New Disinformation Digest from the East StratCom Task Force
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"The truth is dissolved": Under cover in RT's newsroom

The TV channel RT (Russia Today) is a place where "the truth is dissolved" - this is the conclusion of German journalist Martin Schlak after he spent three weeks undercover in RT Deutschland's editorial team in Berlin. Mr Schlak, who works for the news magazines Spiegel, Stern and NEON, posed as an intern to gain access to the German branch of the TV station funded by the Russian authorities.
Behind the usual office façade, he discovered a world where coverage is so selective that it confirms the audience in its already existing world view: basic anti-Americanism, the existence of a global conspiracy against Russia, mistrust against what RT labels as "the mainstream media" are the basic themes. "Wherever possible", says Mr Schlak, "RT's coverage sows doubts about Germany as a "country that works by the principles of the rule of law". Mr Schlak's proposals to cover facts that could be unwelcome news to Russian authorities are ignored by RT's editor. Certain articles are qualified as "requests from Moscow" by the editorial team.
Mr Schlak sees the real danger of RT in the fact that it is designed to confirm the audience's pre-conceived world view, instead of looking for facts.
RT reacted to the publication of Martin Schlak's article by claiming that Mr Schlak changed his views during his stay at RT and started to doubt mainstream media. This is typical for the way the medium works, says Mr Schlak. While he indeed describes his doubts in the article, he also at length goes into the psychological factors behind group thinking and describes how he discards his questions in the end – facts, which RT largely ignores in its reaction.
Martin Schlak's original article in the German magazine NEON available behind a paywall on Blendle.

Crackdowns on Russian media: The story continues

Thursday saw the announcement of a new limitation to media freedom in Russia. The country's leading news aggregator website, Yandex, announced that due to a new law, it will have to add a filter that will prevent news outlets that are not registered as media with Russian authorities to have their stories appearing in Yandex's popular news timelines.
At a first glance, the issue could sound like a technicality, however, this change will have a strong impact on Russian media consumption. For example, 25% of leading news media Kommersant's traffic comes via Yandex's aggregator, which mashes up news stories into timelines of media coverage in real time, using keyword automatic tagging. The new law will at one stroke significantly limit the opportunity for Russian media users to be exposed to stories from smaller independent media, including media that communicate in Russian from outside Russia. For an overview of the implications of the news legislation, see Meduza's article (in Russian).
The Yandex brand covers both Russia's most popular search engine and the news aggregator Yandex Novosti (Photo: Sergey Konkov/TASS)
The new law on news aggregators marks yet another step towards narrowing the corridor in which independent media can reach Russian speaking audiences. It inscribes itself in a history of 15 years of hostile takeovers, legislative, technical and economic measures taken against independent media, and attacks and murders of Russian journalists. Rather than facing instruments of direct censorship, Russian media find themselves in an increasingly complicated minefield of written and unwritten laws and with a collective memory in the industry of what can happen when media overstep the authorities' red lines.
2001: Hostile takeover of NTV after government-critical and satirical broadcasting
2002 New law punishes media for relaying "extremist" messages
2004 Forbes Russia journalist Paul Klebnikov murdered
2006 Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya murdered
2007 BBC Russian Service Radio taken off FM band
2009 Novaya Gazeta journalist Anastasiya Baburova murdered
2010 Attack on Kommersant journalist Oleg Kashin
2014 Independent TV Rain removed from cable after publishing quiz that questioned Soviet leadership during WW2
2014 Crackdown on online outlet for Ukraine coverage, staff moves to Riga and creates exile media Meduza
2015 New law limits foreign ownership of Russian media law to 20%
2016 Leading online news outlet RBC forced to replace management after reporting on Putin's inner circle and the Panama Papers
2016 News aggregators forced to filter foreign and independent media stories

Follow the money in Donetsk

On Saturday, France 24 ran a report filmed in Donetsk, investigating who is arming the separatists of the self-declared republic and who is financing the reconstruction in the area. The reporter interviewed separatist forces, politicians and civilians and she concludes that Moscow's involvement is obvious, not just on the battlefield, but also in other sectors of society.

The report highlights how disinformation remains a central part of the conflict, vividly illustrated by the Donbass news agency "Doni". For example, the France 24 reporter was able to record an overheard conversation in which the Doni reporter suggests that the soldiers dress up some people in Ukrainian uniforms to pretend to be the Ukrainian army attacking the rebels. The civilian population in the area has no access to independent media, but rely solely on the Russian state run media.
The separatist also claim that their weapons are "trophies" from Ukraine's armed forces, which had been picked up after clashes won by the separatists. The interviewed fighter fails to explain how these weapons are picked up since the conflict rarely sees direct contact, being mainly an artillery war. France 24's investigation shows that Russian "Ural" army trucks are frequently seen on the streets of Donetsk and the separatist forces have been receiving professional training since 2014. Furthermore, someone is paying the separatist fighters 270 EUR a month, which is about four times the monthly salary of civilians in Donetsk.

Furthermore, there is a massive reconstruction programme ongoing, local company coordinates the work but sends the request to Russia. When asked about the funding, the coordinator answers "I understand you want to ask about that but I don't think the financing party would want us to talk about that".
Friday Fun: Russian cartoonist Sergey Elkin remains The Disinformation Review's favourite illustrator of propaganda and disinformation problems. In this image, a gentleman of the "Press" acts as microphone holder for government messaging, attached to a birch - Russia's national tree. (Image: Sergey Elkin courtesy of RFE/RL Russian Service).
The Disinformation Review collects examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation all around Europe and beyond. Every week, it exposes the breadth of this campaign, showing the countries and languages targeted. We're always looking for new partners to cooperate with us for that.
The Disinformation Digest analyses how pro-Kremlin media see the world and what independent Russian voices say. It follows key trends on Russian social media, so you can put pro-Kremlin narratives into their wider context. And finally… some Friday fun before the weekend!
DISCLAIMER: The Disinformation Digest is based on the analysis of the EU East StratCom Task Force; opinions and judgements expressed do not represent official EU positions.
Copyright © 14/10/2016 European External Action Service. All rights reserved.

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