Media propaganda on Ukraine

This is just a small example. An article in the Telegraph about the recent announcement on the creation of a new ‘state’ by the DNR. [1] Just a couple of points.

i) This is an example of what this site calls ‘narrative overlay’. The Western media often reports the news in this way. They don’t just limit themselves to reporting facts – someone said this; someone else claimed that. They tell their readers what to believe. These are editorial glosses laid on top of the news to make sure everyone is on the right page. A sort of organized group think. For example;

The proposed country – which has no chance of getting off the ground – would be founded after a referendum and called Malorossiya, a tsarist-era name meaning “Little Russia” that once described most of the area covering modern-day Ukraine.

Well. In all likelihood this plan is just intended as a wind-up; perhaps part of a strategy to say to Kiev that if Kiev doesn’t start implementing the Minsk agreements soon (with regard to political autonomy for the Eastern regions) then the stakes will be raised. In all likelihood it “does have no chance of getting off the ground”. But why does the Telegraph have to tell its readers this? Why not just report the facts? These kinds of editorial glosses are about managing the narrative. In essence; telling people what to think.

ii) A second characteristic of the Western media is the way that claims are made and are treated as self-evidently true but in fact rarely evidenced.  See:

Moscow has denied the allegations despite overwhelming evidence that it has been involved in the fighting and its explicit political support for the rebels.

A good example. This works simply be repeating ‘overwhelming evidence’ enough times. In reality there has been astonishingly little credible evidence in the media to support the claim of Russian ‘involvement in the fighting’. Reuters published a story which provided some evidence (though far from conclusive) that Russia had supplied two tanks to the militias in Eastern Ukraine. [2] This report stands out as being a rare case when journalists have made a serious attempt to back up the narrative with the fruits of investigative journalism. In the main the source for the “Russia is involved in the fighting” is either the US State Department or the Ukrainian defence ministry. This isn’t to say that Russia has not been sending military support to the militias. Quite possibly they have. But there is as a matter of fact no ‘overwhelming evidence’. And ‘explicit political support’ is also a fiction. The Kremlin has studiously avoided supporting the rebels in the DNR and LPR in any demands they might have made to break away from Ukraine and join Russia. The Kremlin has been explicit that the conflict should be solved with reference to the Minsk agreements.

Why does the Western press lie so much? Because – in the end Western (mostly US) finance capital is running a racket. Bringing ‘freedom’ to the world – in reality a vulgar and crude materialist culture. And the role of the press (owned by that self-same finance capital) is to soak the masses in the myths needed to sell this horrible culture as the best thing that’s ever happened to humankind.

Notes

1. https://sputniknews.com/politics/201707181055660081-dpr-malorossiya-kremlin/

2. http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-tanks-exclusive-idUKKCN0IC1GE20141023

Total fiction the norm in UK media

This is a little example in today’s Daily Telegraph:

Mrs Merkel has been a strong supporter of the EU and US sanctions regime imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014.

It appears in an article discussing a the phone calls between new US President Donald Trump and European and Russian leaders as well as a witty response in verse to Mrs May’s cold war era warnings about the need to beware of Russia.

This kind of outright lie is fed daily to the public by lazy and irresponsible journalists in the West. It is an example of the propaganda technique of narrative amplification. In this technique a ‘factoid’ is created. Once created (but never established as true by a detailed analysis) the factoid floats about and is re-inserted into a wide variety of articles which touch on the matter at all as if it were “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Readers of this sort of material are being “brainwashed”.

Crimea was annexed, if you like. But to mention this without also mentioning that there was a popular vote overwhelmingly in favour (a vote whose results have been confirmed by subsequent polling by Western polling organisations) [1] is to portray what was in fact a popular move approved of by the people as an act of aggression by Russia. As for “invasion of Eastern Ukraine” in 2014. No such event has taken place. Pure make believe. Something to do with Peter Pan. Yes; Russia is very likely running some kind of military intelligence operation in support of the residents of Donbass. But “invasion”. No. And; again; the lack of context is important here. As this web site has discussed frequently the Western media studiously avoids mentioning the historical and political context of the events in Eastern Ukraine. For example; it is a fact that people in Donbass are far far less interested in joining the EU and NATO than those in the West of Ukraine. At the same time the elected President who was deposed in the coup of February 2014 was most heavily supported by people in the East. That there should be resistance by these people, even without Russian support, to becoming part of a Western-leaning Ukraine is as rational as it was predictable.

This article in the Daily Telegraph is provable dishonest. If ‘dishonest’ means to create a false impression.  (That is, and this is entirely characteristic of this kind of propaganda material; it might be possible to defend statements about ‘annexation’ and ‘invasion’ against, say, defamation charges, by citing small items of evidence; e.g. evidence of a burnt-out Russian tank in Donbass, but the statements made loudly amplify only one side of reality, miss out the political and historical contexts and indeed any ‘evidence for the defence’ at all, and thus create a distorted and indeed false narrative). Yet people (in this case someone called Roland Oliphant) churn this material out day in day out. And call it journalism. Apart from any political considerations it is simply incredibly lazy to present only one side of a complex situation. It may be that one motivation is that this is what your sub-editor (on your newspaper owned by Western finance capital) wants to see. But that would be no excuse for someone who cared about journalism.

Update – more factual errors in the Daily Telegraph

This is another article by the same Roland Oliphant who claimed that Russia had “invaded” Eastern Ukraine. In this article he actually corrects the “invasion” line to a more defendable line about “military intervention”:

Those grievances [between Russia and the US] include Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in eastern Ukraine and Syria, the sanctions the US imposed in response, and the exchange of accusations of hacking following apparent Russian attempts to swing the US election in Mr Trump’s favour.

There is very very little tangible proof even for Russian “military intervention” in Eastern Ukraine. This line is simply repeated in the Western press as a truism. But there are very few serious articles which attempt to back it up with reporting or investigative journalism.  (This story by Reuters from October 2014 is a very rare exception to the rule. In this story there is tangible evidence of Russian military involvement. The case is somewhat circumstantial and could be contested. But at least it represents a serious attempt to back up the claims about Russian “military involvement” with real journalism; going there, taking pictures, getting the pictures reviewed by people who can be cited as experts etc. The story stands out as an exception. Usually the claim is just repeated, essentially, because that is what the US State Department said.) Anyway.

The factual error worth highlighting here is that US sanctions on Russia relate solely to Crimea and/or Eastern Ukraine. The US discussed sanctions on Russia in relation to Syria [2] back in October 2016 when the Syrian government and Russia were in the process of re-taking the Syrian city of Aleppo from Western backed “moderates” and Al-Qaeda. But they were not imposed. (Syria re-took Aleppo and the story moved on). The author says that the US sanctions on Russia are connected to Syria. They aren’t. That’s just wrong.  In terms of correctly understanding international affairs this is a significant error.  This kind of basic factual error is not all that uncommon in the Western press. It probably occurs because the basis on which they write is not reportage. (Facts and analysis based on facts). But phantasy. Narratives – issued by the liberal elites in power in Washington, Paris and London. Designed to make them look good and to rationalise whatever murderous project they are currently engaged on. And, when your job is repeating narratives, it is easy sometimes to get a bit adrift. After all, 90% of it is make-believe anyway so what does it matter if you get basic facts wrong?

(There were additional sanctions by Obama’s administration in relation to  claimed Russian hacking of the US Democratic Party and other figures in the US Democrats. [3]. Possibly this is the mistake. The author meant to refer to these and not to Syria. But if you are going to write about international affairs you might as well get it right).

Essentially the problem is that 95% of the time the Western media is not doing journalism. They are acting as the PR department for the Western liberal political/financial elites – spinning whatever stories suit them.

Update – more fake news in the Guardian

This is from a blog post about demonstrations in the UK against the US ban (temporary ban) on people from 7 listed countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) entering the US.

Other speakers linked Trump’s ban on refugees and Muslims from seven countries entering the US to the prime minister’s official visit to meet Trump in the US last week. Rhea Wolfson, a member of Labour’s national executive committee, said: “we say it loud and clear to Theresa May: you shame yourself and you shame your country.

“Muslims from 7 countries”. This isn’t true. It isn’t a mistake or partly not true or a spin which could be defended by a piece of sophistry. It is simply not true. As in “there is a cat on the mat” when the mat is utterly empty. The ban applies to anyone from those 7 countries – regardless of their religion. This blog is attributed to “Andrew Sparrow and Kevin Rawlinson”. Whoever wrote it they are just making it up. They seem to be more interested in stirring up unrest than in reporting facts.

That’s the main point; a straightforward piece of fake news. To critique the piece a little deeper we can also notice that, like much of reporting in the liberal press about Trump’s moves on immigration, they neglect to report a) the suspension of the US refugee programme is for 120 days not permanent – only the Syrian refugee programme has been permanently suspended, and b) the ban on entry to the US to people from 7 listed countries is limited to 90 days and is to (stated purpose) give the administration time to review security vetting procedures. Perhaps you can call yourself a journalist and distort the news by skipping the context and full facts. But to “report” that Trump has “banned Muslims from seven countries” is to move from journalism purely into the realms of writing incendiary propaganda.

That is; disagree with it on principle or at the level of tactics. But don’t just fake it. If you fake it it looks like you don’t care at all about the subject matter you apparently claim to care so much about.

Notes

1. New Obs

2. Independent. October 2016

3. CNN

Anti-Russia hysteria from Western liberals

This is an article in the Guardian about the CIA claims that Russia was probably behind the DNC and Podesta hacks. Subsequent anonymous briefings to the media have suggested that President Putin personally led the operation and that he did it out of personal spite against Hillary Clinton. Now Clinton has latched onto this and is claiming, it seems, that this is a water-tight case “Putin did it and he did it to spite me”. Quite possibly she is trying to get the election result overturned. The lust for power knows no bounds.

In reality Russia may have been responsible.  The CIA case was however based on circumstantial evidence.  The claims that Putin was personally involved are even less reliable being based on apparently ad hoc anonymous briefings to the press. This could just as well be politically motivated misinformation as genuine “leaks”. These latter claims about Putin and his supposed personal spite are implausible. Putin, as any observer of the Russian scene who is not intoxicated with hate and delusion can see, is a cautious actor who acts in conjunction with a group in the Kremlin to take Russia in a certain direction. It is just unlikely that he would subsume Russia policy to personal spite (even if he does indeed feel this alleged personal spite). More likely is the explanation that this was about destabilizing the elections and conceivably helping Trump. If, indeed, Russia did do it. (If they did – something of a triumph of intelligence work; and, arguably, a significant contribution to transparent democracy in America).

Since we often like to pick up on Guardian propaganda here is a little example from the Guardian article:

He [Donald Trump] earlier tweeted: “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”

In fact, the intelligence community had issued its statement on 7 October, a full month before polling day.

Note that Trump is talking about the White House. And, indeed, it is only in recent days that the White House (Obama) has started to make a lot of noise about this matter. And, as Trump points out, this is surprising since the claims from the intelligence community have been around for some time, as the Guardian acknowledges. This is the point Trump is making. But by conflating the two separate events; the claims made by the intelligence community and political statements made by the White House the Guardian has, on a completely false basis, tried to create a picture of Trump being in the wrong – and, at the same time, obscure the point he is making. It is either a crass error or, more likely, a deliberate distortion. People who tell straight lies are difficult to deal with…

 

The Guardian gives the last word to President Obama:

This [Putin] is somebody, the former head of the KGB, who is responsible for crushing democracy in Russia, muzzling the press, throwing political dissidents in jail, countering American efforts to expand freedom at every turn; is currently making decisions that’s leading to a slaughter in Syria,” the outgoing president said.

This, of course, is a neat summary of the liberal narrative on Russia. The image of “former head of the KGB” always helps to propel the story along a bit. In a theatrical kind of a way.

“Crushing democracy”? This is a report by the OSCE into the 2012 Presidential Elections in Russia – which saw Putin elected. The US is a paid up member of the OSCE. The report is freely available online. Anyone can read it. Including Guardian journalists. It is true that the OSCE point to a small number of specific incidents of likely vote rigging. Many of their criticisms though are simply about administrative inefficiencies which could enable voting fraud but are not specific cases of such. Overall the report on the probity of these elections is positive. Candidates were able to campaign freely. Demonstrations were permitted. People were able to vote freely. President Putin is not “muzzling democracy”. He got elected in an election which, while not perfect, is not bad for a county which has only been a democracy (in the sense of multi-party elections) for 25 years.

“Muzzling the press”. Again don’t miss the theatrical language. Muzzle is supposed to conjure up images of barbarism. In Russia the state owns or influences the major TV stations. However; there is much more latitude in the print media. [1] Russian journalists are able to print articles which are highly critical of the Kremlin. The Guardian sometimes reprints these articles. The real complaint is that the state directly supports a major part of the media industry and ensures that it is broadly speaking supportive of the state. (In this regard we can note that both France and the UK have strong state supported media organisations).

“Throwing political dissidents in jail”. This could be a reference to Russia’s anti-extremism laws. Russia has a set of laws dealing with matters such as financing terrorism, hate speech and attempts to sow division in society. [2] Just like the UK for example. [3] Russia and the UK face the same problem; multi-cultural societies with a small but tangible danger of radicalisation and extremism in the name of religion. Both states have implemented laws to deal with these problems. But for the liberal the laws in Russia are always understood as being aimed at the liberal opposition. They just don’t see the real problems that Russia faces. Presumably because they don’t care if Russia were to be consumed by terrorism.

“Countering American efforts to expand freedom”. Oh gosh. These naive American fundamentalists. Is Iraq ‘free’? Libya? How long are we expected to believe this naivety? They try to push their version of free-market capitalism and multi-party ‘democracy’ all over the world. They do this because this is in their business interests. They need more markets, access to more resources, and more opportunities for US businesses to win contracts. They don’t seek to “expand freedom” out of some kind of higher moral purpose as Obama claims (and has claimed before). It is a business imperative.

If they cared about “expanding freedom” as some kind of higher principle, with nothing to do with oil contracts and weapons sales, then surely they would have a word to say about some of their allies the Gulf monarchies which really do “muzzle democracy” and “throw political dissidents in jail” [4]?

Russia is responsible for the “slaughter in Syria”. The “Russia is responsible for the slaughter in Syria” line only works if you accept that a) the West is “right” in deciding that “Assad must go”, b) is right in providing arms and money and political support to groups who are trying to overthrow Assad  and c) that in obstructing these groups Russia is responsible for the continuation of the civil war. I.e. the argument only works if we accept that the US should have been able to conduct another regime change operation without being blocked. But Russia can point to previous US regime change operations. Based on wholly naive dreams about grateful “liberated” populations all yearning to be mini-Americans the US has already plunged two countries into visible chaos – Iraq and Libya. Recent history would appear to support the Russian analysis on Syria; a stable state is the main bulwark against terrorism. But, like all fundamentalists, when reality collides with their dreams these dreamers prioritise their dreams over reality. Even with the disastrous examples of their workmanship right there and visible in front of them they still insist on “expanding freedom”.

And given that they are “expanding freedom” in Syria by working with Saudi Arabia, a monarchy which, according to Amnesty International “severely restricts freedoms of expression, association and assembly and … prosecuted and imprisoned human rights defenders and government critics” in 2015/16 [5] and which has supported groups in Syria who have allied themselves with Al Qaeda [6] the US claim to be about “expanding freedom” takes on a somewhat surreal flavour.

Update – a further taste of the bottom of the journalistic barrel over at the Guardian

This is the sort of writing which passes for journalism at the Guardian:

A source with knowledge of the negotiations said Moscow was the main reason the deal did not fall apart over the weekend despite the objections of Iranian and jihadi interlocutors. It is likely Moscow saw the survival of the deal as necessary to shore up its claims to great power status.

It is in a piece about the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey in an art gallery in Ankara. The deal referred to is the deal between rebels and the Syrian army to evacuate the remaining fighters and their families from Eastern Aleppo. The Guardian has been struggling with this because a ceasefire, humanitarian aid and safety for civilians in Eastern Aleppo is what they’ve being going on about for the last few months. Now that Russia is visibly delivering on this how is the Guardian going to report it? The answer is to admit that the evacuation is taking place. The Guardian, after all, needs to position itself as a paper which survives basic fact-checking – and they can hardly deny the reality. But to find some caveat which enables the over-arching narrative (Russia is a very bad country which only ever acts out of evil motives) to be maintained. How to do this? Explain away the Russian facilitating of the evacuation (which must be an extraordinarily difficult operation) as being something they are only doing “to shore up its claims to great power status”. Not only is there no evidence for this – but it is simply unlikely that Moscow would be thinking in every act it takes – will the Western press write us up as a great power if we do this? In reality Moscow is clearly trying to bring stability to Syria – based around the current government if you like – and this is a strategic decision in that context. They are unlikely to be doing this out of vanity. This is a nice example of the technique of narrative overlay which we find so often in the Western press. Facts are reported but the real message of the article is given in a narrative overlay or editorial gloss – which itself has no argumentation or analysis to support it. It isn’t the role of this web site to promote Russia Today (there is plenty to find in Russia Today which is disappointing, for example the endless negative stories about the West) but anyone can see that their articles are simply free of these kinds of gloss.

Notes

1. WikiPedia

2. Russian State media explaining the anti-extremism laws:

RT on background to anti-extremism laws

RT on second wave of anti-extremisms law in Russia

RT on internet controls in Russia

3. RT

4. Amnesty International on Bahrain

5. Amnesty International on Saudi Arabia

6. New Obs. October 2016. See Note 4.

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.

 

Notes

1. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/26/russia-turkey-jet-mark-galeotti

2. http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news/how-the-uk-is-secretly-helping-to-stoke-the-flames-of-war-in-syria

3. https://www.rt.com/news/189224-ukraine-humanitarian-convoy-donetsk/, https://www.rt.com/news/180828-aid-convoy-humanitarian-icrc/, https://www.rt.com/news/180844-ukraine-recognizes-russia-humanitarian-aid/

4. http://www.eunews.it/en/2014/08/18/ukraine-kiev-gave-green-light-to-the-transit-of-the-russian-humanitarian-convoy/20574