Unfortunately I’ve been swamped with work lately and I’m once again on my way to Ukraine, so I’ve had to either delay or outright drop a few post ideas I’ve had in the past couple weeks. Since I’ll be busy during that time as well (those Russian-speaking children don’t crucify themselves!), I decided to get in one more post before leaving.
This is kind of an old topic but a necessary one. I was recently “inspired” to revisit this topic by a Western Kremlin fan’s comments, but his comments basically follow the same script as other Western Putinophiles. In other words, this could have come from any of them.
I’m actually going to tackle this in two parts. The first part starts like this: Express an opinion contrary to the Kremlin line and the American or otherwise Western Putin fan hits you with “Stop watching CNN/Fox news!” More bullshit follows. Now speaking for myself, I’ve been living in Russia for over nine years now. Add half a year in Prague to that and it’s nearly a decade outside of the US. When it comes to Fox, apart from the fact that I rarely had cable TV throughout my entire life, I was diametrically opposed to everything Fox represented by 2000. There are some people who also oppose Fox’s message yet who will watch it for entertainment or research- I’m not one of those people. I can’t stand it. As for CNN, see what I said about cable TV. Typically the only time I would see CNN was if I was in a waiting room somewhere.
The fact that Team Kremlin uses networks like CNN or Fox as their go-to examples of “anti-Russian” propaganda just shows how ridiculously out of touch these people are. When I think about the sources of good information on Russia, my list looks something like this:
Meduza, RBK, Vedomosti, The Guardian, VICE, BBC, Al Jazeera, The Moscow Times, to name a few. In addition to that, I also will even comb sources like Sputnik or RT if only to get their spin on something.
What do you not see in that list? CNN or Fox.
Getting to the second part of this equation, I’ve seen some Kremlin fans try to claim that RT is no different from CNN or Fox. Well okay, sure. CNN and Fox are shit, so RT is shit. I’ll buy that. But the problem is that it’s not an entirely accurate analogy. For one thing, RT’s defenders claim it’s not propaganda, but merely reflecting the Russian point of view. Firstly, it reflects the Kremlin’s POV. Second, if we were to look at Fox or CNN, would we see a statement about how their mission is to “reflect the American point of view?” Of course not. Here’s the mission statement of the state-funded BBC; do you see anything in here about promoting the “British perspective?” Going back to the American media, Fox doesn’t even claim to be a conservative news outlet even though they obviously are. They claim to be an objective and unbiased news organization. In fact, they claim that a little too much. It’s almost as if they are, in fact, not unbiased or something.
There’s another component to this, that being never-ending use of the term “information war.” Nowadays we see some Western pundits and officials using that term, but it’s very important to keep in mind that this term was first used by the Russian side, mainly as a justification for ignoring any concept of objectivity and giving only the “Russian POV.” The term has been used by lower level pundits like Tim Kirby, as well as top Russian media figures such as Kiselyov and Simonyan. I’ve yet to see the heads of news organizations like the BBC, Al Jazeera, etc. declare that they are in an information war with Russia. I haven’t heard CNN or Fox News officials making such declarations as well. I suspect that Fox sees itself as locked in an information war against the domestic American “liberal media,” a fact which should raise a few eyebrows when thinking about comparisons.
So bottom line, RT is not just the Russian Fox News or CNN. For one thing, neither of those companies are state-owned. What is more, Fox, at least during a Democratic administration, is constantly attacking the US government and government in general, to the point of openly supporting the Tea Party movement. But even if we ignore that and make that inaccurate comparison, all that would mean is that RT is as shitty and ineffective as CNN, and as biased as Fox News.
As for the information war, as I’ve pointed out again and again, this is the invention of the Russian side. It didn’t have to be this way- there actually used to be examples of objective Russian media, including state-run outlets. These were discarded in favor of the information war, with all that entails, including fabricated stories, false experts, and the like. The Kremlin’s “political technologists” consciously made this decision and now they’re mad when some people call them out for propaganda.
Of course how objective the Kremlin media could be is a difficult question post-2014. Could RT reporters have shown that Russian troops were indeed in the Crimea before they were supposed to be (inside sources tell me everyone there knew that was the case from the beginning), as well as the Donbas? Naturally the “Russian POV” could have maybe devoted more time to stories about radical Ukrainian nationalism and Ukraine’s very real problems with corruption during Maidan, but would Kremlin-run media also be allowed to engage with a diverse cross-section of the Maidan movement, which was in fact not really anti-Russian and not necessarily all about “joining Europe,” the latter being a myth which was propagated by both “Western” and Russian media? I find that hard to believe.
While “Western” media sources tend to end up toeing the government line out of a desire to preserve access to official sources, the Russian state-owned press is apparently expected to give the
Kremlin’s Russian POV. This doesn’t mean that they have to cover up domestic topics like corruption or economic woes, but on foreign policy there doesn’t seem to be any wiggle room.
So basically what we have here is:
-Russian media declaring information war, and then getting mad when the media they have declared information war on acknowledge and use the term information war.
-Russian media being compared to outlets like CNN and Fox News, and then getting mad when people point out how bad or biased that is.
-Russian state-run media openly claiming to be propagating the Russian POV and then getting mad when people understandably label it propaganda.
-Russian media heads openly claim objective reporting is a myth, then get mad when they’re accused of bias. (Total objectivity is impossible, and probably not desirable, but the idea is that you try to get as close as possible and use evidence to do so).
If the shoe fits, wear it. If the Russian media is capable of being just as objective as the hivemind collective known as “the Western” or “mainstream” media, then let them do so. Let’s see some experts, actual experts, challenging the claims that Maidan was a US-organized coup, carried out by neo-Nazis. Let’s see interviews with people on both sides of the Ukrainian war, just as those supposedly “mainstream” outlets (including state-funded outlets like BBC and VOA) have done dozens of times, letting the fighters and civilians speak for themselves. Let’s see them actually question or challenge Putin’s public claims for a change. If they refuse to do this, then they should give a good reason for doing so. Claiming they’re giving the Russian POV doesn’t cut it, and if they claim to be doing that, then they are admitting that they aren’t doing what those other, non-Russian networks are doing.
If they refuse to respond to the allegation, they have no right to scream about being labeled propaganda. If they truly are independent enough to publish such material, let them prove it. Nobody’s seriously going to expect them to censor cheerleaders like Sleboda, Kirby, or Bridge. And from what I know, there are plenty of people who work in both Russian domestic and foreign-language media who do subscribe to the “other” side of the “Russian” POV, and who would probably be happy to provide a “second opinion” as RT likes to call it. Just try not to label them traitors and State Department agents in the process.
So the ball is in Team Kremlin’s court. If you declare information war, say you’re representing only the “Russian POV,” and claim that objectivity doesn’t exist, get used to being labeled a propaganda outlet.