From Russia, with vlog

It's a Small World Dept.
By PETER PIATETSKY  |  November 28, 2008

VIDEO: President-elect Barack Obama's first video address

Russia, a country not exactly renowned for its press freedoms, has prosecuted bloggers in the past, but last month, the country acquired a new uncensorable voice online — President Dmitry Medvedev’s. Wearing a crisp blue suit and tie in his first video blog post, Medvedev, jokingly referred to as geek-in-chief, talked about his agenda for the Evian political conference in France. Vlogging, is a natural step for the president, who reads the domestic and foreign press online, uses a Russian version of, and is even fluent in Russian Internet slang. The president got more comfortable in his latter two videos, where he lost the tie, discussed the financial crisis, blamed America for it, and then explained how his state-of-the-union speech is drafted.

Reactions to the Russian-language (with English subtitles) vlog have been mostly positive, with videos and commentary of them circulating widely throughout the Russian blogosphere. Discussions have focused as much on form as on content, with one blogger saying that "the Kremlin is getting more media-conscious."

Others have lampooned the initiative. One blogger edited pornographic images into Medvedev's video address and another mocked the idea, saying: "Who says democracy is dead in Russia? How many presidents talk directly to the people through their very own video blog?"

Surprisingly, a lot. Germany's president Angela Merkel has been speaking directly to the people in her vlog since 2006. Criticized at first as being "a study in stiffness" by WIRED magazine, the chancellor quickly learned how to use the medium and soon began answering online questions during her weekly address.

Merkel may have been a vlogging pioneer, but the first world leader to have a blog, albeit without video, was the very quotable president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Launched to much fanfare in the summer of 2006, all posts are available in Farsi, Arabic, French, and English and charmingly signed: "Written by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." But sanctions must have taken their toll, as the blog has not been updated in nearly a year.

US President-elect Barack Obama has announced that, in addition to the weekly radio address presidents have recorded since Franklin Roosevelt was in office, he will also upload videos to YouTube. In a first, the weekly Democratic radio address that he delivered on Saturday, November 15, was videotaped and is now available online.

The most colorful political vlog comes from David Cameron, the head of Great Britain’s Conservative party. Directly addressing the camera in his first post, Cameron can be seen washing dishes while explaining his party's platform. Cameron's Youtube page allows comments, which range from "Vote Cameron!" to ones even the Phoenix would feel squeamish printing. What separates Medvedev's blog from the others is that, despite the novelty of the medium, one facet of the Russian government's relationship with the public remains the same: Medvedev's blog permits no comments.

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  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama, David Cameron, David Cameron,  More more >
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 See all articles by: PETER PIATETSKY