Tag Archives: fake news

Stalin, Paddington, and the Press

What do Josef Stalin and Paddington Bear have in common? Answer: The Russian Ministry of Culture has tried to ‘ban’ films about them – or at least that what recent headlines would have you believe. The truth is a bit more complex.

The Stalin story relates to a decision by the Ministry of Culture to withdraw a licence for the release of the movie Death of Stalin, pending further investigation. It is debatable whether this really constitutes a ban. Culture Minister Vladimir Mendinsky claims that viewers might consider the film ‘an insulting mockery of the entire Soviet past’, something which you might think was richly deserved. Given Mendinsky’s reasons for objecting to the film are political, an outright ban would be legally problematic since the Russian constitution prohibits censorship. This perhaps explains the ministry’s statement that is subjecting the film to further review rather than prohibiting it. Mendinsky says that it would be ‘extremely inappropriate for this picture to come out on the screens on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the historic victory in Stalingrad.’ This leaves open the possibility that the film may be given a licence once that anniversary is over in February.

Regardless of what happens, the Ministry of Culture’s action is quite indefensible. I haven’t seen the film as it hasn’t been released in Ottawa where I live (for commercial reasons, I imagine, not censorship). But I have read the graphic novel on which it’s based, and there’s no doubt that it does indeed mock the Soviet leadership at the time of Stalin’s death. It also distorts history in certain respects – e.g. portraying Soviet citizens being gunned down by soldiers during Stalin’s funeral. But mockery and bad history aren’t reasons for refusing to licence a film. It’s satire, for goodness sake. Writing in Vzgliad, Pyotr Akopov claims that it’s not for foreigners (Death of Stalin is a British film) to satirize Russia – only Russians can do that. This again is a pretty poor argument. Nobody is forcing anybody to watch this film. If you don’t like foreigners satirizing your country, just don’t go see it. Don’t ban it.

The Death of Stalin episode reveals a hyper-sensitive, paranoid, and authoritarian strain in Russia’s cultural elites (several film directors were among those who asked the Ministry not to licence the film). Is Russian identity and national pride really so fragile that the country can’t tolerate some mockery of Stalin’s Politburo (who, let’s face it, were hardly paragons of virtue)? I don’t think so. The Ministry should rethink its actions.

The Paddington case is different. In this instance, the Ministry of Culture attempted to postpone release of the movie Paddington 2. It has the right to do this with foreign films if it thinks that the timing of the release will adversely affect sales of tickets to Russian movies. Given Paddington 2’s success in Europe and North America, the Ministry obviously worried that it would attract viewers who might otherwise have gone to see something made in Russia – thus the decision. In the end, though, consumer outrage forced the Ministry to back down and a licence was released for the film to show from 20 January.

This was a clear instance of economic protectionism, completely unrelated to politics. Unlike the Stalin case, there was also no question of the film being forbidden. The plan was merely to postpone its release for a couple of weeks. It was a pretty dumb idea, but not as insidious as the case of Death of Stalin.

This, however, did not stop the British tabloid press from making some wild claims. The Sun led with the headline, ‘Russia wants to ban Paddington 2 because it’s too popular and considered Western propaganda.’ It followed up with the statement that the film was ‘deemed to be a threat to the Russian way of life,’ as well as with claims that Russia might soon ban McDonalds and KFC. None of this, of course, is true. There was no ‘ban’ of Paddington, the episode had nothing to do with the film being a ‘threat to the Russian way of life’, and the rumour about McDonalds and KFC is pure speculation and quite preposterous. The Sun finished off its article with a section about how the Soviet Union (in 1985 no less!!) had banned Western pop groups such as Village People. Quite what this has to do with modern Russia and Paddington wasn’t explained.

Other British tabloids joined in the feeding frenzy. ‘Russia tried to BAN Paddington 2 branding popular film Western PROPAGANDA,’ shouted the Daily Express, which went on to tell readers that ‘the Kremlin takes issue with the foreign values in the children’s film.’ The Daily Star, meanwhile, linked the affair to Russia’s leader with the headline, ‘Vladimir Putin in bid to ban Paddington film from Russian cinemas.’ There is, of course, no actual evidence to link Putin personally to any of this. Were such stories to appear in RT, they would no doubt soon be classified as ‘fake news.’

All of which goes to show that you shouldn’t put too much faith in either the Russian Ministry of Culture or the British press.

Advertisements

The hunters become the hunted

There are times when you think that the media in the English-speaking world can’t possible get any worse; that’s it’s finally plumbed the depths; that the ignorance and hysteria have become so great that it’s got to turn around soon. And then you read something which just makes you shake your head in despair, and ask. ‘Don’t these guys check anything? Don’t they know anything? Or do they just not care?’ We’re told to be endlessly on our guard about ‘fake news’ and disinformation flooding the internet from troll factories in St Petersburg and the editorial offices of RT, but are they really worse than the Daily Mail? Here’s today’s Mail on Sunday front page:

The_Mail_on_Sunday_26_11_2017_400

Continue reading The hunters become the hunted

Homeless in Kitezh

This is too funny:

Every year, the US State Department releases a report on ‘Trafficking in Persons’. The 2017 report is now available. This is what it has to say about Russia:

The government generally did not undertake efforts to protect human trafficking victims and did not publicly report having identified or assisted victims. …  During the reporting period, a homeless shelter run by the Russian Orthodox Church in Kitezh began accepting trafficking victims and offered them food and housing, though not medical or psychological care; the government did not provide financial support for the shelter.

Kitezh, by the way, is a mythical sunken city, the Russian equivalent of Atlantis (and not, as in Return of the Tomb Raider, hidden somewhere in the mountains of Siberia).

HT to that well-known source of ‘fake news’, RT, for bringing the story to my attention. I’ve checked it out. It’s true. You can access the entire State Department report here. The part of the report dealing with Russia is here.

Update: Citing RT, The Moscow Times reports that, ‘It is likely that the U.S. State Department’s report was referring to a shelter run by the Russian Orthodox Church called “Kitezh” in the village of Milyukovo close to Moscow. Perhaps the State Department mistook the shelter’s name for its location, surmised RT.’

Nonsense news

I have mentioned before my belief in the Biblical maxim about the mote and the beam, and I have repeatedly emphasized on this blog, including my last post, the need for greater self-awareness and greater humility. An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times reveals this need very clearly.

The editorial used former FBI chief James Comey’s testimony to Congress to lambast Donald Trump for his lack of integrity, describing Trump as a ‘venal, self-interested politician who does not recognize, let alone uphold’ the ‘legal principles at the foundation of American democracy.’ The headline made the editorial’s point very clear. ‘Mr Comey and All the President’s Lies’, it said. Telling the truth, it seems, is something that the New York Times values highly.

Or maybe not.

What the editorial didn’t tell readers was that the transcript of Comey’s testimony contains the following exchange between Comey and Senator Jim Risch:

RISCH:  I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. This is not factual. Do you recall that?

COMEY: Yes.

RISCH: OK. So — so, again, so the American people can understand this, that report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?

COMEY: In — in the main, it was not true. And, again, all of you know this, maybe the American people don’t. The challenge — and I’m not picking on reporters about writing stories about classified information, is that people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on. … I mentioned to the chairman the nonsense around what influenced me to make the July 5th statement. Nonsense, but I can’t go explaining how it’s nonsense.

Later, Senator Tom Cotton returned to this subject.

COTTON: On February 14th, the New York Times published a story, the headline of which was, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.”

You were asked earlier if that was an inaccurate story, and you said, in the main. Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?

COMEY: Yes.

The New York Times has done a lot to stoke the accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, going so far on one occasion as to publish an op-ed by Louise Mensch. But while refusing to address the issue of collusion directly, Comey nevertheless poured cold water on it, as seen by the following exchanges with Senators Burr and Cotton:

BURR: Director, the term we hear most often is “collusion.” When people are describing possible links between Americans and Russian government entities related to the interference in our election, would you say that it’s normal for foreign governments to reach out to members of an incoming administration?

COMEY: Yes.

COTTON: Let’s turn our attention to the underlying activity at issue here: Russia’s hacking into those e-mails and releasing them, and the allegations of collusion. Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?

COMEY: That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting. As I said, that — we didn’t — that (ph) when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump.

So, let’s get this straight. James Comey in effect says that he doesn’t think Trump colluded with Russia (‘we didn’t’, as he says above), and denounces the New York Times for publishing ‘nonsense’, in a story about alleged collusion which was ‘almost entirely wrong’. Yet, the response of the New York Times is not to apologize, and indeed not even to mention the matter, but instead to publish an editorial saying that Donald Trump is a liar.

Perhaps he is, but another maxim comes to mind: one about stones and people in glass houses. Recent research indicates that ‘public trust in the media [is] at all time low’. I wonder why.

Fake sex news

Former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky went on trial last week in Britain for allegedly illegally downloading ‘thousands of indecent images of children over a 15-year period’. According to prosecutor William Carter, when confronted by police:

[Bukovsky] responded immediately by saying he did download images and that they would be on the computer in his study. … In an interview, Bukovsky told detectives he had become interested in child abuse images in the 1990s in the context of a debate on the control and censorship of the internet. … ‘Bukovsky said his initial curiosity turned into a hobby, rather like stamp collecting,’ Carter said. The dissident continued to download images between 1999 and 2014, and estimated that he had accumulated a collection of ‘1,500 movies’. His interest varied year by year. The last downloads took place days before his arrest.

Since then, Bukovsky has changed his tune, and he is now claiming that the images on his computer were planted by the Russian secret services in order to discredit him. Despite his earlier confession, and without any supporting evidence, Sunday’s New York Times ran a long story repeating this claim. According to the story:

This blurring of all boundaries between truth and falsehood in the service of operational needs has created a climate in Russia in which even the most serious and grotesque accusations, like those involving pedophilia, are simply a currency for settling scores. Mr. Bukovsky is far from the only one fending off such allegations.

Without a trace of irony, the New York Times alleged that the case illustrated a pattern of behaviour involving ‘the discrediting of foes and the shaping of public opinion through the spread of false information.’

Meanwhile, in a separate story, the Daily Mail reported that ‘Russian and Syrian secret services may be encouraging refugees in Germany to carry out orchestrated sex attacks, in a bid to oust Angela Merkel from office.’ According to the Mail:

The extraordinary assertion was made by an expert from the European Council on Foreign Relations, who said that foreign powers could collude to destabilise Germany ahead of next year’s election. Gustav Gressel, a Russian expert at the think-tank, said small numbers of refugees with links to the Kremlin and Syrian security services could be mobilised to sway public opinion against the Chancellor.

And in a final story, The Guardian published the following headline:

Russian reality TV show to ‘allow’ rape and murder in Siberian wilderness.

The Guardian reports that ‘A new Russian reality show where crimes are “allowed” will begin next year.’ The show in question, entitled ‘Game 2: Winter’ will ‘strand 30 contestants in the -40F (-40C) Siberian wilderness for nine months with the surviving winner receiving a $1.6m prize. “Each contestant gives consent that they could be maimed, even killed,” reads an advert.’

But as the report then admits, ‘the rules also state that police are free to arrest anyone who commits a crime on the show. “You must understand that the police will come and take you away,” the rules state. “We are on the territory of Russia, and obey the laws of the Russian Federation.”’ So, despite the headline, it turns out that rape and murder aren’t ‘allowed’ after all.