Russian Propaganda

MDF Publishes New Report - Kremlin Influence Index 2017

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კრემლის გავლენის ინდექსი 2017 Photo: MDF

The Media Development Fund published its Kremlin Influence Index 2017. The index measures the abilities of the Russian government to influence the information areas of other countries for its own aims. The report covers Georgia, Ukraine, Hungary, and Czechia.

Georgia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mikheil Janelidze criticized the report.

“The Media Development Fund unfortunately makes a lot of mistakes lately, as in statements and also in publications there is a ‘certain tendency.’ Of course Russian propaganda tries to lay  roots not only in Georgia, but also in many other countries. In our friendly countries it has a serious influence, but the Government of Georgia is dealing with these challenges successfully on this stage... According to [recent research], 90% of the Georgian population supports Georgia’s membership into the EU, and 83% for NATO,” Foreign Minister Janelidze said.

The full report can be found here.

The main findings of the report covering the political dimension, media, and civil society are reprinted here:

Influence in Political Dimension

In all of the studied countries there are more or less strong 1 political parties and politicians that are disseminating either pro-Russian or anti-Western slogans and promoting narratives close to the Kremlin ones. These are rightist Fidesz and far-right Jobbik in Hungary, far-right Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, populistic Op - position Bloc in Ukraine, the Commu - nist Party and «Dawn» in the Czech Republic. Political parties in these countries are (as a rule) closely related to big business, and often the relationship of this business with Russia causes pro-Russian course of political parties. This system of relationship between politics and business creates danger, because the Kremlin is able to manipulate interests of business elites, and thus the position of political forces may change depending on the interests of their curators. Conservative ideology of Kremlin, to - gether with its disinformation efforts, gives arguments to parties from different sides of political spectrum to support its policy.

In the Czech Republic and Hungary, this influence is also exerted through senior politicians (Czech President and Hungarian Prime Minister respectively), who in their statements justify aggressive actions of Russia in the world, emphasize the strategic friend - ship with the Kremlin etc. In the Czech Republic, this influence is compensated by a more pragmatic and independent position of the government; in Hungary experts draw attention to the difference between the pro-Russian rhetoric and the more pragmatic line of the government following the mainstream consensus regarding sanctions, and the Minsk agreements in the EU, as well as in the NATO. Ukraine is in a state of undeclared war with Russia, so even pro-Russian  political forces apply patriotic rhetoric. Georgian government exploits existing fears towards Russia and turns it to politics of neutrality thus backing the existing anti-Western rhetoric in the country.

Local authorities are also communicators of the Kremlin ideas. Here, it is not the number of these institutions that is important (it is not significant), but informational public response to their decisions or statements in which they either support the foreign policy of the Kremlin, or deliberately do not condemn it

Response

Ukraine is an obvious flagship in the matter of political response to the Russian informational aggression. Clear understanding of the threat of Russian disinformation is fixed at the level of strategic documents. A number of resolute political decisions, which were made by the state, have significantly restricted access of the Russian media products to Ukrainian citizens. These decisions include limiting the broadcast of Russian propagandistic channels; ban on showing Russian movies with the elements of propaganda; ban on the admission of artists who publicly support annexa - tion of the Crimea and the Kremlin’s military aggression; activities of the government aimed at the restoration of Ukrainian broadcasting in the front - line and occupied territories; limitation on the import of books made in Russia etc. Independent public broadcasting service is created, which has to become a better alternative to the oligarchic media. Existing problems in the state management of information security: institutional decisions (crea - tion of the specialized ministry) have not diminished the chaos in the pow - ers of the authorities in this field and have not contributed to the proper coordination of efforts.

In other studied countries, political response depends above all on the political will of the ruling elites. Pro-Russian orientation of the Hungarian government causes the absence of decisions in this field. Under the pressure from the realities, the government of Georgia defined in - formational influence of Russia as dangerous, but because of the lack of proper political will, a lot of time can be lost in the transition from declara - tions to real actions to improve safety. The Czech government is more active in this area; in particular, a specialized governmental structure which has to combat propaganda in the country has already been created, a full-government approach has been adopted.

All the studied countries indicate insufficient capability of their governments to implement strategic communications, as well as the absence of the issue of media literacy of citizens on the political agenda (only Ukraine and the Czech Republic have some political decisions in this area, but they are very insufficient).

Influence: Media dimension.

The study confirms the thesis that the Russian media (such as Sputnik, RT, NTV, Russia 1 etc.) do not actually play a significant role in the system of disseminating Kremlin narratives among citizens. They are a source of narratives for the local pro-Russian media, in particular fringe media; they can also be referred by local mainstream and local media, which thereby disseminate the interpretations of events keeping with the Kremlin propaganda.

On the other hand, the national media are becoming more influential messengers of the Kremlin narratives. Oligarchic nature of the media space in the studied countries creates favorable conditions for Russian informational influence. Alliances (either more or less stable ones) between business and political groups in the studied countries and the Kremlin give Russia an opportunity to influence editorial policies of the national and local media which are under control of these groups. Therefore, traces of the Kremlin narratives can be found in the content of the media controlled by Fidesz-KDNP in Hungary; D. Firtash, S. Kurchenko etc. - in Ukraine; Obieqtivi TV, Maestro TV and Asaval-Dasavali in Georgia; several specific narratives on TV Prima in the Czech Republic. Since it is not always in the format of fake news, there is no obvious evidence that these media work for the Kremlin; working within the national legislation, these media enjoy the freedom of speech, and there are no democratic solutions to limit their activities. Governments do not have the political will to counter destabilizing work of these media, because it means a conflict with pro-Russian oligarchs of their country.

Strong influence of the Kremlin is observed among the fringe media. Citizens’ departure from the mainstream media and search for alternative sources on the Internet is a common trend. Influence of the dubious media makes a significant contribution to the system of Russian propagandistic influence.

Influence of the Russian media in the occupied territories in Ukraine and Georgia should be noted separately. The Russian government takes measures to carry out informational isolation of these territories and their integration into the Russian media realm by blocking access of citizens to the independent media and vice versa, by providing access to the Russian ones or to those controlled by the Kremlin.

Response

The inability of journalists and editors to resist owners’ censorship appears to be one of the major hazards, which weakens the ability of the media of the studied states to resist Russian informational aggression. This refers to the media which are controlled by pro-Russian business and political groups and are used for the propaganda of narratives advantageous to the Kremlin. Existing mechanisms of protecting the rights of journalists and of self-regulation seem to be extremely insufficient to give journalists freedom to produce objective and unbiased content that would not depend on the interests of owners.

Insufficient professionalism of journalists, lack of the ability to identify fakes and manipulations also contributes to the implementation of Kremlin’s plans in the informational field. Typically, the local media use unreliable sources, social networks etc. more often, and have less access to trainings and additional education than their counterparts from national newspapers and broadcasters.

At the same time the topic of disinformation and propaganda is becoming popular among journalists and in gaining media coverage. Naturally, it is happening most actively in Ukraine, where there have already been created a lot of movies, articles and programs on disinformation; the topic is raised in the news and debates on TV channels. In other studied countries the issue of the Kremlin propaganda is highlighted by journalists, but still is not in the spotlight.

Influence: Civil society dimension

Public organizations can be used to camouflage communication activities of Kremlin. Artificial  nature of these NGOs shows such characteristic features as the absence of organizations’ history, opaque financing and quality information resources. Particularly, the situation in Ukraine destabilizes on behalf of GONGOs. Another type of pro-Kremlin NGOs are organizations of artistic and cultural orientation (the Association of Tolstoy in Hungary, the Association of Independent Media in the Czech Republic), which provide an additional communication platform for pro-Kremlin political and cultural figures and increase the legitimacy of the pro-Kremlin actors in the eyes of the society. Academic institutions that promote Kremlin discourse, but they are very few in number. You can rather talk about pro-Russian propaganda by some professors than about the institutionalized influence through the academic field.

In Ukraine and Georgia, Orthodox Church (those domains of it that are subordinated to Moscow) acts as a powerful channel of Kremlin propaganda. Traditionalism, conservatism and the idea of the unity of nations that profess it are largely inherent in this confession; therefore it is used by the Kremlin to mobilize potential supporters of its ideology. There are numerous cases when members of this church of different levels came out with anti-Western messages or justified the aggressive policy of the Russian Federation.

In all the studied countries, Kremlin uses far-right and extremist organizations to their advantage, but their influence is limited. It is important to note that part of the territory of Ukraine and Georgia is under the control of illegal armed formations, and in these territories influence of these institutions is significant; in particular, they create their own media for the propaganda of their goals and ideology .

Response

All the studied countries have a significant potential of the civil society to combat Russian informational aggression. During 2015-2017, powerful local analytical centers, research and monitoring organization joined the work in this area. Naturally, most practices and approaches have been developed in Ukraine; as early as in 2015, Ukrainian NGOs had methods for disinformation monitoring, analysis of propaganda discourse and narratives, developed approaches to the evaluation of the impact of Russian disinformation in the country. Statistics and monitoring data that reflect the Kremlin’s propaganda efforts and reaction of the society to them are gathered. There is a close cooperation between journalist, security, sociology and conflictology centers; they cooperate with the media and provide support for the government.

In Georgia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, fight against Russian informational influence has not yet become so popular among the civil society, but there are powerful teams that systematically work in this area. Their number is not large, but they accumulate information about Russian influence strategy, monitor fakes, study the activities of internal agents of influence, find their relationships with the Kremlin. In Georgia and the Czech Republic these institutions are actively advising governments on strategic communications and strengthening of informational security; Hungarian Government is currently not open to such cooperation. Hungarian and Czech analytical centers make a significant contribution to the debate about these issues at the level of the EU.

Media literacy of citizens is a topic for regular discussions in the civil society, but few effective practices of the work of NGOs in this field have been developed. In each of the studied countries there are organizations that are either more or less systematically engaged in the media education of citizens, but their impact is currently limited, in particular due to the lack of resources.

In the studied countries, non-governmental organizations usually maintain a fairly high level of cooperation among themselves and with the media in the field of combating informational aggression. NGOs started working more actively with journalists, carrying out trainings on combating manipulations, fact checking etc. Cooperation between NGOs and the government is virtually absent in Hungary, while in other countries it is quite active: governments address analytical centers for research and advice. As a rule, cooperation between governments and the media within countries is complicated; also, cooperation between different media in the field of combating propaganda is quite rare.

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