Alarm Bells ring over Russian propaganda

Education, awareness, and funding journalism are to counter Russian propaganda, so say the Members of European Parliament in a resolution adopted on Wednesday. The Foreign Affairs Committee stresses that countering propaganda with propaganda is counterproductive.

“We are not to use any Russian material for our research!”, a Russian friend recently complained to me. Recently she started a study at a European University. For any of the research she was to do, it was forbidden to use any Russian sources (even academic books), for they were deemed to be unreliable, biased, etc. The student was shocked, not so much because of the prohibition to use Russian material, but way more by the reasoning that all information coming out of Russia was deemed to be propaganda.

The resolution adopted on Wednesday uses a similar reasoning. Though the ideas forwarded in the resolution are not new, the strong condemnation by an important political body in Europe is. This article will be the first of many to focus on information warfare. We will kick of the series by this recent development in Europe concerning Information Warfare.

Alarm Bells ring over Russian propaganda

With a vote of 304 for, 179 voting against and 208 members abstaining, the European parliament adopted a resolution which strongly condemns, amongst others, Russia for making anti-EU propaganda. According to the foreign affairs committee press statement, Russia “seeks to distort the truth, provoke doubt, divide the EU and its North American partners, paralyse the decision-making process, discredit the EU institutions and incite fear and uncertainty among EU citizens.”

The press-statement continues to say that:

MEPs warn that the Kremlin has stepped up its propaganda against EU since annexing Crimea and waging hybrid war in the Donbass. They note that ”the Russian government is employing a wide range of tools and instruments, such as think tanks […], multilingual TV stations (e.g. Russia Today), pseudo-news agencies and multimedia services (e.g. Sputnik) […], social media and internet trolls, to challenge democratic values, divide Europe, gather domestic support and create the perception of failed states in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood.”

What is striking in the above quote is the sharp tone of the statement; not only does it mention the country at which the measure is taken against. It even explicitly mentions the names of TV stations and multimedia services to be tools of Russian propaganda. The latter is striking, for the European Union officially steps down from the concept that all news-channels should be seen as news channels, rather the MEP convict some channels to be propaganda.

To take the example of Russia today. Indeed it can be argued that the channel voices a Russian oriented view of the world. The channel has a stronger view on US and EU foreign and internal policy, than do domestic news channels. Nevertheless, the channel gives a platform to alternative views which is voiced rather timidly in Europe itself.

A very strong example of this is the attention RT has spent on covering the revelations made by Wikileaks and Eduard Snowden. Where western channels often focussed on the allegations on the legitimacy of spreading this information made by senior public officials, Russian today delved more into the content of the material released by these whistle-blowers.

Indeed, spending much time on publishing the information can be deemed as to “provoke doubt, divide the EU and its North American partners, paralyse the decision-making process, discredit the EU institutions and incite fear and uncertainty among EU citizens.” It can just as well be seen as a different point of view on actual affairs which is just as legitimate as RT’s European and US peers.

Counterpropaganda and free world

The resolution proposes the following measures to counter the influence of what is seen as Russian propaganda by the following ways.

“To counteract anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggest investing in awareness raising, education, online and local media, investigative journalism and information literacy, which would empower citizens to analyse media content critically.  It is equally important to adapt communication to specific regions, including access to information in local languages, says the text.

Hence, the MEP urge for the more effectively pushing of their message to the public. The measures all have been spinned to put a positive vibe to them: ‘education’, ‘awareness’, ‘information literacy’ and investing in online, local and investigative journalism. Indeed, it is a form of communication with which the European Union tries to gain supporters for her ideology by playing the public opinion. Which is by way also the definition used to define propaganda on the Dutch Wikipedia page.

Even more starteling is the philosophy behind the measure; western democracies typically hold the freedom of speech and press to be fundamental importance for the functioning of their democracy: only an informed public can make an adequate decision in elections. However, the philosophy of the resolution is different; because Europe is being paralyzed, distorted and destabilized, it needs to act. Though the committee has not gone as far as to bad certain information channels it does see them as a threat and not like another perspective in public debate. Though one might agree with the former or the latter perspective, the resolutions signals an important ideological shift in European parliament.

The war in our living rooms

When discussing the First World War, one cannot but wonder how the biased reporting of those days came to be. Nevertheless, we see a similar pattern unfolding today. Examples are many fold The resolution passed by the European Parliament is one example, the recent closing of the RT’s bank account in Britain is another. But also the trails facing people like Julian Assange and Eduard Snowden further support this pattern. Nevertheless, this is not just a western phenomenon, similar policy can be seen all across the world. We are living in a world where information is increasingly being used to influence minds not only at home, but also abroad. We are also living in a world in which it is becoming more accepted to condemn other information as incredible and, even more worrying, to counter the spread of this information. In view of the current power balance in the world and subsequent tensions, it is to be expected that this trend will intensify.

In future articles in the series ‘The War on Informationwe will look at by what means informational warfare is being fought, What the role is of informational warfare in regular warfare and many other aspects.

A small update for loyal readers: I am currently planning my most ambitious journey of my life. And of course, I will be covering the journey here. Though little can be said about it at this stage, but it takes up a lot of time and I cannot spend the amount of time writing articles as I would like to. This is not expected to change until the middle of January.


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