Is Russia Winning the Information War?

The following 5 facts confirm that it is - and not just in the English-speaking world

Sat, Oct 17, 2015
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Russia pulling ahead

This article originally appeared at Polit Russia; translated at Fort Russ by J. Arnoldski


Today, information is the most important instrument of influencing people’s minds and mass consciousness. To gather people at the barricades, mobilize for important construction, and to make love and hate - all of this can done be done properly using this or that information.

Working with information and countering the hostile propaganda war is becoming a foremost task for Russia at the moment. The hybrid war against our country has been talked about for a long time. The anti-Russian hysteria raging in the majority of foreign media has been talked about for a long time. And it’s not just about Western mass media. The opinion that only the media of European countries and North America writes and speaks negatively (whether moderately or not is another question) about Russia is a myth.

Observations of recent times show that negative assessments of the actions of the Russian Federation dominate also in South Africa, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Belarus (!) and in general appear from time to time in almost every country across the globe. Unfortunately, this is a reality from which there is no escape, but which can be fought against. And fighting is not so much about quantity as quality and trying to convey to foreign citizens not only the official views of their states but also ours, reflecting our own understanding of things, which is most likely closer to the truth.

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For these purposes, in 2005 the TV broadcasting company “Russia Today” (now shortened to the abbreviation RT) began. According to the official position of RT, the channel offers an alternative view on current affairs, covering stories that don’t appear on the pages and screens of world media, as well as acquaints its audience with Russian view points on major international events.

It is financed by the budget of the Russian Federation, and the amount of funds allocated has steadily increased between 2005 and 2015. If in 2005-2006, $30 million of the budget was spend, and in 2007 2.4 billion rubles, then after ten years the amount has reached 13.7 billion rubles. In 2016, RT will receive 6.73 billion rubles from the state.

I admit that the initial impression of these costs for the company’s operations might have a skeptical character:

“We will still need much more to effectively work on increasing the moderately positive and positive material about the country and increasing the number of its mentions. This will be not only the key to improving Russia’s image abroad, but will also be a good stepping stone to reaching a full informational confrontation.”

Such an opinion was based on the negative assessments of experts dealing with the question of “soft power” and the image of our country, as well as the impression from a number of scandals associated with RT, particularly with the dismissal of a number of journalists: William Dunbar, Liz Wall, and Sara Firth. All of this has left a mark, and formed a view about the ineffectiveness of the television company (once again the question on the role of information). Indeed, if such a large government organization cannot cope with over-hyped scandals, then what kind of counter-propaganda is there?

However, opinions remain opinions and impressions remain impressions, but facts, as usual, speak for themselves. So after a short investigation and search for facts about the work of RT, it is possible to derive an overall “score.”

1. RT is the number 1 television network on YouTube.

The number of subscribers to all channels collectively at the beginning of 2015 was 1.5 million (more precisely, 1,471,491), and the total number of views is more than 2.5 billion.

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RT confirms its status as the largest video-hosting news for the past several years. In 2013, it managed to conquer 1 billion views on YouTube. Since then, the number has almost tripled.

The widespread use of the capabilities of not only broadcasting live, but also the internet offers real opportunities to impact primarily the younger generation. In addition, if we are talking about the effects of information, any additional channel will always be important, especially one as large as RT.

2. The leader among non-Anglo-Saxon news channels in the world.

The audience of RT is larger than that of Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Euronews, France 24 and Japanese NHK. The total number of all users of all RT sites and its account on YouTube is more than 32 million people.

But here, perhaps, quantity is not as important as quality. Among all these channels, RT has the biggest trust of viewers.

Only thee percent of those who know about the existence of the channel but don’t watch it for the reason that “it’s not worth watching the channel,” called RT untrustworthy. Other sources are much higher for the same indicator: 30% don’t trust Al Jazeera, 9% Al Arabiya, 6% BBC, 8% Al Hurra, and 6% Sky News Arabia.

3. In only the seven largest cities, the weekly audience in the US is 2.8 million people.

It’s far from a secret that Americans have long been searching for alternative sources of information, not trusting their media. So, according to a survey of the American Institute of Public Opinion, Gallop, in the last year the trust of US residents in their mass media’s information reached a low, dropping to the 40% mark.

More Americans use Facebook and Twitter to find news. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center together with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation showed that 63% of social-network users considered them to be not only a tool to communicate with family and friends, but also a source for information.

Against this background, it is not surpirsing that the weekly RT audience in the US is quite large and is increasing every day, showing the highest rate of increase in weekly audiences and outperforming CNN International, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, Voice of America, and Euronews. Thus, the number of subscribers to the company’s facebook page has jumped up to 3 million.

The RT television channel is ahead of the majority of major foreign medias on Facebook in terms of the “this is being discussed” indicator, which is an indicator of audience activity among the total number of subscribers. The Russian channel reaches nearly 10%, while BBC reaches 5%, Al Jazeera English 4.3%, France 24 4%, and CNN 2.5 %.

4. The weekly RT audience in Middle Eastern Countries and North Africa is more than 6.5 million people.

If in the US were are actively counteracting the promotion of the propaganda of American channels, and gradually winning audiences, then in the Middle East and North Africa, RT is fulfilling entirely different tasks. Such a conclusion can be drawn by comparing the topics which are prevalent on air on RT America and RT Arabic.

A significant portion of reports in the States is dedicated to domestic American subjects. In a situation in which the level of trust in American media is falling, this is the most correct, strategic line.

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In the Middle East, the situation is entirely different:

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There’s a variety of topics. In addition to the Middle East itself and the US, there’s Ukraine, domestic Russian subjects, and individual interests. The matter is that in the Middle Eastern information field, there is on active opposition, and the local population and media have warm feelings towards Russia. Our point of view is in great demand there, hence the presence of a multi-million member audience, and the following fact is just as unsurprising.

5. The RT Arabic TV channel is among the three leaders in daily outreach, ahead of BBC Arabic, Sky News Arabia, America's Al-Hurra, and China's CCTV in Arabic.

Perhaps this is the best confirmation of the fact that for Arab-speaking countries, Russia is a main if not the only friend.

To finish, I would like to recognize the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, according to which RT is a successful embodiment of the intention of Moscow to create a counterbalance to CNN and BBC, and today, along with the export of energy resources and military equipment, is the most efficient tool of Russia’s foreign policy.

Well, if not only our officials but foreign media recognized our success, then this means that it is a real success. And this can’t but make one happy. The whole world is now in a state of turbulence, and Russia has to withstand almost the main shock. The military operation in Syria is gathering pace, and it is working out for us quite well so far. This, naturally, does not suit the US and its allies, who fought against the Islamic State for more than a year to no avail.

Most of all, the West is trying to switch the attention of the international community from the achievements of the Russian Federation in Syria to the most painful topics for us. Expectedly, it is Ukraine, and concretely the downed Boeing. All the main information battles are still ahead of us, and therefore we should wish the fighters of our invisible front good luck!

 

 

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