Russian state media as weapon of war: FAZ columnist Friedrich

Schmidt writes that 'a genuine attempt to ascertain the truth' is

not the goal.



The Kremlin Media War: All-Channel Propaganda (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany)


"The authorities are using their nearly total media control to create a parallel universe in which Russia is under attack by the West. More than 90 percent of Russian residents obtain their information from television. Even outside, Kremlin channels reach Russian-speaking populations in Ukraine, the Baltic States and Germany. RT, which specifically targets foreign-speaking viewers, is having its budget increased by 41 percent. The goal is to disseminate the supposedly-suppressed 'Russian point of view.' This has nothing to do with journalism, i.e.: a genuine attempt to ascertain the truth. These media are part of Russia's arsenal."


By Friedrich Schmidt*

†††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††


Translated By Stephanie Martin


November 22, 2014


Germany - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Original Article (German)

Moscow: Russian leaders attach great importance to not being "participants" in the "inter-Ukrainian conflict." Officially there are no Russian troops in Ukraine. Moscow has recognized and has proclaimed that it respects the new leadership in Ukraine. Russia still hasn't recognized the "Peopleís Republics" of Donetsk and Lubansk, nor has it formally recognized elections in the region earlier this month. A very different picture emerges when one follows Russian state media. There the "Peopleís Republics" have long been such. There, local elections took place "in compliance with European standards," according to reports by Rossija 24. There, the separatists have long been "masters of the region," as President Vladimir Putin referred to them in mid-April.


The authorities are using their nearly total media control to create a parallel universe in which Russia is under attack by the West. More than 90 percent of Russian residents obtain their information from television. Even outside, Kremlin channel broadcasts reach Russian-speaking populations in Ukraine, the Baltic States and Germany. RT, which specifically targets foreign-speaking viewers, is having its budget increased by 41 percent in 2015, to over Ä265 million. There are plans for the channel to broadcast in French and German, with its first German-language broadcast having already been aired. The goal is to disseminate the supposedly-suppressed "Russian point of view." This has nothing to do with journalism, i.e.: a genuine attempt to ascertain the truth. These media are part of Russia's arsenal.

Graphic: The Interpreter

[Click to Read A Brief History of Russian Media]


A look at Ukraine shows how effectively the Kremlin employs media. With the beginning of the Maidan protests in Kiev, it began a campaign to portray events there as "mass unrest" and a Western conspiracy with the aim of discrediting a movement against corruption and in favor of democracy. It was particularly adept at taking recourse to the language and images of their WWII enemy, with "fascists" and a "junta" allegedly taking power in Kiev after the flight of President Viktor Yanukovych. In this worldview, any dissent is presented as treason. Such media-fueled primordial fear of fascism facilitated the conquest of Crimea. Then followed the alleged "genocide" in southeastern Ukraine - a reality for Kremlin media even before anyone had died. In this image of the world, extraordinary measures to rescue Russian-speaking Ukrainians are legitimate and necessary.


The Kremlin media don't confine themselves to exaggerating the role of genuine extremists on the Ukrainian side. Examples of disinformation are legion. In mid-March, RT edited an interview with a rabbi in the Crimean capital of Simferopol to make it look as if he was leaving Crimea due to a wave of anti-Semitism [video, right]. In fact, the man condemned Russia's actions and cited them as the reason for his departure. In mid-May, Rossija 1 showed the corpse of a man it alleged was no insurgent - killed by Ukrainian National Guard troops near Slaviansk. In fact, those images were shown a year and a half earlier during a report on an operation by Russian Special Forces. After the Ukrainian presidential election, the channel Perwiy reported that the leader of the "Right Sector" had won with 37.13 percent of the vote. In actuality, he received 0.7 percent.


At the end of June, several channels reported on mass killings by the National Guard in the village of Saurovka in the Donetz region. A separatist said people had been sawed to pieces and women raped. A journalist from the newspaper Nowaja Gaseta refuted the allegation on the spot, but the audience for corrections like these is limited, just as it is for projects such as the Ukrainian Web site, which refutes horror stories disseminated by Kremlin channels in Russian and English [see below]. According to Perwiy, a particular "coup" succeeded in mid July: A woman in a refugee camp in Russia told the channel that Ukrainian fighters in Slaviansk had crucified a three year-old boy. The fact that Russian journalists not loyal to the Kremlin soon refuted the story didn't prevent it from being disseminated.

Russian state media: Is it taking its viewers for a ride?

[Screen Grab from]


This isn't just about active myth-making. Kremlin media's dissemination of the "Russian view" is often a reaction to events that run counter to the way Russia's leadership would like. In late summer when reports were accumulating of Russian troops having fallen in the Ukraine, Kremlin channels picked up on the story - but there the men who had joined the fight did so voluntarily or during vacations. After flight MH17 crashed in east Ukraine on July 17th, channels like RT disseminated a slew of theories as to the cause, from the plane being shot down from the ground or the air by Ukrainian troops to the possibility that the passengers were already dead before the crash. Although these versions contradict one another, what they have in common is that they exclude potential responsibility on the part of the separatists.

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It wasn't until Friday last week - just in time for Putinís appearance at the G-20 summit to be a topic of discussion Ė that Perwiy aired a supposedly "sensational" photo allegedly showing a fighter plane shooting down the Malaysian Airlines Boeing [Reuters video, right]. Journalists debunked the photo as a forgery using maps and images from the Internet. The aim of such reports is to sow confusion and suspicion. At the very least, the aim is to suggest that finding the truth is impossible.


Is everything for sale? Is everything propaganda?


In Russia the propaganda works on multiple levels. Those who donít believe, for example, that there is impending bloodshed in Crimea, might believe in one of the geopolitically-inspired and therefore more socially-acceptable conspiracy theories, such as that NATO wants to take Russiaís naval base in Sevastopol - therefore forcing Putin to intervene on the peninsula. "The others lie, too," is often the resigned tone of such discussions in Russia: everything is for sale, everything is propaganda.


This is also the goal of Russia's propaganda offensive in the West. Those who donít believe Putin, should at least not believe Western media sources, either. Which in turn will lead them to question the need for sanctions. In their media, Kremlin leaders use Western freedoms that they circumscribe in Russia, where critical media are cautioned again and again.


Recently, radio station Ekho Moskvy was chastised for a live interview with a Los Angeles Times journalist in Donetsk. In a letter, the media regulator stated that the program "contained information justifying war crimes." It was clear that the "crimes" in question were committed by the Ukrainian side. Never has this authority cautioned a member of the Kremlin media for wrongly accusing Kiev.


*Friedrich Schmidt was born in 1980 in Kiel. He studied law in Passau and Berlin, and in Paris he studied at the Institut díEtudes Politiques and at the Sorbonne. He was also trained at the German School of Journalism in Munich. In June 2008, he joined this newspaper as political editor. Since January 2014, he has been a Moscow-based political correspondent for Russia, Belarus, the Caucasus and Central Asia.




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