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This is not the time for journalism | EU Stratcom’s Disinformation Digest

This is not the time for journalism | EU Stratcom’s Disinformation Digest
How to stage a celebration to welcome an aid convoy from Russia to Donetsk and when will Crimea finally drift to Russia? Read in this issue of Disinformation Digest.

This is not the time for journalism

Last week, German weekly Die Zeit extensively covered the links between the Kremlin and separatist structures in Donetsk and their media manipulation in the separatist areas. Building on the leak of around 10,000 emails, the authors show how the “Information Ministry” of the pro-Russian separatists receives instructions from Kremlin advisers to manage the media coverage of events.

In the analysed material, the authors found convincing proof of media manipulation, including a manual on how separatists should control media outlets in the area. The manual contains the narratives to be conveyed in the media: the West is to be portrayed as Ukraine’s enemy and the government in Kyiv should come across as the only part not upholding the Minsk agreement. The document also underlines the importance of closely monitoring social media, and instructs that a commentary group with young activists should be created, a local troll army if you will. At the end of the document feature the contact details of well-known Kremlin ideologists, including Alexander Dugin.

The article describes how the strategy was implemented with the help of those connected to the Kremlin. Advisers gave detailed instructions for the staging of a celebration to welcome an aid convoy from Russia to Donetsk, including the number of children, teachers and doctors to be present. Likewise, there were instructions for the media on how to report on the celebration as well as guidelines on how to display the population’s unwavering support for Russian President Putin.

Furthermore, the article shows that there was careful monitoring of independent journalists in the area. Those who reported objectively were placed on a so-called stop list, with both Reuters and AP declared ”enemies of Russia”. A journalist who quit his job with the Information Ministry over the strict instructions was told by his employers when trying to report independently: ”This is not the time for journalism. Journalism is something for peace. For the war, which is also an information war, we need information soldiers.”

Today, 7 October, it is precisely ten years since one of the bravest women in Russia was murdered. Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist for Novaya Gazeta, an outlet that has a sad history of losing its reporters in executions.

Politkovskaya covered the war in Chechnya and documented allegations of war crimes of the Russian army. “In a couple of years she had become easily the most trusted Russian among Chechens,” writes Masha Gessen in The Man Without a Face. Politkovskaya also wrote about the siege of Nord-Ost theatre in 2002, where Russian special services killed hostages with an unknown gas. She also wanted to cover the school siege in Beslan two years later – but got mysteriously poisoned on her way there. She received many international awards for her journalistic work and published several books. Two years ago, five men were sentenced for her murder. It remains unknown who ordered Politkovskaya’s murder. (Image: Independent)

“I have a mortgage to pay, get out of my studio!”

Last Wednesday a talk show was interrupted on the pro-Kremlin TV channel NTV when a physical confrontation broke out between the show’s host and a Ukrainian guest. The incident occurred during a debate over the downing of MH17 in the show Mesto Vstrechi  (“Meeting Place”). A commentator with Ukrainian background who had been invited to participate in the show accused its host of lying when he said that Russian Ministry of Defence never claimed that Ukrainian fighter jets shot MH17 down (the Ministry had indeed claimed this. One needs no knowledge of Russian to appreciate not only how brutally the dissenter is escorted out of the TV studio, but also the audience’s excited applause (click on the image below to see the show).

The incident spurred strong reactions in Russian social media. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny brought it up on his blog and quoted one of the host’s former colleagues, who said that talk show host Mr Norkin had struggled to reconstruct the mortgage for his apartment back in 2010, and suggested that his behaviour was the result of a need for a salary raise. This led Alexey Navalny to suggest that next time the host faced opposition on his show, he should rather shout: “I have a mortgage to pay, get out of my studio! I have three more years to pay plus my car loan! Get out!”

Ведущий программы "Место встречи" выгнал украинского блогера Запорожского из студии
A commentator dissents with the hots of NTV’s talk show Mesto Vstrechi and is escorted out. The two-minute clip has been seen more than 1 million times on YouTube.

These reactions reflect the well-known fact that national pro-government media in Russia pay considerably higher salaries than, for example, independent media or local outlets outside Moscow. According to Kremlin-loyal Izvestiya, top journalists on pro-Kremlin networks make salaries that easily compete with those of their European colleagues, reporting salary levels of up to 40,000 USD (36,000 EUR) per month and people who, including side jobs, earn up to 200,000 USD (180,000 EUR) per month in total. For comparison, a search for journalist job openings in the St. Petersburg region shows salaries around 400-500 EUR (30,000-40,000 rubles) per month.

Interviewed after the incident, talk show host Andrei Norkin said he has no regrets – except that he didn’t actually beat up his Ukrainian guest. The victim of the scandal, Moscow-based Ukrainian businessman and commentator Sergei Zaporozhsky, wrote on his blog that he does not exclude that he will accept future invitations from NTV, “either for another show, or for another host than Norkin”.

New troops for the information war

Not only do the Russian authorities perceive media as a part of their armed forces. Not only does the Russian President give medals to journalists who reported about the absence of Russian troops in Crimea. Not only is information warfare a part of multiple official strategic documents of the Russian state. Not only is the desired messaging and disinformation multiplied by a whole army of pro-Kremlin trolls.

A significant reinforcement has arrived this week. As Meduza pointed out, the new National Guard received the competence to engage in “information warfare” from President Vladimir Putin. From the President’s decree, it is not entirely clear what specifically will the soldiers perform – but it is clear they will not be short of staff. The whole National Guard should number 350,000-400,000 troops, says Meduza.

Tuck your kids in a missile launcher

While Russian authorities recently sought to divert attention from their BUK missile systems, one Russian company used the buzz around flight MH17 to make money. A Saint Petersburg children’s furniture maker started selling a child’s bed in the shape of BUK missile launcher, The Guardian informs. This comes days after the joint investigation preliminarily concluded that MH17’s 298 passengers, including 80 children, were killed with this weapon which had arrived in Ukraine from Russia. The beds were part of a series for “future defenders of the motherland”. Watch the interview by independent TV Dozhd with a mother who bought these beds for her two sons (in Russian).

Friday fun: The BBC informs that the Crimean peninsula, illegally annexed by the Russian Federation, is moving towards the Russian mainland, at the speed of rate of 2.9mm per year. Alexander Ipatov, who heads the Institute of Applied Astronomy at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: “When Crimea joined Russia we tried to answer to a question as to where Crimea is moving. And we determined that it is moving towards Russia.” The scientists also calculated that, at the current rate, the peninsula will reach the Russian mainland in 1.5 million years. (Image: BBC)

The Disinformation Digest analyses how pro-Kremlin media see the world and what independent Russian voices say. It follows key trends on Russian social media, so you can put pro-Kremlin narratives into their wider context.

DISCLAIMER: The Disinformation Digest is based on the analysis of the EU East StratCom Task Force; opinions and judgements expressed do not represent official EU positions

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