Guardian propaganda on demonstrations in Moscow

My last few posts have concerned this topic. Readers of the Guardian in the UK may not be aware that the ‘journalists’ stationed in Moscow are telling them a fairy-tale about the recent demonstrations in Moscow.

For the record in drawing attention to this I’m not arguing ‘in favour’ of the protestors or against. Nor am I denying that there is a real ‘opposition’ here; a section of the population who want change to the whole political setup in Russia. (As there is in the UK as well, incidentally).

I’m just struck more than anything by the sheer lazy (and almost certainly consciously dishonest) reporting of the Guardian’s reporters in Moscow.

Today there has been a demonstration in Moscow in favour of a number of candidates who have been barred from taking part in Septembers elections for the Moscow City Council. According to the Moscow Electoral Commission they’ve been barred because they didn’t get sufficient valid signatures to stand in the election (independent candidates have to produce lists of signatures showing that have a valid support base). According to the barred candidates this is a pretext. Today’s demonstration was sanctioned by the authorities, making it legal under Russian law. Demonstrations on the last two weekends have not been sanctioned and have thus been illegal under Russian law. In both cases (the illegal demonstrations) the police arrested hundreds of demonstrators – though (according to Russian state media) – most have been released without charge.

Let’s look at some recent examples of sloppy journalism in the Guardian. [1]

Russia’s opposition held its largest protest in years in central Moscow in a show of strength and defiance after previous rallies were forcefully dispersed with mass arrests.

Completely misleading because it fails to explain that the previous rallies were illegal and that the arrests were lawful.

Monitors from the White Counters group reported that nearly 50,000 people attended the demonstration on Saturday, making it the largest opposition rally since 2013

The Russian Interior Ministry is saying that 20,000 people attended. [2] I can’t find any information on the Internet about ‘White Counters’ group at all. (Is it a social media page?) At any event basics of journalism should tell Andrew Roth that he should quote both figures and let the reader decide. In fact Roth does mention the 20,000 figure – but much later in his article. We have noted this method of distorting the picture in a previous comment piece on another Guardian ‘article’.   The method is to lead with the fact that you need to create your biased story. Then you drop in the balancing fact later in the article so that you can’t be said to have misrepresented the facts. At any event the kind of difference with these figures seems about on par with figures given when there are demonstrations in London; the organisers’ figures are almost always far higher than the police figures. It is interesting that Andrew Roth simply accepts the higher figure as true. (Finally; I don’t know what the actual figure from the ‘White Counter groups’ is. Roth’s “nearly 50,000” is reported by RT as 49,000  – probably both outlets are spinning it).

Russia’s protesters have grown younger in recent years, with high school and college students who grew up under Putin more vocal in their calls for change

To be fair to Andrew Roth this is probably true. However there is a question of interpretation; the official line seems to be that the opposition politicians are using teenagers. Key participants at today’s rally included popular rappers – which will certainly have boosted the youth turnout. Roth seems to credit these young people with a political consciousness which may be generous to them. (One Russian media outlet which often follows the  official line covers the demonstration in Moscow today with a video showing several young people unable to name the barred candidates they are supposed to be supporting.) [2]

Since the recent round of protests began police have detained more than 2,000 people, charged 11 with rioting, opened a money laundering case against anti-corruption researchers, threatened a family with taking away their infant son, reviewed the debt and military service records of protesters and made liberal use of batons in preserving the peace. [1b]

‘liberal use of batons’. Possibly. But no tear-gas, exploding ‘flash-bangs’ or water cannon. So not like democratic liberal France.

The infant son story seems rather dramatic. However, for context, (since Mr Roth skips on the context); the charge is that the parents took their one year old son to an illegal rally and, further, that they then gave him to a friend who used him as a prop to pass along a police cordon. The parents were investigated for non fulfilment of obligatory nurturing of an underage child and for putting a child in danger. [3] In fact if parents took their child to an illegal demonstration in the UK (e.g. on a nuclear site of some kind) and then used him in this way social services would certainly investigate too. The Guardian would probably not report this as ‘threatening  a family’. We see this so often in liberal reporting on Russia – actions of the authorities which would be taken completely for granted in the UK are reported as signs of a police state when they happen in Russia. This is quite strange. It is almost as if the journalists have decided in advance that the Russian state is evil and that it follows from this that all their actions must, necessarily, be evil. And their evil actions are proof of their evilness….

‘anti-corruption researchers’. This is in fact a political actor not an independent ‘researcher’. Alexei Navalny – who is one of the leading protesters. Dressing up political actors as ‘neutral’ or ‘independent’ NGOs and ‘researchers’ is normal for liberal journalism – the UK funded White Helmets in Syria being a prime example of this.

None of this is out and out propaganda (though there is plenty of that in the Western press on Russia). It is just a little twist here, a little twist there, a little omission, a matter of always taking opposition claims at face value, and assuming that official statements are always false. The result though is to create a kind of fairy-tale of innocent protesters hounded by a police state. The reality is much more interesting and more complicated.

Notes

a. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/10/thousands-march-in-moscow-disqualification-city-elections

b. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/10/kebabs-and-rock-music-how-moscow-quells-the-spirit-of-rebellion

2. Life News

3.

Life News

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Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer