How the Western media does propaganda – the technique of ‘narrative overlay’

This post is part of a series analyzing how the Western media does propaganda. In this post we examine a technique which we are calling ‘narrative overlay’. In this method a story is produced which at least to some extent follows the pattern of traditional journalism. Facts are reported, sources are cited, and a story is put together. But, then, at some point in the story a claim is made which is not evidenced, has never been, but which tilts the story in a very certain direction. These additions we call ‘narrative overlay’. They aren’t evidenced. But they are a key part of building the overall narrative. Following are some specific examples:

1) After Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet The Guardian ran a piece in which they compared Turkey and Russia. [1]  The piece suggested striking similarities exist between the two countries “not least their ability and propensity to move conflicts into the covert arena”. The piece could of course compared either country to the UK and the US who have been covertly arming and training rebels to fight against the government of Syria. [2] But, hey, this is the Guardian so that comparison wasn’t made.

In this piece the readers of the Guardian are informed:

Ankara is often guilty of neglecting attacks on Isis and hitting the Kurds (who are in so many ways the most effective force against the jihadists) instead, smuggling weapons in the guise of humanitarian convoys (something we saw the Russians doing in Ukraine), and being willing to support groups which are often jihadist in their own terms.

But – did we see the Russians smuggling arms via humanitarian aid convoys to Ukraine? It is notable that the author of this piece in the Guardian references his claim about Turkey doing this (to a Turkish opposition outlet) but not his claim about the Russians. The editor of this site followed the story about Russian aid convoys to Donbass quite carefully. He hasn’t seen any evidence of weapons smuggling in these convoys. If there had been one can imagine it would have been all over the front pages of the Western press. Russian state media reported that at least one convoy was checked by Ukrainian border guards after the Red Cross mediated an agreement between Ukraine and Russia. The reported statements by the Ukrainian government confirming that the convoys would be accepted as humanitarian aid are corroborated by reports in Western media. [4]

This, then, is an excellent example of ‘narrative overlay’. A story contains some facts – but then parts are simply added, made up, with no ground in reportage and facts at all. They are just presented as self-evident truths that require no evidence. The intent presumably is to create a narrative based around these made-up elements. These ‘narrative overlay’ elements follow the second method of truth-validation used in the West. The first method of truth-validation, or epistemology, asserts that something is true if it corresponds with some aspect of reality. This method looks back to a tradition of empiricism. (If we accept Foucault’s analysis it has its origins in medieval juridical procedures as well). It is (approximately speaking) the normal, everyday, method of truth-validation which most people use. However, Western power, has a second method of truth-validation. In this method the test is ‘is it consistent with the narrative we are trying to spin’. If it is it must be true. Statements are validated not by reference to reality but to the narrative itself. The technique of ‘narrative overlay’ references this method of truth-validation. The insidious practice of Western media propaganda is to mix the two.







The war on truth

A demonstration by Right Sector activists in Kiev, Ukraine, has descended into violence. A grenade was thrown from amongst the protesters injuring several policemen. The protesters were protesting against the law being passed with allows for a degree of decentralisation in Ukraine. Kiev has to pass this law – and others – to be part of the Minsk 2 agreement.

This is the report from RT.

This is the report from Reuters.

I looked at how Reuters would cover this story specifically. The Right Sector and right-wing Svoboda party [1][2] were key players in the Western backed coup in February 2014. The Right Sector is part of the National Guard fighting in the East.

A relentless wall of anti-Russian propaganda

This is another one. This is AFP reporting on the Kuril islands. The Kuril islands, off Russia’s far eastern shore with the southernmost of them close to Japan, are disputed between Japan and Russia.

The position of Russia is that the islands were ceded to Russia as part of the peace treaties at the end of WWII. [1] They certainly have a strong case which is argued from international treaties. [2]

Nonetheless the Western propaganda writers at AFP prefer:

Soviet troops seized the islands just after Japan surrendered in World War II. [2] (AFP)

It isn’t just AFP. This appears to the the organised narrative. Here is the

The propaganda machine

Just a routine piece of Western media propaganda.

This is from SkyNews.

The story reports that North Korea fired a shell into South Korea and then said that South Korea’s response shelling was based on a “nonexistent pretext”. Put like that obviously North Korea is living in a phantasy world. However the actual sequence of events was a land-mine explosion which injured two South Korean soldiers. South Korea responded to this by turning on its propaganda loudspeakers. This was followed by the exchange of artillery. The “nonexistent pretext” referred to by North Korea was the claim by South Korea that the mine had been placed by North Korea. It may or may not have been – but once we understand this at least North Korea’s position appears rational. Conceivably plausible. Not obviously mad.

This kind of mistake could just be down to sloppy journalism. But (like your bank’s mistakes) the mistakes always seem to fall on one side. In favour of the Western narrative. The Western media is like a propaganda machine. It churns out the narrative day in day out. It does this by a) massive omissions and b) small but significant twists in the fact presentation. All the while it produces balanced reports with quotes from both sides.

In this case the main point is that the US has urged North Korea to stop “threatening regional security”. Well; thank heavens we accept that the US is the global “peace keeper”.



A confession

This post is a confession.

A confession of naivety.

A couple of months ago we published some posts critising the Western press for printing stories about imminent Russian aggression against the Baltic states. For example:

My naivety was to think that this was just ignorant journalism.


How the West does propaganda (2)

This is nice example from AFP.

The story is about a proposed ‘gay pride’ march in Odessa, Ukraine. The Right Sector movement disrupted the event.

This is how AFP reports about the Right Sector:

Prominent extreme nationalist group Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) — once central to the demonstrations in Kiev that toppled a Russian-backed president last year — had voiced fierce opposition to Saturday’s event. [1]

This really is a lovely example of Western media propaganda.

The Right Sector movement was indeed prominent in the Maidan Square riots and putsch which got rid of President Yanochovich. It is a strongly nationalist movement. For example; some of its leaders have made virulently anti-Russian statements (before the war in Eastern Ukraine started). [2]

However the attempt to paint it as something belonging to the past is a sheer lie.

The Right Sector is part of the military campaign being waged by Kiev against the militias in eastern Ukraine. A Right Sector member is an adviser to the Ministry of Defence. Two Right Sector members including one of its leaders Dmytro Yarosh now sit in the Ukrainian parliament. [3] In other words the Right Sector played a key part in the Maidan Square riots and has now been taken into the fold and become part of the military campaign in Eastern Ukraine. It is integral to the coup.

The second piece of mischief here is describing (and this is a typical characterisation) President Yanochovich as a “Russian-backed President”. This is an attempt to mislead the casual reader into thinking that

How The West Does Propaganda

This is a good example. The story is by AFP. AFP is owned by the French government.

The story details the political, social and economic chaos in Libya. Apparently it is getting worse.

All this stems from the 2011 NATO bombing campaign. This campaign was conducted on the basis of UN Resolution 1973 which permitted military action to protect civilians. In a piece of legal sophistry the Western powers argued that “since Gaddafi is a threat to civilians bombing his army and thus securing a total military victory for the rebels is legitimate”.

At any event the fact is that NATO bombed the Libyan army (armed strangely enough in large measure by the EU [1]) and secured a military victory for various competing rebel factions. As