Disinformation and propaganda are some of the main tools that Russia uses in times of crisis and conflict, in order to distort the truth and create a “new reality” from its point of view.
“The information weapon, of course, is used in critical moments, and war is always a critical moment. And it’s war. It’s a weapon like any other.” said Margarita Simonyan, whose profile is directly related to one of the most propagandistic Russian media, RT (formally Russia Today), a media funded by the Kremlin.
Margarita Simonyan is a Russian journalist and editor-in-chief of the English-language RT television network (formally Russia Today) and the state-run international news agency Rossiya Segodnya.
According to a special report published by the Global Engagement Center (GEC), RT and Sputnik have played a major role in spreading Russian disinformation over the years.
In a June 2013 interview at RT’s Moscow studios, President Putin stated he envisioned RT as an “absolutely independent news channel” but “the channel is funded by the government, so it cannot help but reflect the Russian government’s official position on the events in our country and in the rest of the world, one way or another.”
The “independence” of this medium can be clearly understood from the approach of its editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan.
When asked in an April 2012 interview how she balances state interests with journalistic objectivity, Simonyan answered, “Like all other channels, there is no objectivity… when Russia is at war, we are, of course, on the side of Russia.”
The UK Office of Communications (OfCom) fined RT for violating impartiality rules based on its reporting of Ukraine and during the 2018 Russian poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a chemical weapon.
Sputnik, on the other hand, is also a Russian state-controlled medium. Both Simonyan and the editor-in-chief of this medium, Anton Anisimov, have no problem admitting that they subjectively report for the Russian state.
When asked if Sputnik promotes the Kremlin’s viewpoint during a 2016 training session for journalists, Sputnik’s Editor-in-Chief Anton Anisimov said, “Call it propaganda if you like.” Anisimov also explained that his employees viewed their work as part of a global communications war.
Despite publicly comparing themselves to international media outlets such as BBC, DW, and VOA, statements by the leadership of RT, Sputnik and the Russian government clearly indicate that they work in support of the Kremlin’s policies and goals.
Unlike major fact-based international media outlets, RT and Sputnik lack fiscal transparency. They do not publish public budget sheets or detailed annual financial reports, and the public must rely on vague estimates occasionally announced by the Russian government. The limited amount of information they do provide about budgets and expenditures is difficult to track and often includes conflicting figures.
RT and Sputnik have regularly cited and reported content from the proxy website News Front, a Crimeabased disinformation and propaganda outlet guided by the FSB and sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for its connections to Russian intelligence. News Front is a key player within the Russian disinformation and propaganda ecosystem and aims to spread disinformation narratives into non-Russian media.
Numerous events have been distorted by these two Russian media and it is likely that this trend will continue even at this stage, when tensions between Russia and Ukraine are on the verge of escalating.
We take some of the many cases that these media outlets have reported from the Russian propaganda point of view as an example.
On April 6, 2021, in an episode of RT’s “In Question” that reported about the debunked story about the drone killing a boy, RT listed false reasons justifying Russia’s military buildup.
Another example is an April 16, 2021 episode of RT’s show “CrossTalk,” where a guest claimed that every country west of Russia, except for Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina, is now a part of NATO. None of these false statements are challenged by the hosts or other guests, nor are they corrected on RT’s website.
This article is based on information published in the GEC report.