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28th May 2022

UK, Denmark back EU counter-propaganda plan

  • Broadcasting tower in London (Photo: Dun.can)

Four EU states have backed plans on how to combat Russian propaganda, including a regulatory crackdown on media which “incite hatred”.

The two-page informal paper - endorsed by Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, and the UK and seen by EUobserver - was circulated to EU capitals on Friday (9 January).

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It describes Russia’s media campaign as “an asymmetric response to Western economic power” which poses “a real threat to security on the eastern edges of the EU”.

It says “the objectives are to discredit EU narratives, erode support for legitimate governments in the region, demoralise local populations [and] disorient Western policymakers” in order to “widen the scope for its [Russia’s] military and political options”.

It also says promoting the EU “as an idea” is important in eastern Europe because it “raise[s] public support for economic and political reforms, which in the long-term are the most effective guarantees of stability”.

But it complains the EU “punches below its weight” by relying on “antiquated delivery channels such as one-off events or physical information centres” and by sending out messages which are “too technical, failing to connect emotionally”.

The non-paper calls on EU states’ media regulators to hold Russian broadcasters accountable if they “manipulate, deceive, incite hatred, or propagate war”.

RT, which has offices in several EU cities, has run anti-Ukrainian stories which were proven to be fake.

Russia's Channel One ran a fake story that Ukrainian fighters crucified a Russian-speaking child in east Ukraine.

The non-paper says media watchdogs must pay “due respect to freedom of expression”.

But it urges EU countries to “bring together EU media regulators to consider how they might improve co-operating more effectively when following up complaints on reporting where rules on due impartiality have been breached”.

It also calls on EU institutions to communicate more assertively.

EU propaganda?

“We should aim to influence behaviour and attitudes amongst key audiences. Not just to increase our ‘brand visibility’,” the paper says.

It wants the EU foreign service to draw up an “action plan” for 2015 and 2016 on how to “actively de-construct … hostile propaganda”.

It also says the EU Council, the commission, and the foreign service should pool communication funds and allocate money to “strategic communications teams in EU delegations” overseas.

To raise awareness, the four states call for “regular political discussions on the issue of Russia’s disinformation campaign” by EU ambassadors and foreign ministers in Brussels and “a permanent platform, where the EU and Nato could exchange views on strategic communication”.

The four states also call for EU support for independent or alternative Russian language media in Europe.

At the small end of the scale, they say the European Endowment for Democracy, a Brussels-based foundation, can help investigative journalists.

At the other end, it calls for EU aid for audiovisual broadcasters, on the model of US funding for former anti-communist broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which recently launched a new Russian language show - Nastojashcheje Vremia/Real time.

With Russian channels using a mix of soap operas and gameshows as well as fake news to sell their message, the non-paper says EU states' “entertainment” programmes can also help.

The EU should in future “encourage exchange of EU-countries TV production (entertainment programmes, movies, documentaries) in order to provide competitive alternatives to the Russian production available in the EU television market” it says.

Islamist threat

Europe is currently in shock over the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, but the paper notes that the anti-Russian propaganda measures can also be used against Islamist radicalisation.

"Important to note, that this capacity is critical in repelling manipulations by radical extremists groups as well", it says.

Speaking to EUobserver on Friday, Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius noted that RT is increasing its budget by 40 percent.

“It’s really time to take this seriously”, he said.

The minister added that he doesn’t want an EU version of RT: “We don’t need another state-controlled propaganda machine … this is an effort to suppot genuine media pluralism, to make sure that free media can be more active”.

Turning to media coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack, he criticised some Western broadcasters for trying to demonise Muslims.

“I saw one programme where the interviewer took a really confrontational approach with an imam”, he said.

“We don’t need this, also in our approach to Russia. We should try to understand each other and to understand the roots of what’s happening, not to deepen wounds”.

“The wounds are already deep enough”.

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