Ukraine: Zelensky is an 'example for the world' says deputy
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But Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody said despite a desperate propaganda push by state-controlled television channels and newspapers, harsh reality was starting to “trickle through” into the national consciousness. Dr Chatterje-Doody, a lecturer in Politics and International Studies at The Open University, was speaking against a backdrop of relentless aerial bombardment of key cities including capital Kyiv and Kharkiv in the east.
She said: “Although all the main state TV channels tow the Kremlin’s line, the independent media (such as Echo of Moscow radio station and the newspaper Novaya Gazeta) have been openly very critical of what Russia’s doing.
“There was even discussion of Putin as a war criminal.”
Together with Ilya Yablokov, Dr Chatterje-Doody this year published a book entitled Russia Today and Conspiracy Theories: People, Power and Politics on RT.
She said: “Although state TV is where most Russian people get their news, oppositional views have still been available via some independent news outlets that were still permitted to operate in Russia, including the famous Echo of Moscow radio station, and the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, won the Nobel peace prize last year.
“The Kremlin is clearly worried as we’re now seeing a massive clampdown on those last vestiges of independent media in Russia. Russia’s regulator has gone into overdrive.
“Echo of Moscow was just taken off the air and web news outlets have been forced to remove so-called false information – essentially stories that don’t follow the Kremlin’s line about its ‘special operation’.
“Novaya Gazeta ran a front page that starkly stated ‘Russia is bombing Ukraine’ – which the Kremlin has been denying, and which would just seem inconceivable to most Russians.”
She added: “At the start of the invasion there was a surprisingly large number of Russian celebrities stating their opposition to the war through social media posts. This included big name comedians and singers who have made their careers appearing on state TV.
“There has been even more dissent coming through in Russia’s international media operations, with numerous staff across its news agency and international web and broadcasting operations resigning in protest.”
Russia’s state-funded domestic television services were essentially Kremlin mouthpieces, Dr Chatterje-Doody stressed, dutifully parroting Putin’s lies about neo-Nazis and sticking to the official line at about a “special operation” to prevent “genocide” in Donbas.
As demonstrated by the decision by the authorities to restrict access to the BBC’s Russian service, it would be wrong to suggest the Russian people were getting an accurate picture of what was happening in Ukraine, Dr Chatterje-Doody emphasised.
She said: “Very many people in Russia have got active links to Ukraine, whether that’s through friends or family members, and so they have access to first-hand accounts of what’s going on via personal messaging apps.
“But there are still many who don’t believe. And the Russian government partially restricted access to some social networks which had been fact-checking or restricting Russian state media, so the people have a harder time accessing news from their networks.”
Nor was it a simple question of not being able to access unfettered news sources, Dr Chatterje-Doody added.
She said: “Years of government propaganda and high levels of political apathy have taken their toll. People will often cling to the simplest explanation of what going on – that the Kremlin’s protecting the people of Donbas from fascists and that the evidence of attacks on civilian targets are either fake news, are atrocities or provocations committed by Ukraine.”
With more information “trickling through” about what’s really going on, Russian domestic TV was in the sticky position of working out “when a war was not a war”, Dr Chatterje-Doody pointed out.
She said: “They all clearly got on board with this being a ‘special operation’, not a war.
“But in their desperation to keep up with negative public reactions to the information that’s trickling out, we’ve seen state TV replaying twenty-year-old comments from a popular Russian actor, saying that in times of war, you should never speak ill of your own side, even if they’re wrong.
“There’s no consistency there – is it a special operation or is it a war? The clear answer is that for state TV, it’s whatever it has to be at a particular moment to shield the Kremlin from the consequences of its actions at home.”
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