The media play an important role in the structure of democratic institutions, as they shape public opinion on important issues, so due to their influence they are often called the “fourth power”. The rights of journalists to express their views freely are guaranteed by international law and the national law of democracies. However, like any other tool, the media can both play a positive social role in some situations and be destructive and even dangerous in others. The functionality of the media often changes dramatically in the hands of the enemy during the war (which today can also manifest itself in various hybrid forms). Then, instead of means of conveying unbiased information and high-quality analysis, they turn into information weapons of the enemy, and instead of journalists, the attention of the audience is actually manipulated by propagandists. Although, of course, they continue to appeal to the concepts of “media”, “journalism”, “freedom of speech” when it comes to counteracting their destructive influences.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was guided by the logic of the fight against disinformation and propaganda when, on February 3 after a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council, he imposed sanctions on 112 Ukraina, Zik, NewsOne TV channels, as well as their owner, a Parliamentary Deputy from the pro-Russian Opposition Party – For Life, Taras Kozak (although it is believed that these channels belong to his fellow party member Viktor Medvedchuk, the godfather of Russian President Putin, and he has real control over the TV channels). The event caused a public outcry – most of Ukrainian society, which has been at war with Russia for seven years, supported this decision. However, there were those who condemned it – usually the audience of these TV channels and the electorate of pro-Russian political forces in Ukraine.
These TV channels offered content that had all the hallmarks of propaganda: provoked total distrust of state and public institutions of Ukraine, included a narrative of “external governance” of the Ukrainian state by the West, constant criticism of Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations (relevant foreign policy vector enshrined in the constitution), provoked public enmity and riots, distorted the vision of the processes in favor of the pro-Kremlin, in particular the conflict in eastern Ukraine. All this has strengthened Moscow in its aggression against official Kyiv.
It should be reminded that the UN General Assembly Resolution 110 (II) on “Measures to be taken against propaganda and instigators of a new war” calls for countering the propaganda of war and the Doctrine of Information Security of Ukraine provides ways to counter Russian propaganda. The decision of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council was a reaction to the Resolution of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine from 2018 and was based on information collected by the Ukrainian special services, which indicates the financing of terrorism. The mechanism of imposing sanctions provided by the Ukrainian legislation was applied. This decision was supported by the United States and the G7 ambassadors, who met with one another at the Office of the President of Ukraine.
A recent study shows that in the 20 years of Putin’s rule, the Kremlin has spent $609 billion on geopolitical adventures. This crazy figure shows how ready Moscow is today to invest, in particular, in its own propaganda machine. All these Russian RT and Sputnik, together with an army of propaganda bloggers and Internet trolls, are actively working on polarization and radicalization within the West, promoting the interests of the Putin regime.
In fact, perhaps the only obvious conclusion from the situation surrounding the closure of the pool of pro-Russian TV channels in Ukraine is that effective counteraction to the Kremlin’s information influence in the Ukrainian media space is one of the foundations of a pan-European information security system. Who knows, perhaps the current Ukrainian case will serve as an example of how to act more decisively in countering Russian propaganda.
* Executive Director of the Center for Political Narratives of Democracy, Ukraine