There has been much discussion in the Russian media this week of a resolution by the European Parliament calling on the European Union to develop a ‘strategic communications’ plan to counter propaganda from the Russian Federation and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This follows a report issued last month by the policy department of the EU’s Directorate General for External Policy, entitled EU Strategic Communications with a View to Countering Propaganda.
The report, and the ensuing parliamentary resolution, repeat much of what has been said in other documents denouncing ‘Russian propaganda’ which I have covered in this blog: Russia is waging information war against the West, and trying to divide the European Union; RT is bad, bad, bad; something must be done. Where the EU breaks new ground is in directly comparing the Russian Federation with ISIS, and treating the two as if they are one and the same in terms of the threat which they pose to Europe. Perhaps more than anything else, it is this aspect of the EU’s action which has caused outrage in Moscow.
At the heart of the complaint about ‘Russian propaganda’ is a fear that the Russian media is countering the prevailing narrative in the West about international affairs. As the report notes, ‘Russia fosters an anti-interventionist narrative’ and seeks to ‘ convince European audiences that the EU is focused on imagined threats from Russia and neglecting the real ones from the south.’
Putting aside whether this is a good or bad thing, what intrigues me is the Eurocrats’ belief that they can deal with the existence of a Russian counter-narrative by pumping money into counter-propaganda. After all, the narrative which the Russians are trying to undermine is the one which prevails throughout the bulk of the Western media. It is hardly lacking in support already.
In another document issued last month, British neoconservative think tank The Henry Jackson Society denounced ‘Putin’s useful idiots’ in the West and called on academics and journalists to do more to spread the bad news about Russia. ‘Academics, commentators, and others should raise awareness in the West of the nature of the Russian regime’, says the Henry Jackson Society, ‘Outside of the expert community, there is a general lack of awareness of the Russian regime’s use of selective terror and its criminality – the regime’s dubious origins in the 1999 apartment bombings; its involvement in the murder of people like Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Magnitsky, and Boris Nemtsov; its military tactics in Syria.’
This is a very odd claim given that ‘outside the expert community’, in the mass media which ‘ordinary people’ consume, denunciations of the Russian government’s criminality are two a penny. ‘Russian propaganda’ hardly registers against the torrent of Russophobia coming in the opposite direction. If people do turn to the Russian media, it is quite probably because they want to hear something different. Churning out even more anti-Russian material is unlikely to make a difference.
This is especially true if the operation is government-run. The EU resolution reflects a strange belief that officially-sponsored efforts to fight the Russians will be more successful than those of the massed ranks of the Western press. Page 9 of the report contains this remarkable, and quite amusing, nugget of information:
The multi-language broadcaster Euronews was launched on 1 January 1993 to promote European unity by presenting information from a distinctly European perspective. … Since its launch, Euronews has received EUR 240 million worth of funding from the European Commission, EUR 25.5 million of which came in 2014. … On several occasions, Euronews has been accused of biased reporting, particularly through its Russian language service. Coverage of the 2008 war in Georgia, the 20th anniversary of Ukrainian independence in 2011, the 2014 referendum in the Donbas and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as well as events in Transnistria has been accused of being unbalanced and pro-Russian.
Even the EU’s own propaganda outlets are ‘pro-Russian’, it seems. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.