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Counter propaganda
Ira
irinazarifian
The essential characteristics of today’s Russian propaganda:
1. For a proper response, it is necessary to proceed from the understanding that today’s Russian propaganda is a complex system of manipulating public opinion based on analytics and academic research. It is by no means a straightforward disinformation about current political events.

Russian propaganda is a semantic construction. It is framed under a symbolic umbrella confusing symbols and archetypes of the Soviet and earlier periods of Russian history (for example, the Soviet anthem/the coat of arms of the Russian Empire, “guided democracy”, etc.). The symbolic umbrella is constructed artificially based on the ongoing analysis of the changing audiences. Putin himself is one of the central symbols of propaganda.

Importantly, the misinterpretation of the current political events is integrated in the categorical system of propaganda, which makes it very convincing. Thus, today’s confrontation with the EU and USA is based on the opposition of Russia and the West developed in propaganda much earlier; events in Ukraine are misinterpreted in the context of the sacred World War II, etc.

2. The media content is constructed around the set of topics and cognitive images suggested by propaganda. In the context of propaganda, critical comments are repeating the keywords.  Therefore, even if comments are critical, the volume of messages on the keywords is growing; commenting and repeating ultimately increase the influence of propaganda, independent of their positive or negative sense. For example, regular commenting on Putin’s speeches, performances, jokes, etc. popularises the figure of Putin in the manner of scandalous pop star, which raises his approval rating. The media beyond Russia, as well as social networks, are involved in commenting; in this way, propaganda conducts the media content worldwide.

3. The propaganda is widely using suggestion and inducing negative emotions, such as hate and fear. Propagandists are not interested in the objective information, instead, they aim to organise stereotyped reactions. They try to manipulate people irrationally on subconscious and emotional levels. Thus, terrible detailed pictures and long stories of violence, terror, and diseases are the regular part of the evening news programme “Vremya”on the Channel One Russia. Observations show that the number of such stories is increasing in the periods of political crises, because they heighten sense of dependency and damage the will.

4. Propaganda is not confined to the mass media (TV, radio, newspapers and online media). Other domains of public communication transmit similar messages, most important, social networks and Internet forums. Educational and religious institutions, in particular the Russian Orthodox Church, are also associated with propaganda. Celebrations (for example, the recent “Immortal Regiment” public rally) and pseudo-political demonstrations organised by authorities propagate the same messages. Moreover, propaganda clichés are penetrating diplomacy (for example, the “White Book” prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which contains the same false stories as on TV; see also examples of counter-arguments in social networks).

5. Russian propaganda is not confined to Russian-speaking community. There are Russian media broadcasting in other languages, as the multilingual “Russia Today”. The articles of pro-Russian foreign journalists are propagated in Russia media. There is also an organised trolling in English, German and other languages for spreading propaganda comments in social networks and foreign online media. These tools work for the promotion of Russian state policy and discredit the narrative of the western media.

The corresponding counter measures:
6. Permanent monitoring of Russian propaganda and diplomatic statements is required, in the first turn, for political purposes. It is desirable to have multilateral analysis of propaganda materials: fact-checking, content-analysis, linguistic, judicial and psychological analyses.

Fact-checking has to establish the cases of disinformation and misinterpretation of the events.

Content analysis of the media and political speech is required for understanding the tendency, ultimate goals and changes in political position on a more profound level than the pure cases of disinformation and misinterpretation.

Linguistic analysis can help collecting false terms in the media materials and official documents, such as the “illegitimate coup” (Maidan protests), the “fifth column” (Russian opposition), etc. False terms in the language of diplomacy involve international partners in the discussion with distorted meanings. International negotiators must refuse to accept documents with false names; instead, it is necessary to insist on strict definitions.

Psychologist/psychiatrist expertise is needed because of the presence of suggestion and other kinds of psychological manipulation. Judicial expertise should trace cases of the violation of human dignity and rights.

The results of monitoring can be published in official documents containing documented facts and strict definitions. Documents with strict definitions, rather than media stories, seem to be the most proper response in this case. 

7. Russian propaganda needs public control and legal treatment because of the violation of legal norms and standards of communication (calls for violence, incitement to ideological, political, and national hatred and hostility) and because of the methods of persuasion, which the audience cannot analyse and resist. Propaganda is a kind of warfare and should be treated accordingly. The principle of the freedom of speech are irrelevant in this case.

8. Russian-language TV channel is highly desirable for neutralising the influence of propaganda. Of course, it should not use the methods of counter-propaganda; otherwise, it will escalate the conflict into information war. If the EU decides to launch this project, it should be different from Russian official TV in principle.

I propose that the Russian-language broadcasting in the EU should work for the purposes of enlightenment in the broader sense, or for cognitive improvement.

The worst result of fifteen-year propaganda period is the damage of cognitive abilities of audiences in Russia. People have lost the sound perception of the reality en masse. They are disorientated, inspired by false ideas and aggressive national identity. Experts say there are symptoms of mass psychosis.

The new TV channel can be helpful in improving this situation by the restoration of ethical and esthetical norms of communication. The channel can also debunk the myths about the West hostile to Russia.  For this goal, the content should be worked out on Russian educational and cultural base, with the references close to Russian audience. It is senseless to impose European values on the Russian audience, because Russian classical culture already contains these values. It will be sufficient to restore this knowledge.

Broadcasting should include educational programs, which can occupy the main portion of time (Russian and foreign language lessons, programmes on literature, music, history of arts, popular sciences, and other possible subjects with the choice of most interesting narrative and format). Besides, educational programmes seem to be less expensive. 

History is the most important subject counter propaganda.

Educational and other programmes can easily trace and show the links between Russia and Europe in various spheres, their historical contacts and common cultural origin, as well as the differences and problems of integration. Educational frame can improve the distorted pictures of relations between Western counties and Russia.

Other programmes should follow the principle of difference to official Russian TV. To deconstruct propaganda stereotypes, the broadcasting must choose a different variety of topics in another appropriate modality, in particular, with much less negative meanings.

The focuses should be different. For example, official propaganda is focused not only on Putin, but also on celebrities, which strengthens the authoritarian thinking. Instead, new Russian TV can focus on experts, civil activists, local initiatives, the activities of non-governmental organisations, etc. The channel can produce reports about the life of people in Russian regions and people in diaspora, instead of focusing on Moscow/Kremlin. Stories about real Russia and real people should substitute the imaginative pictures created by propaganda.

Naturally, the channel will invite Russian opposition, especially those who have no access to the media in Russia, for talks on political problems. Political debates and political satire are also welcome. However, the broadcasting should not be overloaded with political programmes. Moreover, it should reduce the frequency of keywords suggested by propaganda and stop speaking about Putin as the central figure. The task of the channel is to withdraw from the symbolic umbrella of propaganda.

Consequently, the news programmes can be produced in the style of “Euronews”, i.e. short selected news without much commentary and with a wealth of video information. The definiteness of TV genres (news, talk show, interview, documentaries, etc.) is required, same as strict definitions (because propaganda TV mixes genres).

The entertainment programmes (films, concerts, and theatre performances) should represent the products of high artistic quality, instead of trash on official TV. 

The TV channel can choose the best of Russian culture and show its world contribution. In this way, the European Russian-language broadcasting can satisfy the demand of Russian people in “greatness” provoked by propaganda and aggressive state policy and convert this demand into virtual domain.

The European Russian TV channel has to position itself as the broadcaster of Russia diaspora, funded by the EU in frames of support for minorities and in view of future Russian-European cooperation and integration. It is desirable that the channel be available for Russian-speaking people worldwide and broadcasts, possibly, from Germany or France as the countries with close historical links to Russia. The channel can be called “Window to Russia” (Окно в Россию).

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