Vladimir Kornilov: Why the West Is Afraid of Sputnik and RT

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



The Russian media being attacked won’t be a surprise for anyone — the story with the labelling of “foreign agent” on RT and Sputnik in the United States alone is worth a lot. But now this campaign already obtains openly grotesque forms. The article “After a week of Russian propaganda, I was questioning everything”, published under the guise of a journalistic investigation on the website of the American public information service PBS, is very indicative in this sense.

It is an “investigation” because the author, Elizabeth Flock, forced herself to go on an “information diet”: during a whole week she learned about the news solely from the airwaves of Russian radio. However, along the way, she googled the information. And it seems she discovered a lot of useful information.

On the third day of the diet, she learned about the sensational story of the Kuwaiti girl Nayirah’s fake testimony, which led to the West’s attacks on Iraq. And suddenly she found out that “everything is possible”.

The article contains a lot of factual errors and outright fakes about Russia. Flock told her readers that in the 1920’s the “KGB’s predecessor” had a whole department specialising in disinformation. And even quoted the head of the department, Colonel Rolf Wagenbreth. But after all, it was enough for the author of the article to go onto the same Google to find out: Colonel Wagenbreth didn’t have a relationship with the KGB, he was the head (not in the 1920’s, but from 1966 to 1990) of the X department of the Ministry of State Security of the GDR, known as the Stasi. But why bother digging so deep?

The main point of the article is that Flock learned a lot about the events in Syria by listening to Sputnik radio during the week that she had never heard in mainstream media. And it terrified her.

For example, the Syrian boy’s testimony about the staging of the “chemical attack” in Douma. Flock was outraged that some mainstream Western media picked up this “Russian propaganda” – in particular, the famous British journalist Robert Fisk of The Independent. He, unlike his colleagues, reported directly from the place of the event and interviewed the participants of the “attack”, but since his conclusions didn’t coincide with those that Flock heard from the mainstream media, all of this is “Russian propaganda”.

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A virgin-pure belief in the “sole correct” narrative defends the American journalist from doubt and alternatives. It is seen that Flock and Fisk studied journalism in different eras.

Yes, back in the 1990’s, almost no courses for novice Western reporters began with the advice: “Question everything”.

Future correspondents were constantly reminded: you do not have to trust an official only because they hold a high position, you must look for alternative sources of information, and give other opinions. But times have changed, the word “alternative” is almost anathema.

However, this word often sounds in the West in the information campaign against the Russian media, especially RT and Sputnik. But only in a negative context.

In 2016, two prominent crusaders of the campaign who are considered in the West as Russia specialists – Edward Lucas and Anne Applebaum – published in the Washington Post a feature article about how to deal with Russian disinformation“.

They tried to explain what has changed since the 1990’s. According to them, the business model that supported media stopped working. As a result, Western journalism turned out to be poorly funded, and the availability of information made it difficult for people to judge the correctness of what they see and read. And at it is at this moment that the “authoritarian regimes” of Russia and partially China “begun investing heavily in the production of alternatives”. Sputnik and RT were cited as an example.

I.e., Lucas and Applebaum realised that they read less and, accordingly, their products are less paid for (and Lucas, who for many years worked as an editor of The Economist magazine – one of the main mouthpieces of the Western establishment – is savvy when it comes to the figures concerning the reader’s interest in his work). And, instead of looking for reasons inside themselves, they decided to explain everything as a malicious “alternative” in the form of Russian media (by the way, which is much less funded than the Western information machine). So they declared a personal vendetta against this media.

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Since then this has been picked up by many “Kremlinologists” and politicians. Such accusations (often completely absurd) can be heard from anyone. For example, NATO speaker Oana Lungescu said last year: Russian media “confuses people”, “divides public opinion, undermines our ability to understand what is going on, and therefore take decisions if decisions need to be made.

I.e., the problem from NATO’s point of view is that there is no consensus in the Western audience because of Sputnik and RT. There are doubts about the “sole correct point of view”, collectively imposed by the mainstream media. Previously, in the same 1990’s, the West was embarrassed to admit that there was a mandatory “party line”. Now there is no more shame.

“You will always encounter an alternative narrative about Ukraine there,” wrote the “EU Versus Disinformation” website – created by the European Union allegedly to combat Kremlin propaganda – about the Sputnik website. So what is wrong with the reader becoming acquainted with different points of view? It is because there is a “right” and “wrong” narrative.

This site tried to summarise what the West does not like about the Russian media, and identified three main points.

1. Russian media is financed by the State, and therefore it cannot be independent. And this is mentioned on a website that is fully paid for by European taxpayers.

2. They’re not impartial. This is stated on the website, which was created to cover just the one, “sole correct” narrative.

3. They spread fake news. This is said by a website that was caught spreading outright fakes regarding the Dutch media – because of which demands for its closure were made.

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The information campaign (“hysteria” can be used to describe it) against Sputnik and RT looks more and more grotesque. Apparently, the “lack of financing” of Western journalism affects this, which Lucas complained about.

Fighting against RT and Sputnik, Western journalists and politicians are not so much afraid of these media agencies — Lucas knows very well that their budgets are not comparable to the huge budgets of Western media. The fear of the truth, alternatives, and not understanding the situation is what has driven the Western establishment in recent years. They indeed don’t understand why they lose at every step, why the last election in the US was lost, why Brexit happened (the list goes on). And they are genuinely afraid of this misunderstanding.

In 2016 (the year of the most severe shocks for the Western establishment) a survey carried out by the sociological company IPSOS-Mori revealed that 68% of British people trust news from their hairdressers, and only 24% trust journalists. The same trends can be observed in almost all the countries of the West.

The level of Western journalism has indeed sharply fallen in recent years (as is evidenced by the “investigation” of Flock), correspondents turned into a blind instrument of broadcasting only one semi-official narrative. It is clear that the reader feels it and turns away from this kind of media. But journalists can’t complain to themselves. And that’s why they try to explain everything as “foreign interference”. After all, it is much easier to blame RT or Sputnik than to realise the true causes of the problems of their own society.

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