European Parliament resolution of 23 November 2016 on EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties caused ambiguous reaction of international observers and journalists.
The EU Parliament has accused Russia of using contacts and meetings with EU counterparts for propaganda purposes, to publicly weaken the EU’s joint position and even divide Europe.
“The Russian Government is aggressively employing a wide range of tools and instruments, such as think tanks […],multilingual TV stations (e.g. RT), pseudo news agencies and multimedia services (e.g. Sputnik) […], social media and internet trolls to challenge democratic values, divide Europe, gather domestic support and create the perception of failed states in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood,” the report says.
It goes on saying that the Kremlin is allegedly funding political parties and other organisations within the EU with the intent of undermining political cohesion, and that, on the other hand, Kremlin propaganda directly targets specific journalists, politicians and individuals in the EU.
Moreover, the document places Moscow’s policy alongside external threats coming from terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS, Daesh in Arabic; banned in Russia).
Analyzing the document adopted by the European Parliament, Ricardo Gutierrez, General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), criticized it.
“The report confuses strategic communication, state propaganda, terrorist propaganda, counter-propaganda and independent information. The final version of the resolution has been improved but the global tone remains worrying. This is typical of the Cold War climate that is numbing Europe,” he stressed in his statement posted on the website of the organization.
According to him, it is irresponsible to equate Russian media organizations with terrorist groups such as Islamic State.
In turn, Demetris Papadakis, Member of European Parliament from Cyprus, shared this view and said that there should be a clear distinction.
“It is irresponsible to put a country like Russia the same level of threat to the Islamic State.
Russia should be recognized as a key partner of the EU and a major global player, both in terms of external security and a common fight against the Islamic State,” he told PenzaNews.
“I support lifting of EU sanctions against Russia, which harm the citizens of both parties, and [signing] a renewed peaceful cooperation agreement with Russia to end tensions and to support international efforts to eliminate Daesh, where Russia played a key role in the UN,” the politician added.
At the same time, Demetris Papadakis stressed that the resolution of European Parliament is important.
“We point out that the fight against propaganda cannot be done with more propaganda but with more positive messages and awareness and information campaigns. The resolution stresses that the European Union is increasing systemic pressure to address misinformation and propaganda campaigns, from various countries and non-state actors,” he said.
Meanwhile, MEP from Austria Eugen Freund said that Russia’s use of information as a weapon is not new, but the sophistication and intensity are increasing.
“Across the Western world, the Kremlin promotes conspiratorial discourse and uses disinformation to pollute the information space, increase polarisation and undermines democratic debate. It also tries to put a wedge between both the member states of the European Union and the EU vis-a-vis the United States,” the politician stated.
However, he disagreed with the decision to combine the information about Russia and IS into the same report.
“My core reservation has been, from the outset, from the first day I took over as shadow rapporteur, that Russia and IS, and their particular nefarious behaviour, should not be mixed into one report. We all know that it is standard practice – not only of the European Union, but basically of all democracies in the world – not to elevate Daesh to a state-like institution. And when you put actions of IS onto the same level as Russia, you are doing just that,” Eugen Freund said.
While Russia is cleverly exploiting the new media environment, it does so while, at the same time, it is stifling press freedom in its home country, he said.
“But, on the other hand, it is certainly not the only country doing so: there is a long history of governments that use the media as a tool to advance their ideology or their political goals,” MEP noted.
“But aside from the unquestionable fact that this kind of propaganda warfare does exist – and that Russia is both an expert and a beneficiary of that tool – the question really is: what kind of influence does this media manipulation actually have?” he added.
In turn Necdet Pamir from Bilkent University also said that it is unacceptable to classify a state like Russia and terrorist organisations under a common denominator.
“You may agree or disagree with Russian policies however such a lump-sum classification is neither diplomatic nor correct. Moreover, terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda or Daesh are more commonly perceived as organisations having close contacts with some Western countries rather than with Russia. Russia can be blamed for its ambitious, expansionist and even imperial policies anywhere in the world today and since centuries. However, same argument can be raised for Britain, Germany, USA and many other Western powers. There should be a better, fair and more diplomatic way to criticize or confront Russian policies and classifying Russia in parallel with such terrorist organisations is not one of those ways,” the analyst said.
He also stressed that the wording and methodology in the resolution is not appropriate and will not be helpful for restoring the already damaged relations between the EU and the Russian Federation.
“It will also damage and weaken the fight against Daesh and the question “Who will then benefit from such a case?” remains unanswered. Such indecent classification can also be seen as a desperate, over-tuned but footless reaction against the recent strategic supremacy of the Russian policies in the Eastern Europe and in the Middle East after their frustration in Libya,” Necdet Pamir added.
However, according to him, the closer and relatively better relations between Russia and some major EU member countries will eventually repair the damage caused by the improper wording and classification in the resolution.
“Realities based on energy relations between those states and Russia are among the most important parameters of such an optimistic expectation for the future developments,” the Turkish expert said.
Meanwhile, Ashraf Aboul-Yazid, the president of Asia Journalist Association, which headquarters is located in Seoul, said that the guidelines of the resolution recently announced by the European Parliament show that the EU members, with their friends in US, are real ancestors of the Cold War factors.
“For decades, the West misused media means to attack its opponent, not only by spreading fake facts, but also with the press weapons, like discriminating photos, humiliating cartoons, and hatred opinions. Russia did not invent or support Al-Qaeda in the past, nor did it for Daesh currently. These two destructive terrorist groups were clearly created by the West. Moscow is fighting against their terrorism, so it is not correct to put Russia on the same list with Daesh and Al-Qaeda,” the expert said.
In his opinion, the history will approve that such a resolution was not correct.
“I know how strong the western media is, but I am sure that audience of news and readers of newspapers and magazine are aware of both sides. Now, no one can hide the truth for long. […] I am sure that such resolution will be judged as a mistake [in course of time]. European leaders and people need good relation with Russia, as the world is recharging the new Silk Road, where Russia is a prominent factor to bridge West and Far East. So, economically and socially the EU members could not put Russia and its soft power in the enemy corner,” Ashraf Aboul-Yazid said.
“In our open world where every citizen has his/her own media station, by shooting the real life scenes, commenting on live news, showing his/her opinion via the social media platforms, that could be seen by all, I am sure that this will help to uncover the hidden truth very soon,” he added.
In turn, Fernand Kartheiser, Luxembourg Parliament member for the Alternative Democratic Reform Party (ADR), said the resolution on Russia is a wrong signal for many reasons.
“At first, the European Parliament shows again by this move that the so-called ‘federal’ institutions have grown too strong and have lost their orientation – certainly, the EU has not been created in order to limit the freedom of Europeans. Secondly, the EP resolution contributes to a more general tendency in the West which aims at controlling which media citizens may still consult while, at the same time, media come under a growing pressure or even censorship,” the politician said.
From his point of view, the resolution deepens the distrust of many citizens towards official institutions as well as in the content of those media that people are still “allowed” to use.
“Many people are afraid that a growing part of the available information is being hidden from them. Therefore, media are more and more often perceived as instruments of manipulation rather than of information. This has a destabilizing effect on democracy,” Fernand Kartheiser explained.
According to him, the EU is deeply divided on many issues, one of those being the relationship with Russia.
“This resolution deepens that rift even further. Since it is not credible to associate Russian media with the propaganda of extremist movements, the support for such radical anti-Russian policies within the EU may even further weaken. In the eyes of the observer, the exaggerated radicalism of russophobian politicians in the EU contributes to their isolation,” Luxembourg Parliament member said.
Meanwhile, in his opinion, the document will much less affect our relationship with Russia than put the EU’s own policies and credibility into question.
“The evolution of the relationship with Russia will depend in the first place on the decisions taken by the new US Administration. The EP has not much influence on such strategic developments. However, in Europe, we’ll have a discussion on the freedom of the media. In this context, the EP resolution has a role to play. It shows how potentially dangerous EU institutions have become. In this case, they try to limit basic human rights – freedom of information, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and contribute at the same time to raise unnecessarily tensions with our Russian neighbour,” the politician said.
There is of course no general answer to the question whether Russian media are really more one-sided than Western European ones, he said.
“The quality of the media and of individual articles varies as largely in Russia as in all other countries. But for Western Europeans, Russian media are becoming more and more interesting. They bring a different geographic and strategic perspective, are less left-wing ‘mainstream’ and often very well documented. Overall, I would recommend to Europeans to include Russian media in their daily information mix,” Fernand Kartheiser concluded.