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February 28, 2017 No.
6804

Russian Foreign Ministry Launches 'Fake News' Section

On February 22, 2017, the Russian Foreign Ministry launched a special section dedicated to "fake news."[1] Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova launched the new section in her weekly press briefing, explaining that its purpose was to counter "bogus propaganda stories" by various media outlets. She also stressed that all international media outlets, when providing "unreliable information about Russia," do not provide facts, adding, "This is the saddest and probably the most paradoxical element. A great deal of information is published, but never concrete facts." [2]

At the moment, the section features five articles from different media outlets listed as "fake news": "Vitaly Churkin is 5th Suspicious Death of Russian Diplomat in 3 months" (Santa Monica Observer), "Russia Is Hacking France's Presidential Frontrunner [Emmanuel Macron]" (Bloomberg), "Russia Deploys Missile, Violating Treaty" (The New York Times), "Russia plotted to overthrow Montenegro's government" (The Telegraph), and "Russia Considers Returning Snowden to U.S." (NBC News). The section does not challenge the news, but merely provides the link to the original article, with a caption in Russian stating: "This article contains information than does not correspond to reality".

Below are excerpts of Zakharova's press briefing launching the new "fake news" section:

(Source: Mid.ru/nedostovernie-publikacii)

Zakharova: "The Objective Is To Show The Main Trends In Publishing Fake News About Our Country"

At a press briefing on February 22, 2017, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova explained that the fake-news section will show the main trends in publishing "bogus propaganda" against Russia. Zakharova said: "The section will feature bogus propaganda stories by various media sources and provide links to them. Unfortunately, this section will be updated regularly. Of course, not every fake news story will be published there. The objective is to show the main trends in publishing fake news about our country and to try to stop their spread." She then added: "If foreign correspondents have any suggestions for this section, or if they want to provide proof of their news stories so that they are removed from the website, please send us your additional materials. Please call, write, visit. We will address the information you publish."

During the press briefing, Zakharova added that when the Foreign Ministry see "fake news," officials will write or try to get in touch with a corresponding media outlet and state Moscow's position. Zakharova said: "Unfortunately, very often no one wants to reflect Russia’s official line. Let’s try doing it in reverse. If you have complaints, write and we will simply change something. Let’s swap places and you will see how hard it is to prove that you’re right."

Zakharova then said: "The point is that in most publications the Russian position is totally disregarded, and if it isn’t, it is disproportionate to the bulk of the material. I have already given very many examples, you can see them on our site in the previous briefing transcripts. That is why our task is not so much to disclose or publicly condemn but rather to draw attention to the fact that the Russian position should be reflected in the media. If you are writing about Buks and accuse Russia, it probably makes sense to have the position of the other side reflected in the pages of your publication, or to insert a respective section in the narrative, to allocate time to it.

"Do you realize how bad it’s become? I remember the work in the 2000s when the Ministry leaders gave interviews to Western TV channels. An interview would last from thirty minutes to an hour or more, and only one or two minutes of it would be aired. When we enquired where the rest of the material went, we were told that it was irrelevant. For example, at the height of the Syrian crisis anything Russia said about Syria would be edited out. We asked why the comments about Syria were cut out, and we were told that they were irrelevant. "How can this be? Or one part of what was said about Ukraine remained whereas the second part, which was really essential and contained the facts and data, would be cut out. What can be done about it? We have found a way out: now we set up our own camera, we record the interview ourselves and then publish the complete transcript and video. We have been through everything. Another round of information aggression is just a new round for us. We have long been observing an unfair, biased attitude towards us regarding the presentation of information. You see for yourselves, there are no other problems in the world save Russia. Russian hackers have been found everywhere, yet there are no data, nothing is presented at all. Actually, our project has been launched largely for this reason."

Zakharova: "Fake News Has Become A Global Trend; Paradoxically, Russia Is Regularly Accused Of Engaging In This" 

Answering to a question on why the Russian Foreign Ministry decided to launch an anti-fake news section on its website, Zakharova answered: "First, we have to speak at nearly all briefings about materials that include or promote unreliable information or information that is published again and again even though we have refuted it some time ago. Second, in addition to making comments on the situation at large, we consider it necessary to say that this or that topic is an example of stove piping as part of an anti-Russia information campaign and to cite concrete materials in this respect. I believe the public must know its 'heroes.' It is one thing to comment on a situation, but it is quite another matter when we provide the names of media outlets and journalists who are involved.

"We fully respect media freedom. It was a choice of principle made by our country. We have a legal framework regarding this, and we not just respect media freedom but also journalists’ opinions even when we do not agree with them. Unfortunately, it is a fact that information campaigns are waged to promote false information planted for this purpose. There were elements of information warfare and information aggression last time I checked. Fake news has become a global trend. Paradoxically, Russia is regularly accused of engaging in this. I am referring to government agencies and media. All international media outlets use the same method when providing unreliable information about Russia – they do not provide facts. This is the saddest and probably the most paradoxical element. A great deal of information is published, but never concrete facts.

"On top of everything, a focus on entirely anonymous leaks represents a new component of this narrative. We are unaware of who is behind them, so no one can be held accountable. Meanwhile, the media tend to make major and far-reaching conclusions based on this information.

"There’s another angle to it. Look at what’s happening: first, some information is put out there in the form of leaks coming from unnamed high-ranking sources, or they even go as far as publishing official opinions without providing any reliable information. All of that trickles down from major to smaller media, and from print media to television. After that, everything spreads across the internet at breakneck speed. Public opinion is formed. Two to three months later, a correction is published. However, the damage caused by this unverified information or misinformation is enormous, because the information has reached everyone through print and online media. The correction is therefore pointless.

"I often cite an example that you are familiar with regarding Russian submarines in Northern Europe. This is a very similar approach where information is published citing anonymous sources in several countries about Russian submarines surfacing someplace and threatening to do something awful, and so on. No data or facts are provided, and no one can be made accountable for that. Six months later that same publication, in order to legally absolve itself of responsibility, publishes a one-line correction to the effect that it was not a submarine, but a fragment or the debris of a ship or a regular boat. However, no one is interested in the news any longer. No one is anxious to spread it. Probably, only Russia is interested in it telling everyone that they are issuing a correction now. But the effect is zero. All of that goes on and on. This submarine scare has lasted for decades. Talk about a sustained trend.

"We started this section in order to provide specific examples. We're not pioneers in this regard, nor have we come up with anything new. I reiterate that we are open to a dialogue. If a publication, an editorial board, or reporters decide that their article was posted there without grounds and provide us with the information which would corroborate their assertions, we will certainly take it into consideration. We are open to communication. However, things like what happened in Montenegro simply cannot be. After all, we are constantly refuting the information. With more planted stories making their way to the press, our rebuttals, which we made many times, were not even noticed."

 

[1] The new section's link: Mid.ru/nedostovernie-publikacii

[2] Mid.ru, February 22, 2017.