Russian propaganda, Europe and the news confusion

by Chris Zappone

It seems so matter of fact. European nations want the EU to begin to counter Russian propaganda. Four EU nations including Britain, Denmark, Estonia and Lithuania have written to the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, saying the EU needs to “provide credible and competitive information alternatives to Russian speaking populations and those use Russia’s state-controlled media.”

They blame Russia’s “disinformation and propaganda campaign” calling it an “asymmetric response to Western economic power.”

EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini

EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini

UK prime minister David Cameron has raised the issue of Russian propaganda with US president Barack Obama, with fears Russian news channels were “pumping out a distorted picture” of events in Ukraine. The Baltic leaders tabled the issue at the G20 summit in Brisbane, where Russian president Vladimir Putin was getting the cold shoulder from a lot of other leaders.

It seems so matter of fact. But this could be one of those moments when the world changes. The great, chaotic commons of news shared across nations since the end of the Soviet Union may now start to slowly fade. In its place could, we could begin to see a Balkanized news environment, where competitive, competing, even conflicting world views color accounts of events.

Then the anything-goes freewheeling nature of a lot of free media may have to give way to news that is more verifiable, more sober, even. We will see. As I wrote for Fairfax:

Today’s Russian propaganda doesn’t advocate for a new utopian world. Instead it sows doubt in the minds of Western citizens. RT’s motto of ‘Question More.’ is telling.

And historians will dwell on the irony that Russia’s propaganda these days aims to exaggerate and exacerbate Westerners’ skepticism for their own governments and leaders. A lot of skepticism is legitimate and natural (look at the Great Recession, the Wall Street bailouts, the uneven austerity of Europe). But the intent of the Russian propaganda is to increase Western doubt, confusion and scorn, rather than letting these critical wind flow east, back to Ukraine and Moscow.