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Don't invest in panic. Arthur Levin on how propaganda works and how to maintain media literacy


Propaganda as a phenomenon appeared long before the term itself. It comes from the Catholic organization Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith) founded by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.

Until the 19th century, the word "propaganda" had only a religious meaning, but then it began to be used exclusively in a political context.

The mass use of propaganda dates back to World War I, when many nations of the world faced the contradiction between the need to mobilize the whole society, on the one hand, and fragmentation combined with individualism, on the other.

And here we are, according to some experts, once again on the brink of a major war, which will affect, if not the whole planet, then Europe, the United States, Russia and Asian countries for sure. Ukraine is supposedly just the beginning.

Today I want to share with you a curious piece published by The Insider. It is a real confession by employees of Russian state television channels which, until recently, broadcast quite freely on the territory of the European Union.

Photo: Evgeniy Biyatov / RIA Novosti

So, here are the revelations of an employee of the Rossiya TV channel and an employee of the RT TV channel. They talk about how the Kremlin controls the political agenda, what employees of state channels are told by people in the regions and how money supersedes political beliefs.

The names of the characters are understandably withheld.


"It is clear that there can be no social or political protests on the airwaves. When Navalny came out in April, the channels were silent for two weeks, then they only started commenting on a few things. Everything that concerns politics is coordinated; sometimes they are reinsured and do not broadcast anything just in case. Sometimes, on the contrary, they give instructions to cover it. For example, when there were the May decrees, they brought us a folder from the Kremlin on which, in big letters, it was written "IMBARGO" with an "I".

When Trump became a candidate, we were instructed to give only positive coverage. And so they did, until he started launching attacks on Syria.

If the Kremlin was unhappy about something, everything was solved instantly. There was one incident with a colleague: the president was at the Kremlin Christmas tree, but either the wrong angle or some other technical aspect was presented - he was instantly taken off the daytime airwaves. But in general the Kremlin only watches the 20-hour broadcast of Vesti Nedeli, everything else is of little interest to Dobrodeyev. He is tired of everything and has no interest in anything but the final programme.

Apart from political censorship, there is also a block on some state corporations. I know of at least one state company that has a budget to block negative references.

This is a well-known fact. If it sounds on the air it is very streamlined, and if it is something serious it does not sound at all.

I am not just talking about technical flaws, but professionalism in general. For instance, there was a scandal with Anton Lyadov, a correspondent of Vesti, when he shot a report in France, distorting the words of protest participants. The channel had to justify itself... Or Anton, again, distinguished himself in one of his reports during the Olympics in Brazil: "They speak Brazilian here"...

Just recently he was given a medal, they say that someone is actively protecting him. He didn't get anything after that broadcast from France, the channel started defending him. They made a separate program, a 150-minute report saying that French people don't know French, that grandmothers said what Anton Lyadov said, and so on. It's a bit silly.

The presenter, if he wants to sit in the frame, has to have an intimate relationship with someone in order to be promoted. Or someone has to be deliberately vilified or framed so that the person speaking allows a marriage to take place on air, there are various ways of doing this.

Oleg Dobrodeyev, head of VGTRK, at meeting with Putin
Photo: Kremlin site

In such conditions there is no corporate spirit, of course. When two of our guys were killed in Donbas, there was a farewell party at 11 am. Dobrodeyev, Zlatopolsky, and several other people came. Some of the Vesti staff were absent. Dobrodeyev calls Revenko, who says: "We have a briefing"...

The propaganda, of course, is powerfully brainwashing, especially in some regions. I myself was shocked at how lopsided people's perceptions are. When you talk to people in the regions, you realise how easy it is to run Russia after all. I wonder how one can reason like that and they say in response: "you told me so yourself".

I try to explain them: "You need to analyse. Watch RBC, watch Dozhd. - "What's Rain?" - "Turn it on and watch it." - "But they're all lying!"

The theft and nepotism on the channel is terrible. Ordinary correspondents get 30,000 each, but Skabeyeva, for example, has a salary of almost 400,000. Such a family tandem was formed there - Skabeeva-Popov. They had business trips with such a budget and flew to New York to conduct their 'investigations'.

One more revealing moment: do you remember when the gay propaganda law was passed? There are a lot of LGBT people on TV, including top management. Did anyone speak out against it?

And it's not just on TV.

I talked to one MP when this law was passed, and I asked him, "What was that? You are all of the same colour there. I can tell you by name." He answers: "Old boy, don't get me wrong, it was a social demand from the society, we went along with it, it was necessary."

But there was no such request, of course. The state media, the government, MPs, state corporations - there are gay people in the leadership everywhere. Whether they live in conflict with their conscience, I don't know, but at least everyone is in their place, which means that everyone is happy with everything... I haven't heard about any loud resignations or high-profile dismissals.


"As a place of work RT is a good company. In terms of salary, health insurance and conditions in general. But ideologically, it's a regular propaganda channel. That is, only the "right" topics are covered and from the "right" angle. For example, there are a lot of stories about human rights violations in the US, but not a single word about human rights violations in Russia.

In short, it is like Stalin's biography written by Stalin: the cursed West seeks power over the world, while Russia, with its honest and peace-loving people, successfully opposes them under the guidance of an experienced mentor.

That said, there are a lot of normal and adequate people on RT. As it seemed to me, most of them don't give a damn about ideology at all. They work because they are well paid. There are also many who sincerely hate their jobs, but tolerate them because there is nowhere else to go. I'm sure that it's the same thing at Channel One. A lot of RT employees hate their jobs. Phrases like "I'm so f***ing sick of everything!" can be heard anywhere: in the smoking room, the corridor, the canteen, the studio, the newsroom.

Photo: Ilya Pitalev / RIA Novosti

RT's audience is the target group for which the channel was created - people in the US and Western Europe who are really unhappy with their authorities and the policies of the so-called "West" in general, but who know nothing about Russia.

The subsequent language versions - Arabic and Spanish - were originally designed for former Soviet-educated people and their descendants, but today even these two channels do not work for "Russophiles", but for anti-Westerners, who also know nothing and do not particularly want to know anything about Russia. Therein lies the success of RT.

Virtually all of the content is aimed at smearing the West, highlighting where "their" government has screwed up.

RT doesn't talk about Russia, only about the "rotting West", so there's not much question of censorship.

In my particular job nobody at all tells me what I can and cannot say. Of course, the channel has a format, a position on different questions. Therefore RT raises some topics, while others are ignored, and the events are covered from a certain angle, not equally distant. Of course, this does not mean that RT is the kingdom of freedom, equality and fraternity, where you can broadcast whatever you want. Someone who doesn't personally agree with RT's position distinguishes between the personal and the professional - they do the work for which they get paid. Someone who can't do that, quits. But we have had cases where employees have refused to work on this or that topic because they don't agree with the position of the channel. Nothing, we just moved them to another topic.

The political component of the information we broadcast interests me very little, to my mind money does not smell on TV.

I do not get involved in politics, I have enough fun as it is. But what immediately struck me when I came to work at the channel was the way in which the European model of organising work within RT was combined with our Russian mentality! What I mean is that all of us were organised into teams from the very beginning. The idea is as banal and as old as life - team spirit during the work (on air). In a way, the management succeeded - over time, we began to understand each other at a glance. They also wanted to include a kind of team spirit, competitiveness ... But! We are in Russia... It all turned out that each successive team lowered the work of the previous one. And so on in a circle".

Olga Skabeyeva, one of the mouthpieces of Kremlin propaganda

Now you understand where all these "so they should", "this is a forced measure" "NATO is on the doorstep" and "we have been patient for 8 years" come from.

These same arguments and slogans sit so deep in so many that they will soon be embedded in the DNA of the Russian people. And no matter how much one tries to convey a different angle to the situation - it all crashes against the power of Russian propaganda.

But, believe me, in my experience, it is possible to remain adequate!

Here are some simple ways:

  •     War is always an economic project.

There are no good and bad in it. There are beneficiaries and victims. Therefore one must not succumb to provocation and stoop to mutual accusations and hate speech. We are all victims. Regardless of passport colour.

  •     Don't waste your time reading predictions.

A tiny handful of people know how this situation will end. You, me, bloggers and analysts do not belong to that select circle.

  •     Separate the news from the empty stuff.

News is about specifics, time and place. Threats, expressions of extreme concern, speculation about plans and exchanges of barbs are not.

  •     Read big media outlets which can afford editorial work (and therefore at least some fact-check). For example Media Loft, Meduza, Cold.

This way you save time reading reprints and protect yourself from a ruined phone.

  •     Always double-check important information.

Even if the news is from a reputable media outlet.

  •     Be critical of everything that is said and broadcasted.

In an atmosphere of high anxiety, limited time and low awareness (the three whales of propaganda) your nervous system starts looking for an outside source whose expertise or awareness you can supposedly rely on.

These sources are usually politicians (or politically engaged speakers) who use rhetorical devices to convey the message: "I know what to do. Listening to this person puts you at ease and gives them some of the responsibility. And the greater your anxiety and sense of time pressure, the easier it is for the propagandists to twist the ropes out of you.

  •     Most importantly, don't produce rubbish information and don't invest in panicking yourself.

By: Artur Levin

Cover photo: Alexander Ryumin / TASS


"Alternative Russia already exists". An interview with the producer of the anti-war meta-universe

Source - BBC

"I could not keep silent in the face of what was happening" - Vladimir Kara-Murza's letters from imprisonment