Sunday

18th Apr 2021

Opinion

How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?

While Europe is arguing whether it is necessary to fight propaganda at the legislative level, Russia hasn't wasted time, and already created the image of a 'European enemy' for the Russian citizen.

To prove that Russian propaganda has a much wider scope than many in the EU think, the Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group (HWAG) experts from the Ukraine Crisis Media Center initiated research into the 'Image of Europe in Russian Media', to illustrate how Russian state-controlled media show Europe to Russian people.

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The Russian population is vulnerable to propagandistic content due to many factors.

According to a Russian social survey, only five percent of Russians can speak a foreign language (usually English), six percent watch/read news from foreign media, and only seven percent sometimes travel farther than the countries of the former USSR.

This creates an environment in which the most influential sources of information become state-owned. This is confirmed by another statistic.

According to the survey of the Russia Public Opinion Research Centre in 2015, most Russians get news from federal and regional TV channels, considering them as most trustworthy. For this reason, we focused our study on news and key political talk shows on the most influential media financed by Kremlin. These are the three main Russian TV channels – First Channel, Russia 1, and NTV (НТВ).

To prevent accusations of political bias, it was important to make both qualitative and quantitative analysis of collected data.

During 2014-2017, the Russian mainstream channels showed more than 45,000 pieces of negative news about Europe, the US, and Ukraine.

The biggest share of these is composed of news stories about European countries. Europe is mentioned in a negative context on average 18 times daily. (By comparison, the Coca-Cola brand has only six advertisements a day on the same TV channels.)

The data was collected by a specialised Russian agency that provides services of media monitoring and analysis.

News was assessed as "negative" when it had a vivid negative tone and expressive rhetoric about the object in question.

In total, the average proportion of negative to positive/neutral news about European countries is 85 percent to 15 percent.

One could object that this is a worldwide tendency of TV news, which usually focuses on negative stories.

However, only two countries are shown in positive or neutral tone more often than others: These are Belarus (40 percent neutral/positive, 60 percent negative) and Switzerland (43 percent neutral/positive, 57 percent negative).

According to the Russian TV channels' agenda, only these countries are more safe and stable.

The Hybrid Warfare Analysis Group (HWAG) categorised the collected pieces of negative news into six main narratives:

Horrors of Life

This narrative is based mostly on stories about natural and industrial disasters, accidents, and crimes and aim to persuade Russian citizens that the life in European countries is insecure and full of dangers. These stories are usually based on insignificant events, which are shown as something large-scale, or even as a tendency.

This narrative mentions predominantly France (16 percent), Italy (13 percent), Germany (10 percent), United Kingdom (9 percent), and Spain (7 percent).

The Declining West

This narrative is built mainly on affirmations about lack of unity and decline of moral values in European countries, using expressions such as "the EU is falling apart", "the EU is an artificial formation", and "European values do not have true basis".

Europeans are depicted with weak, perverted values. The Russians, on the contrary, are opposed to the Europeans as "bearers of spirituality and real values" and those who must fight for these the latter, sometimes aggressively.

Protests

Everyone is protesting in Europe: yard-keepers, health workers, farmers, stewards, staff of the Eiffel Tower, etc. demonstrate their disagreement with government policy - Russian media say. Inefficient and weak management leads to discontent; voices of the people are not heard, and so they should go to the streets to defend their rights.

Terrorism

Although terrorist attacks are covered by all media worldwide, the Russian media is trying to create the impression that for Europe, terrorism is a permanent impending threat. Sometimes even crimes that had no terrorist motives are shown as terrorist attacks. The story is almost always accompanied by comments about the weakness of the police and security services.

Refugee crisis

The refugee crisis is interpreted as "a result of Europe's fault" because Europe supported the USA when the latter became involved in the war in Syria. The overall picture shown to the audience is rather doom-and-gloom: thousands of hungry and dangerous immigrants fill European towns, pushing out local people, committing crimes and terrorist attacks.

Sanctions imposed on Russia

The Russian media promote the message that sanctions imposed on Russia seriously harm the EU itself, and that more and more countries would like to cancel them to survive. Russians are often depicted as people who do not need the famous European well-being because they have a more valuable moral compass.

Thus it is only at a first glance, that Europeans should not worry about Russian domestic propaganda.

The way in which the Russian state shows the Europeans to its own population has an impact not only on the international and intercultural relations between Russia and other countries, but also on the Russians' readiness to support the policy of their president.

And in the long run, this can have very dramatic consequences, as it has happened with Ukraine.

Liubov Tsybulska is deputy director of the Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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