Those in the West thinking about launching a Russian-language television station to counter Moscow’s lies need to reflect on the fact that “Kremlin propaganda offers its own integral albeit inadequate picture of the world,” while “Europe on the other hand does not offer any picture at all,” according to Kyiv’s “Delovaya stolitsa.”
In an unsigned article yesterday, the Kyiv daily comments on the July 20 proposal by Poland and the Netherlands to create a European Russian-language news agency that would deliver its information to the Russian Federation and Russian speakers in Eastern Europe via TV, radio and the Internet.
The two have called for a donors’ conference to take place in Warsaw in September to come up with the funding for this project, but the Ukrainian paper suggests that before any money is gathered and spent, those behind this need to answer a number of questions that they do not appear to have posed.
Europeans were so shocked by Moscow’s success in manipulating the media environment over the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner that the European Commission’s foreign policy apparatus already in March of this year set as a task for Europe “countering the disinformation campaign of Russia.”
That is a noble and important goal, the paper says, but “the problem consists above all in the lack of clarity of the goals of the project.” Calling for the delivery of accurate information is fine, but “it is a big question as to whether there is a niche for such an agency in the media marketplace” in Eastern Europe, let alone in Russia.
Television is obviously “the most significant media” in the planned structure, “but any channel in order to attract attention needs advertising and presence on TV.” The Europeans may come up with sponsorship, but how are they going to ensure that this television channel will have more than an Internet presence? The experience of “Dozhd” shows the limits if they don’t.
But there is an even more essential question that those behind this project need to address, “Delovaya stolitsa” says, and that is this: “What story do they want to tell? If they don’t, the viewer will prefer” the clear if distorted picture Moscow propaganda offers “to boring journalism.”
“For that small part of Russian society which avoids the impact of Russian TV … the channel that is being proposed will hardly offer any new information.” And for those in Russia who don’t or those in Eastern Europe who don’t, “’objective media’” however nice the term sounds is unlikely to win many viewers.
Indeed, the Ukrainian paper says, “the ability of such a product to compete with Russian propaganda elicits doubt, for under the conditions of contemporary information technology, the problem of access to factual information does not exist. There is, for example, Euronews with its Russian service which completely supplies the demand for objective facts.”
The majority of viewers “watch television products not for the sake of facts.” And they don’t want to become victims of propaganda. But well-constructed “propaganda creates a whole worldview, connecting a multitude of facts into a single picture. Standards of objective journalism presuppose that the viewer should draw conclusions for himself — while propaganda offers its audience a ready-made product.”
“Propaganda and Russian propaganda in particular is rich with bright imagery … and interesting stories. Objectivity isn’t a priority. Given that, struggling with manipulations by means of unmasking it and providing objective news sources is a strategy doomed to fail,” the paper says.
“People who are ready to believe in the story about ‘the crucified child’ … are no interested in evidence showing it to be false. For those who didn’t believe this nonsense from the beginning, the new agency will not give them additional reasons for their views.”
If the West is to be successful in counterpropaganda, “it must establish its own integral narrative, a worldview which the channel will offer to its viewers.” Exposing falsehoods and providing objective facts “will find its viewer in its framework” but not on their own.
But “for the creation of such a worldview, there needs to be a vision of the long-term development of the region, something which up to now is not to be observed in the European community.” It is striking that a year after Crimea, “the collective West has not developed a clear explanation” of what it would like to see in Eastern Europe in the future.
Instead, the West talks “exclusively about short-term goals such as a ceasefire in the Donbas, even though under current conditions that is not the main thing. What political place in the future Europe is to be given to Ukraine and Russia correspondingly? How will the economic integration of Ukraine into the EU take place and will it be given assistance equivalent to that which was given to Poland?”
There are other questions the West has not answered either: “In case of the continuation of a confrontation between the Kremlin and the West, who will provide the basis for softening the consequences of economic and social collapse on the territory of the Russian Federation which will inevitably affect Ukraine and Europe as a whole?”
According to the Kyiv paper, “Kremlin propaganda offers an integral, albeit inadequate picture of the world: ‘Great Russia, surrounded by enemies and traitors.’ Europe however is not offering any picture at all.” But coming up with such a picture is necessary if any television program directed at Russian speakers is to have any impact. That remains to be done.
By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia