One of the most common tactics of the Kremlin supporter is to impugn a source of information based on where they supposedly get their funding. It is also rather ironic, considering the fact that these same people often either work for or commonly site media that is entirely owned and paid for by the Russian government. But dealing with Kremlin fans inevitably means dealing with the most brazen hypocrisy.
In an age of PR-gone-wild, it makes sense to ask questions about funding. As the saying goes: He who pays the piper calls the tune. The problem is, however, that folk wisdom doesn’t really get you very far in the real world, where governments and individuals often have very complex, sometimes seemingly contradictory motives for funding initiatives or donating to non-profit organizations. Let us explore that a little deeper.
While this is a topic I’ve been wanting to address for a long time now, once again you have Anatoly “Da Russophile” Karlin to thank as a sort of catalyst for this post. He was apparently upset that Russia Without BS has some kind of “syndication” agreement with Stopfake.
First of all for the new readers out there, yes, there is a sort of “agreement” with Stopfake; I gave them permission to repost my work as they see fit. I am personally acquainted with the founders and many of the workers at Stopfake and I see no reason to apologize for this because Stopfake provides a much-needed service and on a personal level I find them to be dedicated, sincere individuals.
As for Karlin’s figure of 100,080 pounds per year, I’m not sure where that comes from (see update on this at the bottom of the post -JK). I was under the impression that they go grant-by-grant, somewhat like Hromadske.tv. In any case this is totally irrelevant. What matters above all is the content an outlet produces, not who funds it.
In this case, we may look back at the Russian media backlash against the Panama Papers for another example. As is typically the case, the super sleuths at RT and other affiliated blogs draw a line between the ICIJ, the Center for Public Integrity, and then yet another organization, and another, until they find funding from…THE US GOVERNMENT! Well then, the CPI might as well be Air America! Of course the CPI also gets some money from George Soros, but as it turns out they also covered Soros’ donations in their investigation of campaign financing.
So how do we judge if the CPI is just a US government front for information warfare, or an honest organization dedicated to real investigative journalism and questioning those in power. Well let’s just pop on over to their front page.
Hmmm…Nothing about Russia or Putin there. In fact nothing about any foreign country. And look! There’s a story about the dealings of Pierre Omidyar, the guy that Putin fanboy Mark Ames is obsessed with. And what of that article about the US prosecutor opening an investigation into the Panama Papers? Doesn’t even mention Putin or Russia. Today the front page looks a little hard on Sanders, but scroll down a bit and we get this story about defense contractors donating the most money to Hillary.
As I’ve mentioned before plenty of times, Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity, is featured heavily in this documentary that deals with the topic of media manipulation and consolidation in the US:
I have also pointed out before how the CPI maintains an archive of over 900 false statements that led to the Iraq War, but hey- Soros! State Department! BLLLLEARGH!!!
And what about Stopfake? Well if someone really wants to attack Stopfake they could start by showing which stories they claimed were fakes turned out to be real. It’s also worth noting that Stopfake does debunk fake stories from the Ukrainian media as well. They probably would do so a lot more if it weren’t for a much larger, consolidated propaganda machine deliberately and explicitly waging “information war” against Ukraine. And this also gets right to the heart of the matter about grants and funding for organizations like Stopfake or Hromadske.tv. The programs which fund such organizations are dedicated to building up a functioning free press in nations where such a thing hasn’t existed before. As in Russia, Ukraine’s media doesn’t have stringent standards of journalism. In fact, many of the fake stories coming out of Russia aren’t deliberately concocted out of thin air- they are just repeated with no fact-checking whatsoever. If foreign-based Kremlin fanboys would actually bother to talk to the people who work at organizations like Stopfake or Hromadske, they’d probably learn that these are people who sincerely believe in good journalism and have no interest in being puppets of some foreign government.
Now one might ask why then should RT or Sputnik be dismissed as propaganda bullhorns due to their funding. My answer is they shouldn’t. While they are entirely owned by the Kremlin and managed by well-known supporters of Putin, we must always look at the content first and foremost. For one thing, RIA Novosti was entirely Kremlin-owned in the past, yet it managed to produce objective material. The Moscow News, which was under RIA Novosti, was also known for providing a diverse, pluralistic viewpoint that often criticized or questioned the Kremlin. Russia Behind the Headlines still clearly maintains more objectivity than the other state-run outlets.
By contrast RT and Sputnik, from what I’ve seen, have never challenged the Kremlin line on anything. When Putin said there were no troops in the Crimea, they said so. When he admitted it, they admitted it but said it was justified. When it comes to foreign policy they have carefully and dutifully stuck to the president and foreign ministry’s line on virtually every point. Moreover, as I’ve said in the past we never see any attempt to seriously challenge Putin or the foreign ministry’s statement on anything. There are no “fact checks” of his speeches, the sort of which we see all the time from Western media outlets about Western leaders. We are not given the opportunity to hear a variety of views from different Maidan participants to better understand what that event was really about. We don’t get to see how the Donbas “rebels” shell the very same people they claimed they were trying to protect from the “junta.” We get “analysis” on Ukraine and Russia from people who have very little prior background on either topic, if any at all. And what is more, we see a consistent pattern of cowardly, anonymous attacks on any journalists who challenge the Kremlin line in the Op-Edge section.
Now you add to that the Kremlin ownership and management by Putin fanatics and you see precisely why RT and Sputnik can be readily dismissed as propaganda outlets. It’s not just on the basis of those two facts; they behave precisely as you’d expect propaganda outlets to behave. I don’t have any problem finding material from the BBC that criticizes the British government or otherwise portrays it in a bad light. If I did have such problems, and if they seemed to be on a warpath against any outlet or individual who questions them, then I’d label them a propaganda outlet too.
And if you’re an RT fan or employee who’s reading this, keep in mind that it didn’t have to be this way. RT and Sputnik could have carried on the traditions of RIA-Novosti or The Moscow News, providing objective reporting with better coverage of the Russian government’s POV. But alas, that’s not what Ms. Simonyan and Mr. Kiselyov wanted to do. They wanted to wage “information war,” because they just told themselves that all media works the same way without every questioning this assumption. So what you ended up with is a propaganda machine that is increasingly becoming a global laughing stock.
Getting back on topic the point is simple. There’s nothing wrong with questioning who funds whom, but ultimately what matters is the content that gets produced. Moreover, the Kremlin fanboy tactic of guilt by association, no matter how stretched and tenuous the connections are, is getting real old, as old as their “whataboutery.” But hey, when you can’t be bothered to actually answer the accusations, investigations, and difficult questions, whataboutery, guilt by association, and poisoning the well might be the only tools in the box.
UPDATE: Karlin was kind enough to provide the source of that figure here. Nice of the UK government to be so transparent. As I suspected, it is not funded on a yearly basis but rather this was a one-year grant. Here is how the UK government site describes Stopfake:
“The purpose of this project is to help the StopFake project increase its impact in Ukraine and other countries targeted by disinformation campaigns. It focuses on improving reporting in Ukraine and abroad; promoting tools for fact-checking; easing tensions instigated by propaganda and misinformation; and enlarging the scope of true news spreading in social networks.”
As you can see, this is obviously a dastardly information warfare campaign aimed at expanding NATO and destroying Russia. In their Russophobic logic, it’s perfectly fine to label pro-Kremlin stories “fake” just because they happened to be untrue. Is there no end to Albion’s perfidy?!