Top-3 messages in the manipulative materials of pro-Russian media, broadcasting in the countries of Eastern Partnership are about “the decline of the EU”, corruption in Ukraine which prospers even better than during Yanukovich presidency, and that the favorable future is possible only in partnership with Russia. The monitoring was conducted by partner expert organizations in the national mass-media of six countries of the Eastern partnership (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia). In total, the experts revealed 44 messages “wandering” from Russian media to other national media. They presented results of their findings and recommendations at a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
In each country, the experts selected for monitoring 2-3 media which were the most likely to spread pro-Russian narratives. Pieces of news were analyzed according to one methodology, said Boris Navasardyan, member of Erevan press-club (Armenia), representative of the international group of the project “Joining efforts to counter propaganda”. Materials were classified as manipulative or propagandistic according to such criteria as presence of hate speech, racist, xenophobic or chauvinistic ideas, glorification of war or terrorism; repetitive single-minded focus on controversial topics which can form distorted vision of the issue; manipulation with facts and speculation on sensitive issues. In total, the experts found 852 materials which corresponded to one or a number of these criteria.
Tendencies in each of the countries
For each country, the predominant messages differ, taking into account internal situation and peculiarities of country’s relations with Russia. In Azerbaijan, the most frequent messages ensured that sanctions of the West had no impact on Russian economy and that strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank poses threat for Russia. In Armenia, manipulative materials try to sell the idea that the civil society is “the fifth column” of the West and that “if Russia did not supply weapons to parties in Karabagh conflict, someone else would did it without keeping balance of forces”. In Belarus, the specific leading message reminds idea about “fraternal peoples” which “do not differ practically at all”. In Georgia, the attitude to Russia is mostly negative, so the propaganda tries rather to undermine positive attitude to the EU, persuading that European vector of development would “undermine traditional values”. In Moldova the predominant messages are again about the NATO’s threat to Russia and the “complot of the West against Russia”.
“In Ukraine, the most popular narrative promotes the idea that reforms have failed and that corruption grew to even worse scope than during Yanukovich presidency. […] We saw this narrative for 320 times,” said Andriy Kulakov, program director of Internews-Ukraine. The majority of these materials were published by “Vesti” newspaper. This one is followed by messages that “Europe doesn’t want partnership with Ukraine” and “the EU is going to break up”. These messages were often transmitted by online-edition “Strana.UA”. The same could be found also in the materials of “Inter” TV channel, however, the channel in general addressed a wider scope of topics. However, pro-Russian materials about Ukraine published in Ukraine are more balanced, comparing to similar materials in other countries.
Conclusions and recommendations
The manipulative materials always have impact on people, even if there is no blatant lies, noted the experts. “Disinformation is not always a story about a crucified boy. In more recent times these narratives do not use fake facts, but if they are repeated regularly and persistently, practically hammered into our heads, they tend to form our outlook on the world. Even if we don’t believe the propaganda, we are forced to stay in the agenda formed by this news, because the media select the events to be covered. And this imposed agenda and distorted coverage also have a negative impact,” stressed Borys Navasardyan.
One of the key recommendations is to start direct exchange of high quality content between the countries of the Eastern Partnership. “We came to the conclusion that countries of the Eastern Partnership have practically no direct information about one another – we receive all this information through the intermediation of Russian “filter”, and, of course, it doesn’t contribute to integration within the Eastern Partnership and to creation of our common agenda,” explained Borys Navasardyan. It is as well important to contribute to formation of powerful, independent and professional public broadcaster and to improve competence of journalists.
Secondly, it is important that state regulatory bodies take decisive actions in cases when the transmitted messages contain elements of propaganda or directly violate the national legislation. In addition, it is important to ensure access to independent Russian media. Otherwise the absence of any sources of information about Russia except for Russian mainstream media may form a distorted opinion that there is no pro-democratic segment of the society with which the world could find common language.