Forget ‘Balance’, the Russia vs. West Info War Is Heating Up
Thursday, January 13, 2022
Johanna Ross, graduate of Russian Studies and political analyst based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The recent tensions between Russia and the West, which have climaxed of late over the conflict in Ukraine and Moscow’s security proposals, have been well documented in the western media. The coverage however, has been far from balanced and in most cases, amounts to nothing less than propaganda.
As a journalist I have experience of working in different media organisations, including Russian media. I know, as do the majority of trained journalists, how important it is to provide the audience with a balanced range of perspectives on a given topic when news reporting: if you invite on a guest with one opinion, you must provide an alternative view also. I’m also aware of the criticism that Russian media organisations such as RT and Sputnik have had hurled their way over the last decade, with blanket accusations of propaganda dominating the western narrative about these news outlets. I have not been exempt from such labelling, having been branded ‘Putin’s propaganda girl’ for simply working at a Russian news outlet.
As such, it is clear that both RT and Sputnik have gone to huge lengths to ensure that they provide a variety of perspectives. Anyone who pays close attention to their output would appreciate this. And yet, the very western journalists who dismiss Russia media as merely being ‘Kremlin mouthpieces’ are utterly incapable of seeing that they themselves are guilty of the very ‘crimes’ they are pinning on their Moscow-funded colleagues.
Despite being aware of the plethora of disinformation and misinformation which has oozed from the western mainstream media on Russia over the last decade, I am still genuinely shocked and appalled when I see the degree to which renowned journalists are willing to put all journalistic ethics aside when it comes to stories on Russia.
Take for example, a report on Sky News during a prime time slot on Monday morning after 9am. It featured two correspondents: Deborah Haynes, based in Kiev, and another at the talks between Russia and the US in Geneva, and an interview with the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK. The report was conveyed completely from the Ukrainian perspective, with Russia labelled as the ‘aggressor’ in the situation, and barely even a mention of Russia’s view on the matter.
Deborah Haynes, the news outlet’s Foreign Affairs editor, is known for her links to the UK security services and her lack of impartiality has been noted previously. Analysis of her reporting has demonstrated that she is little more than a mouthpiece for the MoD and she has been previously mentioned in Integrity Initiative documents which detail her involvement in concerted, organised efforts to counter the ‘Russian narrative’ in the media. Nevertheless, for Sky News to produce such a blatant piece of propaganda for the UK government which continues to prop up Ukraine and which takes a belligerent approach to Russia, is frankly highly irresponsible given the current volatility of the situation. One would almost think there was a concerted government-led PR campaign to prepare the British population for war with Russia.
And yet such an approach is the rule, not the exception, when it comes to coverage of Russia in the mainstream media. Much has been written on this, but here is one humorous article by Nils van der Vegte in which he outlines that writers about Russia “must be willing to lie, distort & engage in lazy speculation” and follow a distinct set of rules when it comes to covering the country and its politics. Then there is RT Russia desk editor Bryan Macdonald, who is often accused of being a propagandist, and who has said that he understood there was no balanced journalism left in the West when a piece on Ukraine he wrote in 2013 was rejected by multiple news outlets on the basis that it was ‘as if it was written by Putin’.
Another prominent scholar who had something to say on this subject was the late Professor Stephen Cohen, whose death last year was an enormous loss to the Russia debate. When I interviewed him in 2018 however he didn’t hold back on his disdain for the western media’s reporting on Russia, stating ‘The idea that we have to fight Russian disinformation is now very profitable in the US; everybody will give you money. And if you don’t have a particularly big brain, it’s a good way to pretend you’re an intellectual and get paid for it.’
Obviously, ignorance of Russia, and a lack of knowledge of Russian language in the West has played a central role in the substandard reporting on the country and its politics. But there is also clearly the malevolent influence of western foreign policy agendas as governments seek to contain this great nation which is calling to be recognised as an equal player in the emerging multipolar world. Russia poses a genuine threat to US hegemony and as such the mainstream media acts as a mouthpiece for western governments in realising their geopolitical goals through soft power. Sadly, most of the ‘sheeple’ of Europe and America will lap up their government’s propaganda, whether it be the BBC or Sky News or CNN. Only the discerning few will question it.
So as we navigate this tense period of Russian-western relations, we will likely witness the western media unabashedly lambasting Russia to ensure the public is in no doubt as to who the ‘enemy’ is. As such, Russian media, including RT and Sputnik should unashamedly continue to put forward the Russian perspective on current events. After all, no-one else is going to do it.
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