House has categorized Russia as 'Not Free' in its press status (2013). Since he formed his own political party, United Russia, Putin with his party's dominance of the Kremlin has passed several laws curbing free speech (Favret 2013). Among these laws were the Act for Information Law and the Law on Rallies. These laws have been enforced on both traditional media, new media, and on activists expressing dissent (Favret 2013). On several occasions, the Russian authorities have barred Western journalists from Russia while local media have constantly ignored reporting the news. (3) Within Russia, opposition figures would get little air time when they are interviewed on various media. (4)

It would be assumed that the supposed pro-Russian newspapers in this study would cover the Pussy Riot with a highly biased view, employing hence, frames, and framing devices that argue for the band's guilt and call for severe punishment, as well as show the government and the church's unfavorable stand toward the band. However, the newspapers provided different views, celebrities, and official sources and allocated relatively equal space to each argument (church stunt as hooligan or an act of freedom, and if court measures were harsh). The Russian newspapers employed different frames that did not allow for the domination of one view over another.

We can conclude that the extracted frames from the American and Russian newspapers did not show a Cold War or US-Soviet thrust in their coverage of the Pussy Riot. In other words, the American and Russian coverage of the Pussy Riot did not qualify enough to conclude the employment of a US-Soviet thrust. This was very clear in the New York Times and the two Russian newspapers. The Post compared Putin to Stalin and used words such as 'iron fist', 'iron curtain', 'the free West', and referred to events during the communist era. Their articles had a clear opposing stand toward the Russian government. These mentions, however, were not sufficient enough to support the presence of a 'Cold War' thrust. Their visibility and frequency were far from being significant to demonstrate the existence of a 'Cold War' thrust. The nature of the coverage in the four newspapers remained mainly focusing on the Pussy Riot, with information regarding Putin and human rights in Russia. Nevertheless, a pro-government stand was taking place within the American newspapers, which was not the case for the Russian newspapers. That is, the extracted frames from the four newspapers indicate that the governmental opposition is one-sided, from the USA to Russia, rather than mutual. The US government believed in the band's innocence from any wrongdoing and also believed in the band's potential to spread democratic principles.

What was strikingly similar and visible among the four newspapers is the fact that feminism was always used in the news articles to identify the Pussy Riot. Although there were more referrals to Pussy Riot as a feminist punk band in the American newspapers than the Russian, not a single news article from all the four newspapers defined or explained what the term feminism means, nor did any news article explain what the band stands for in their demands. The band was constantly identified as anti-Putin, feminist, and revolutionary. Further details to these demands remained unclear throughout the news articles in the four newspapers.

Revisiting the Times' 'State & Church Pursuit of Control' and the Post's 'Putin's Rule', the two frames are similar in emphasizing the role of the state, and Putin in particular in curbing dissent in Russia. However, they can be distinguished mainly by the former's broadness and the latter's personalization. The former frame mainly reported and explained the role of the state (the legislative, executive, and judicial) toward the Pussy Riot where Putin was also among those who had a major role in their prosecution. The frame indicated that the prosecution was endorsed by the Orthodox church's approval by constantly quoting Patriarch Kirill I in his support to Putin and in emphasizing that the church stunt was 'sinful' and an 'act of hooliganism'. As for the Post's frame, Putin is the mastermind of everything Russian. The frame presented Putin as having direct and sole role in prosecuting the band members and his ability to intervene and influence court and parliamentary decisions. Many elements in the news articles mention previous events to demonstrate Putin's role in Russian politics and society. Also, pre-Soviet events were mentioned in the Post in order to show Putin's attempts to revive a Soviet era.

Stemming from the fact that framing an issue has an influence on how readers understand and consequently think about it would create a partial image of reality; in this case, a partial image of the Pussy Riot controversy. The frames that were employed by the four newspapers create an image problem of who the Pussy Riot is, what they stand for, and what the controversy is all about. While the band is seen by the American newspapers as a voice of dissent in Russia, it is not so in the Russian newspapers, as indicated by the frames and their devices. The American newspapers focused more on the harsh prosecution measures which stemmed from their belief that the church performance was an expression of freedom. The Russian newspapers did not take a supportive or opposing position toward the band but described it in some occasions as an act of hooliganism and in others as an act of democracy promotion. This is where audiences can be affected from how the media framed the Pussy Riot. The framing of public issues by the media can affect the way audiences perceive these issues. Audiences' knowledge and information about public affairs are mediated rather than direct (Iyengar & Kinder 1987). Popular understanding of and even opinions about political issues may be substantially shaped by the selection and presentation of information by the media (Iyengar & Kinder 1987).

Conclusion and Limitations
To reiterate, this study found that the American and Russian newspapers employed frames and framing devices in their coverage of the Pussy Riot. The two American newspapers employed similar frames where they both used the 'Global Solidarity' frame and differed in the 'State and Church Control' and 'Putin's Rule' frames. The two Russian newspapers employed identical frames but differed in how frequent they used each frame. The study did not find a 'Cold War' thrust in the coverage of the Pussy Riot between the four newspapers. It found, however, a one-sided governmental opposition toward the treatment of the band: from the USA toward Russia. This opposition was mainly mentioned when the news articles reported on the measures taken by the Russian authorities to prosecute the Pussy Riot and also when the band is believed to promote democratic principles.

The implications of the findings go beyond the controversy surrounding the Pussy Riot to include recent practices in today's media and journalism. The findings of this study partially correspond with previous research that while a media outlet covers an issue, it is more likely to reflect a pro-government stand. This finding was found in the American newspapers but not in the Russian newspapers. It was found in the New York Times toward the Darfur conflict (Kothari 2010), in Arabic and Western media toward Syria's nuclear facility (Al-Azdee 2010), in UK and US media toward terrorism news in general (Papacharissi & Oliveira 2008), and in Aljazeera, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC toward the Iraq war in 2003 (Media Research Center 2006).

It is important to note several limitations to this study. The most important limitation is that the findings cannot be generalized to all media outlets in both countries. This research chose only four newspapers from two countries and a particular timeframe. Future research can include different media from different countries in order to add further details toward how the Pussy Riot was covered. Also, despite the significance of the time frame, this research narrowed the period of the analysis from the day the band members performed the church performance to one week after the court decision, which was a total of approximately six months. In many ways, the time frame of the study is very significant to extract frames because the church performance was the event that attracted international media and public attention. However, extending the period even further might enhance the way Pussy Riot is covered by various media because the band members had been active for several years before the church performance even when some members were part of Voina. And lastly, despite the procedures to accurately measure the US and Russian stands toward Pussy Riot in the newspapers, it is important to note that what appears in a news article is more of a presumed position rather than the official position. That is, news organizations do not necessarily and visibly declare their support or opposition toward a government in their news articles. Rather, as the literature has shown, news organizations tend to reflect the stand of their corresponding government. Therefore, this study measured the presumed positions of the newspapers toward their corresponding governments, considering the governments' opposing positions due to a Cold War past and current relations in world politics.

The consistency of this study's findings with previous research in the literature provides support that many elements in framing the news are similar across cases and time, as well as media. It should be noted that the case of the Pussy Riot remains recent and further scholarship is needed to uncover various media portrayals of this band and its controversy that have gripped Russia and the world. The Pussy Riot represents an excellent case of how media coverage, hence frames and framing devices, can be different between media organizations, how it can reflect a government's stand toward an issue, and how that coverage can in return affect people's understanding of events.

Notes :

  1. Dar'ya Fedotova and Alla Zhidkova, 'Feminists were Taken into Custody in the Red Square', Moskovskyi Komsomolets [in Russian], January 20, 2012.
  2. See note 1.
  3. Neil Buckley, 'US Journalist Barred from Russia in First Case Since Cold War', The Financial Times, January 14, 2014, (accessed January 20, 2014).
  4. Heritage, 'Putin Dissolves'.


  1. Aday, S. (2010) 'Chasing the bad news: An analysis of 2005 Iraq and Afghanistan war coverage on NBC and Fox News channel', Journal of Communication, 60, pp.144-64. 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01472x [CrossRef], [Web of Science ]
  2. Aday, S., Livingston, S., & Hebert, M. (2005) 'Embedding the truth: A cross-cultural analysis of objectivity and television coverage of the Iraq war', Journal of Press and Politics, 10(1), pp.3-21. 10.1177/1081180X05275727 [CrossRef], [Web of Science ]
  3. Al-Azdee, M. (2010). Nuclear facility episodic storytelling themes in Syrian press coverage: A quantitative analysis to compare the coverage, a textual analysis to unveil it. Paper presented at the annual meeting for the International Communication Association, Singapore, June 22.
  4. Anti-Putin Punk Group Nominated for prestigious Russian art award (2012, August 10). Radio liberty,, accessed 7 November 2013.
  5. Bayulgen, O. & Arbatli, E. (2013) 'Cold was redux in US-Russia relations The effects of US media framing and public opinion of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war', Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 46(4), pp.513-27. 10.1016/j.postcomstud.2013.08.003 [CrossRef], [Web of Science ]
  6. Becker, J. (2004) 'Lessons from Russia: A Neo-Authoritarian media system', European Journal of Communication, 19, pp.139-63. 10.1177/0267323104042908 [CrossRef], [Web of Science ]
  7. Dai, J. & Hyun, K. (2010) 'Global risk, domestic framing: Coverage of the North Korean nuclear test by US, Chinese, and South Korean news agencies', Asian Journal of Communication, 20(3), pp.299-317. 10.1080/01292981003802184 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ]
  8. Entman, R. (2007) 'Framing bias: Media in the distribution of power', Journal of Communication, 57(1), pp.163-73. 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00336.x [CrossRef], [Web of Science ]
  9. Fairclough, N. (2003) Analyzing discourse: Textual analysis for social research, London: Routledge.
  10. Favret, R. (2013) 'Back to the bad old days: President Putin's hold on free speech in the Russian Federation', Richmond Journal of Global Law and Business, 12(2), pp.299-315.
  11. Foreign Policy Special Report (2012) The FP top 100 global thinkers,, accessed 3 December 2013.
  12. Free Pussy Riot (2013, July 18). Amnesty International,, accessed 2 September 2013.
  13. Gamson, W. & Modigliani, A. (1989) 'Media discourse and public opinion on nuclear power: A constructionist approach', American Journal of Sociology, 95(1), pp.1-37. [CrossRef], [Web of Science ], [CSA]
  14. Glazko, L. (2011, December 16) Interview with Pussy Riot. Public Post,, accessed 2 September 2013.
  15. Grunwald, H. (1993) 'The post-Cold War press: A new world needs a new journalism', Foreign Affairs, Summer, pp.12-16. [CrossRef]
  16. Human Rights Watch (2013, March 1) Russia: Free Pussy Riot members,, accessed 2 September 2013.
  17. Iyengar, S. (1991) Is anyone responsible How television frames political issues, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.10.7208/chicago/9780226388533.001.0001 [CrossRef]
  18. Iyengar, S. & Kinder, D. (1987) News that matters: Television and American opinion, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  19. Kothari, A. (2010) 'The framing of the Darfur conflict in the New York Times: 2003-2006', Journalism Studies, 11(2), pp.209-24. 10.1080/14616700903481978 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ]
  20. (2014) Art group Voina,, accessed 13 October 2014.
  21. Matthes, J. & Kohring, M. (2008) 'The content analysis of media frames: Toward improving reliability and validity', Journal of Communication, 58(2), pp.258-79. 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2008.00384.x [CrossRef], [Web of Science ]
  22. Media Research Center (2006) The Iraq war on cable TV: CNN and MSNBC vs. The Fox News Channel, Alexandria, VA: The Media Research Center,, accessed 2 September 2013.
  23. ORT (2012) Pussy Riot,, accessed 10 September 10 2013.
  24. Pan, Z. & Kosicki, G. (1993) 'Framing analysis: An approach to news discourse', Political Communication, 10, pp.55-75. 10.1080/10584609.1993.9962963 [Taylor & Francis Online], [CSA]
  25. Papacharissi, Z. & Oliveira, M. (2008) 'News frames terrorism: A comparative analysis of frames employed in terrorism coverage in U.S. and UK newspapers', The International Journal of Press/Politics, 13(1), pp.52-74. 10.1177/1940161207312676 [CrossRef], [Web of Science ]
  26. Press Secretary of the Prime Minister named the women's action disgusting (2012, March 3) NTV,, accessed 2 September 2013
  27. Reporters Without Borders (2013) 2013 World Press Freedom Index: Dashed hopes after spring,,1054.html, accessed 20 December 2013.
  28. Turovskyi, D. (2012, January, 24) 'What are you doing, girls Pussy Riot on fighting the regime and love to cats', Afisha, 12, pp.1-3.
  29. US Department of State (2012) Daily Press Briefing,, accessed 2 September 2013.
  30. Van Dijk, J. (2012) The network society, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
  31. Van Gorp, B. (2005) 'Where is the frame Victims and intruders in the Belgian press coverage of the asylum issue', European Journal of Communication, 20(4), pp.484-50710.1177/0267323105058253. [CrossRef], [Web of Science ]
  32. Van Gorp, B. (2007) 'The constructionist approach to framing: Bringing culture back in', Journal of Communication, 57, pp.60-78. 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006

Comment on Disqus

Comment on Facebook

Updated Aug 12, 2017 11:59 AM EDT | More details


©2017 AND Magazine, LLC
5 Columbus Circle, 8th Floor
New York, New York 10019 USA

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written permission from AND Magazine corporate offices. All rights reserved.