Briefs

Estonia: 5-11 September 2016

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On 11 September, baltnews.ee—a pro-Kremlin, Russian-language propaganda website—accused a reporter for Estonia’s Russian-language state TV channel of spreading pro-NATO and anti-Russian propaganda. 

Event: In an 11 September article about a “peace march” organized by Estonian far-right and pro-Kremlin activists in Tallinn the previous day, the Russian-language website baltnews.ee accused Yevgeni Zavadski, a reporter for Estonia’s Russian-language state TV channel ETV+, of spreading pro-NATO and anti-Russian propaganda. At issue was Zavadski’s story criticizing the march against NATO and U.S. “war hysteria.”   
 
The false fact or narrative: Baltnews.ee falsely argues that Zavadski deliberately showed the march in a bad light (though it doesn’t explain how) because he decided to “trade his homeland for a nice meal”—abandoning his professional values for a “Western propaganda channel.” Zavadski had previously worked for Moscow-based Pervõi Kanal (Channel One Russia) before joining ETV+. Thus, baltnews.ee presents him as a traitor to the fatherland.

Reality on the ground: Zavadski’s piece is not propaganda, according to journalistic standards. In his analysis Identifying disinformation: an ABC approach, Ben Nimmo says those who speak from positions of authority must fulfill three criteria: accuracy of factual statements, balance in reporting; and credibility of sources. Zavadski’s article meets all three.
 
Techniques
  • Conspiracy theories,
  •  no proof.

Audience:  Ethnic Russian-speakers in Estonia, as well as Russian public opinion.  

Analysis: This case study demonstrates a prominent trend in Kremlin-funded media: accusing others of certain actions—like spreading propaganda—when the Kremlin itself does the same thing. Baltnews.ee and similar websites aim to discredit Western journalism; this strategy may be especially effective when used against new channels struggling to get established, such as ETV+, whose goal is to bring more balanced news to Estonia’s Russian-speaking population. In fact, Russia was accusing ETV+ of spreading pro-Western propaganda even before it went on the air. Since studies show that pro-Kremlin, Russian-language TV channels now provide  the main source of news for Estonia’s Russian minority, ETV+ could become a potential rival in the information space. 

Description of sources:  Baltnews.ee is a Russian-language propaganda site in Estonia.  Similar portals for Latvia and Lithuania were launched in 2014. According to the Annual Review of the Estonian Internal Security Service, all three baltnews portals are funded by Media Capital Holding BV, a Dutch-registered company controlled by people related to Rossiya Segodnya—a news agency wholly owned and operated by the Russian government. It also says one of the project’s founders was Vladimir Lepekhin, director of the Eurasian Economic Community Institute, which attempts to influence policy in Russia’s neighboring countries. Aleksandr Kornilov, who belongs to the local Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots and heads the propaganda portalbaltija.eu, manages baltnews.ee.