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The EU Parliament sounds the alarm on propaganda……and?

November 23, 2016

There is far too much commentary, too many resolutions, and too statements that contain the word “must”.

This blog deliberately gives the word “must” a very wide berth, employing its use more than frugally.

The problem with “must” is that it infers consequences if whatever “must” be done, isn’t.

“Russia must…..”

“The democratic world must…..”

“We must stop……..”

“The EU must…….”

In short, a “must” has to be accompanied with an “or else”.

There is the “must” when talking to the collective “us” and/or “self” that highlights the folly of not carrying out the “must” with an “or else” that is advisory in pleasant terms, informing “us” that we have to adapt our position to avoid self-inflicted and counterproductive outcomes.

There is then the “must” that is imposing on the “other” with a necessary and proportionately punitive “or else” to avoid being impotent – and ultimately humiliating when it is otherwise ignored through lack of an “or else” that would cause a change of position.

Far too many “must”‘s in the poker game have been called by antagonists and when the “or else” has been played it has been dis-proportionally meek, has done little to change behaviour, and has not seen the “or else” raised to the point of punitive proportionality to reverse it.

Far too many internal “must”‘s have seen no shift in the “us” and/or “self” position either.

Lo, it is time to employ the word “must” much more prudently if the “or else”, whilst perhaps all that is politically possible, simply isn’t up to it.

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It is therefore something of a relief to find an EU parliamentary press release relating to Russian (and Daesh) propaganda that does not use the word “must” (although the actual Resolution may, unseen at the time of writing) – as many Resolutions historically do freely use “must” relating to these two purveyors of international criminality, spurious nonsense, perverted narratives, and incoherent and disingenuous flapdoodle.

As this blog centres upon Ukraine, a target of enormous amounts of Kremlin propaganda codswallop (hidden among which are some clearly identifiable reflexive control operations), the text relating to Russia is the more poignant:

“Russia seeks to divide MEPs warn that the Kremlin has stepped up its propaganda against EU since annexing Crimea and waging hybrid war in the Donbass. They note that ”the Russian government is employing a wide range of tools and instruments, such as think tanks […], multilingual TV stations (e.g. Russia Today), 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 resolution stresses that the “Kremlin is funding political parties and other organisations within the EU” and deplores “Russian backing of anti-EU forces” such as extreme-right parties and populist forces.

To counteract anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggest investing in awareness raising, education, online and local media, investigative journalism and information literacy, which would empower citizens to analyse media content critically. It is equally important to adapt communication to specific regions, including access to information in local languages, says the text. The resolution also suggests deepening EU and NATO cooperation on strategic communication, reinforcing the EU’s 9-strong strategic communication task force and providing more support to boost media resilience in EU neighbourhood countries.”

The Resolution was passed by 304 votes “for”, some 179 votes “against” and 208 abstentions.

“Must” has been replaced with “suggest” for ease of “us” to internally digest, for it is an inward looking Resolution.

(Unfortunately the term “hybrid war” remains – another term disliked by the blog.  No doubt the term “Alt Right” will soon be used instead of unambiguous words such as “Nationalist” or “Fascist” too, in order to make something prickly and uncomfortable appear somehow less barbed and normalising.  To be clear, objectivity is giving all a fair hearing, but it does not equate to creating some form of media driven false moral equivalence or normalising of uncivil and/or illegal behaviour. Things that are prickly and uncomfortable are by their nature prickly and uncomfortable and should be plainly identified as such.  There is no requirement for new and more “comfy” labels.)

So now what?

There is far too much Kremlin generated “propaganda noise” to mute or rebuff it all, regardless of well meaning MEP suggestions.

Perhaps some nations may decide to improve or simply apply their broadcasting standards to remove the drivel Russia Today pumps out from their licensed providers.  Others may not.  (Some of what Russia Today pumps out is actually quite funny – whether intended or otherwise).  Perhaps the argument against is that it is also on line anyway – so what is to be gained by removing it from the airwaves?  Theoretically it is possible to accidentally flick through your TV channels and find Russia Today and mistake its content for “news” – if the viewer has the IQ of a plant pot.  On line you have to go look for it deliberately, no different from porn, or puppy weaning tips, or Ed Balls’ “Strictly Come Dancing” highlights (or perhaps low-lights).

Perhaps consistent and large fines for breaching broadcasting standards are a way forward.  Maybe if Russia Today consistently fails to meet the broadcasting standards set by domestic governments who are too feeble to enforce their own broadcasting laws to the fullest extent for want of the widest possible tolerance for “free speech” then, as with twitter, Russian Today can be required to clearly label itself a parody news source as parody accounts on twitter must clearly state that they are such – or be removed.

More seriously however, the suggestions of MEPs have merit, but they are not going to see swift implementation even if the suggestions are taken on board by national governments.  The suggestions are probably very similar to those that national governments have already reached themselves, or have had identified for them from other domestic sources.  They are also, rightly, designed for the long haul but few, if any suggestions will have an immediate impact.

For some governments the priority will be the reflexive control signals within the general propaganda noise that clearly targets them.  Therefore focused, timely, objective and controlled countermeasures will take priority over more integrated broader responses.

Investigative journalism is a fine tool – but it is an expensive tool for a media owner, and there is no guarantee that investigative journalism will “naturally stumble upon” an investigation that would further the cause of pushing back the Kremlin narrative and/or machinery when it comes to nefarious activities within their own nation – or get the attention of the population.  Will 3 (or in some cases 4) letter agencies have to “whisper in journalistic ears” to assist in “direction”?

Is that necessary when targeting existing national laws regarding money laundering and/or organised crime would garner immediate media interest when numerous arrests are made and/or assets seized in a home nation?

What sort of media impact would there be if each and every European nation coordinated a round-up of 3 Kremlin spies at the same time on the same day?  Reciprocity would follow within Russia, so is that worthwhile?

What is the necessary “immediate impact” verses “long term education” ratio required to focus public opinion?

If the EU is perceived as weak (by those within or without) and thus Kremlin propaganda is a real threat, then what assessments have been made on those weaknesses and what can be done to strengthen them – if anything?  When the Cold War raged, both sides were very aware of their own, and the others, structural and ideological weaknesses.  That is surely true of today – for the strengths and weaknesses of both are no less apparent.

If this is the start of a European parliamentary review of what thus far has been a principled refusal to learn from experience when it comes to The Kremlin then bravo – yet it will not be in any way effective unless the sovereign parts within the European whole are convinced that the political energy required to actually do something is political energy well spent.

Nevertheless – no “must” seemingly acknowledges the anticipated limitations within the “us”/”self” when it comes to any actual implementation.

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