Kremlin Deception Weapons: 7 Things You Need to Know About RT and Sputnik
The European Union has approved sanctions against the Kremlin deception weapons: Sputnik and RT. Their broadcasting activities were immediately suspended in the EU until the Kremlin stopped its aggression against Ukraine and until Russia stopped carrying out disinformation and information manipulation activities against the EU and its member states, writes EUvsDiSiNFO, reports Portalb.mk
These are immediate, purposeful and temporary measures taken in a very special and unprecedented context – Russian military aggression against Ukraine. These measures are not “censorship” or “general prohibition” and create a careful balance: they respect fundamental rights and limit them only proportionately as part of a regime of legal sanctions. This is part of the EU’s response to a clear threat to Europe’s peace and security.
EU sanctions do not prevent employees from working for these media outlets, from performing their duties. However, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many RT employees around the world resigned.
EU sanctions against RT and Sputnik will be a temporary suspension of broadcasting rights to disarm the Kremlin’s information warfare instruments – at a time when the Kremlin is waging a brutal war against Ukraine.
RT and Sputnik may seem like international media, but they are not. They work with a single goal: to facilitate and support the Kremlin’s policies abroad through disinformation and manipulation of information. RT and Sputnik and their social media aim to exacerbate fragmentation and polarization and undermine democracy, cover up the Kremlin for violations of international law, and generate support for Putin’s war.
Seven things you need to know about RT and Sputnik:
1. RT and Sputnik are not media organizations, but weapons of the Kremlin
RT has defined its mission in military terms. Its editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, has publicly equated RT’s importance with Russia’s need for a defence ministry. According to her, RT is ready to “wage an information war against the whole Western world”, using “information weapons”. RT’s strategic goal is to “conquer” and “increase the audience” in order to use access to this audience at “critical moments”.
RT is included in the official list of key organizations of strategic importance to Russia. Sputnik was set up by presidential decree to “report on Russia’s state policy abroad.” RT receives millions of rubles from the state of Russia every year. For example, in the Russian federal draft budget for 2020, 23 billion rubles or 325 million Euros at the time were allocated for RT. Russia’s total budget for the state media is close to 1.3 billion Euros.
2. RT and Sputnik are not objective, nor do they try to be
An investigation by independent journalists found that RT and Sputnik editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan played a central role in the media control network, which controls what the state-controlled media should and should not cover. She acknowledged that there was a secure direct line to the Kremlin via the “yellow phone”.
Simonian expressed strong support for restricting access to information in Russia, calling for a ban on foreign social networks and welcomed the repression of Belarusian journalists by the Lukashenko regime.
The head of Russia Today, Dmitry Kiseljov, who was sanctioned by the EU in 2014, told his staff that “the era of impartial journalism is over” and that objectivity is a myth.
3. RT employs people with experience in journalism but does not follow international journalistic standards
RT serves the Kremlin’s agenda in the West under the guise of “alternative” journalism, which aims to counter alleged mainstream media bias. It relies on the appearances of Western politicians, academics, journalists and other influential public figures to increase its credibility and productively use the op-ed format (pages with special features usually opposite the page of the newspaper editor’s word) to cover up misinformation as an opinion.
But that’s exactly the way it looks – RT cannot mask its essential lack of public accountability, transparency and editorial independence. Far from the international media standards adhered to by international public service broadcasters, RT is not transparent about its budget, oversight structure and oversight mechanisms.
4. RT and Sputnik are part of a wider misinformation ecosystem
There is a well-documented link between RT and Sputnik and other pillars in the Russian disinformation ecosystem – a set of authorized and official communication channels and platforms that the Kremlin uses to create and reinforce manipulative narratives.
RT and Sputnik assist and engage in influence operations through cyber-facilitations, including those attributed to Russia’s military intelligence GRU.
5. The real impact of RT’s lies on online and social media
RT is better understood not as a TV channel with a social media presence, but as a social media operation with professional television facilities. A 2018 survey by British media regulator Ofcom ranked RT penultimate in popularity “among adults who use news television”, with 2% of the total audience.
RT’s reach is much wider on social networks. At the beginning of 2020, RT boasted 10 billion views on multiple Youtube channels. However, RT’s immense popularity on social media has been challenged by the international media and Russian activists. Research has shown that RT has artificially increased viewership to increase its popularity and importance as a medium.
RT is actively trying to conquer the EU information space with a large number of articles on issues of key importance to the Kremlin, such as covering up the facts about Alexei Navalny’s poisoning. RT’s use of sensational deceptive headlines to boost social media activity combined with weak copyright policies has created a dangerous ecosystem for RT’s content to be easily reinforced with websites.
6. RT has had problems before
EU sanctions against RT and Sputnik are immediate, deliberate and temporary measures taken in a very specific context without precedent – Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine – but Kremlin spokesmen have had problems before.
In Ukraine, RT has been banned since 2014 and has never been able to obtain a broadcasting license in Germany. In 2019, the German Journalists’ Association warned state media authorities that “Russia Today is not a medium for us, but a propaganda tool of the Kremlin.” RT DE tried to circumvent German rules and obtain a broadcasting license in Luxembourg, but regulators in Luxembourg also rejected the request. After RT DE tried to broadcast the signal in Germany at the end of 2021, without a valid broadcasting license, the broadcast was suspended by the German Licensing and Supervision Commission.
RT is banned in Latvia and Estonia. In the United States, RT must be registered as a foreign agent. The media regulator in the United Kingdom considers RT’s production to be “materially fraudulent”, for which he was fined 200,000 pounds in 2019.
In February 2022, Ofcom launched 15 investigations into the RT news channel impartiality programs. The French broadcaster also issued warnings to RT.
7. RT and Sputnik were useful in carrying out and supporting Russian military aggression against Ukraine
RT and Sputnik continue to nurture and spread the narrative with misinformation and defamation of Ukraine, in an attempt to justify and monopolize support for Putin’s war. And they have been doing that for years.
In 2021, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan attended a conference in Donetsk, where she called for “Mother Russia to bring Donbas home”, literally calling for a breach of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Just weeks before Putin ordered the start of the war, RT provoked the audience by claiming that “Ukrainians want Russian blood.”
As Russian missiles fall on Ukrainian cities, RT and Sputnik continue to misinform and cover up the true nature and scope of Putin’s war against Ukraine.