Media literacy is crucial in resisting Russian propaganda

  • Nicole Ely
  • 8.2.2019 07:33

The Kremlin is using different disinformation narratives in the V4 to rally political support, as shown by recent research following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait. Despite these efforts, the Czech Republic’s mainstream media proved to be the most impenetrable to Russian propaganda. Advocating for better media literacy and unity within the V4 could assist in the battle against Russian propaganda.

In light of the recent attempts from the Kremlin to promote anti-Ukraine sentiments following its aggression in the Sea of Azov in November 2018, a recent report shows that some mainstream media in Visegrad countries are more resilient to the propaganda than others.

A recent analysis of 200 Czech and Hungarian Facebook pages revealed three main pro-Kremlin narratives that gained traction among readers in the weeks following the crisis. The first was that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was responsible for the provocation. The second was that the United States was behind the incident, in an effort to boost support for the Ukrainian government and spread anti-Russian sentiment. The third was a conspiracy that NATO and Ukraine were working together to use the crisis as a catalyst for war.

 

The Czech mainstream media approached the propaganda with the best methods

 

The Czech mainstream media approached the propaganda with the best methods. They restricted the pro-Russian voices to quotes from Russian diplomats and officials. When they did address the narratives, it was framed as Russian aggression. In comparison, Hungary’s mainstream media repeatedly echoed many of the pro-Russian narratives in their coverage. This could correlate to the fact that Hungary ranks much lower than the Czech Republic in media literacy.  

Although the study focused on the Czech Republic and Hungary, Russia has been using similar disinformation campaigns in all the Visegrad countries. Sputnik CZ is one of the most read fringe websites in Slovakia as well as the Czech Republic. In the month following the Kerch crisis, there were 152 online articles about the incident published by both mainstream media and fringe sites in Slovakia. These narratives weren’t as prevalent in Poland, but this could be due to the country’s adversarial history with the Soviet Union. 

 

Societies that are more divided tend to be more vulnerable to manipulation

 

 

While mainstream media in the Czech Republic proved to be more resilient to these narratives, the power of these fringe sites shouldn’t be underestimated. These kinds of disinformation campaigns are highly adaptable and use divisive issues, which then influence the political realm. The Slovak Spectator reports that Slovak MP Boris Kollár is known for publishing hoaxes from such fringe media. These stories also appear on less influential media that exploit the grey areas of certain issues in order to attract readership.  

Media outlets, as well as political institutions and NGOs, must be more active with debunking any conspiratorial or propaganda messages. However, they shouldn’t counter with the use of more propaganda, but instead, mimic the Czech Republic’s approach and focus on education in media literacy. Societies that are more divided tend to be more vulnerable to manipulation. So, the Visegrad countries must focus on areas within their borders that demonstrate the most division, so they will not become prey to more Russian propaganda in the future.

About author: Nicole Ely

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