Monday

18th Jun 2018

Opinion

EUvsDisinfo site must be strengthened, not abolished

  • According to EUvsDisinfo, the Russian foreign ministry, embassies, diplomats, state-controlled TV, Russia Today and Sputnik have all posited 'alternative' theories on who poisoned Russian ex-spy Skripal (Photo: EUvsDisinfo)

There is reason for great concern about the harsh criticism of the EUvsDisinfo unit of the European Union in the resolution the Dutch Parliament adopted on 6 March.

The resolution seems to be the result of incomplete information about and an erroneous appreciation of the work of the service.

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  • The EUvsDisinfo website is run from EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini's European External Action Service (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

In the past few years it has become ever more clear that disinformation, and 'post-truth', technologies worldwide constitute a serious threat to the values of the democratic rule-of-law-societies as they exist in western Europe.

This is attested by research in a large number of countries.

See the reports and studies by Pomerantsev/Weiss, Chatham House and the Legatum Institute (United Kingdom), Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), RAND Corporation (United States), StopFake, Words and Wars, A Guide to Russian propaganda (Ukraine), UCMC, Detector Media, Kremlin Influence Index, Kremlin Watch (Czech Republic), Deutsche Gesellschaft Auswertige Politik, Bundeszentrale fur Politische Bildung (Germany), Finnish Institute of International Affairs and StratCom Laughs (Nato).

In order to do justice to reality one has to speak of a Russian "information-war", an essential element in Russia's 'hybrid' forms of warfare.

Hereby the current Kremlin-leadership mobilises a wide spectrum of subversive instruments, including non-military ones, to promote Russia's national interest as they define it.

Examples of non-military means are the TV channel RT (Russia Today), the radio and internet channel Sputnik, LifeNews, the military owned Zvezda and the channels of Rossiya TV.

Troll factory

And then there is of course and the 'troll-factory' in St Petersburg where many hundreds of employees spread false messages on international social media 24/7.

This explains why in March 2015 the European Council (the EU heads of state and government) decided on an action plan to "counter Russia's continuing disinformation campaigns".

One of the first results was the unit EUvsDisinfo in the EU's External Action Service.

It was given the task to analyse and report on disinformation-trends, to explain and correct concrete disinformation narratives and to raise awareness of the disinformation phenomenon.

The unit started in 2015 with one full-time staff-member and now counts three.

It cooperates closely with EU member states. The team operates in full transparency, all its research and activities are immediately posted online. Via a special link citizens can complain when they observe mistakes in a unit's product.

The three erroneous notices of non fact-based news in Dutch media that led to the Dutch parliament' resolution were all made in the first year of EUvsDisinfo's existence.

They were immediately admitted and corrected.

Out of a total of 3,800 correct examples over the past thirty months that is a pretty good score.

To use the three bloopers as argument to abolish EUvsDisinfo is strained.

Since when does a west European government abolish a government body after making such foul-ups? What responsible governments do in such cases is to draw lessons from the mistake so as to prevent them from occurring again.

There remains the principle point in the parliament's resolution, namely that EUvsDisinfo "meddles with the free press in the Netherlands …and that it is not up to government bodies to label free press publications as fake-news".

It is a misunderstanding that EUvsDisinfo interferes with the media in the EU.

Its task is to find concrete cases of Russian disinformation and to explain why the information is erroneous.

Virtually all cases of factually false information are found on the sites of the above-mentioned Russian information-channels.

It does occasionally happen, however, that such information finds its way into Western media.

When EUvsDisinfo notices this it is obliged to make it public. Its close cooperation with the EU member states and full transparency guarantee a speedy correction if it makes a mistake.

Exposure not censorship

Under such conditions it is unproblematic that a government-service is responsible for tracing disinformation originating outside the EU.

The bloopers which the Dutch parliament's resolution mentions are the result of the difficult starting phase of EUvsDisino and its flagrant lack of financial means and manpower.

Compare that with the hundreds of million of dollars and the thousands of persons the Kremlin has working for its propaganda, disinformation and fake-news.

In view of the serious threat of Russian disinformation to Western democracies the parliament would do better by making more funds so that the EU and its member states can counter it effectively.

This opinion piece was written by Willem Aldershoff, an international affairs analyst in Brussels, and co-signed by 16 other like-minded experts on Russian affairs from around Europe:

Roman Shutov (Baltic Centre for Media Excellence, Riga)

Jakub Janda (Head of Kremlin Watch Program)

Stefan Meister (German Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin)

Kataryna Wolczuk (Chatham House, United Kingdom)

Volodymyr Yermolenko (Internews Ukraine)

Philippe de LARA (professor of political science, Université Paris 2, France)

Nataliia Popovych (Ukraine Crisis Media Centre)

Jacek Kucharczyk (Institute of Public Affairs, Warsaw),

Willem Aldershoff (analyst international affairs, Brussels)

Oleksiy Matsuka (Donetsk Institute of Information)

Heikki Hakala (Senior Contributing Editor, Helsinki)

Mykola Riabchuk (Ukrainian PEN Center)

Danilo Elia (Rai - Radiotelevisione Italiana Rome)

Sergiy Sydorenko (European Pravda, Kiev)

Melinda Haring (Atlantic Council, Washington)

Alya Shandra (Euromaidan Press, Kiev)

Halyna Coynash (Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Poland)

Why the EU must close EUvsDisinfo

If your publication ends up in its database, you're officially labeled by the EU as a publisher of disinformation and fake news. That is a problem which should not be underestimated. The state should not interfere with the free media.

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