Journalism and propaganda go hand in hand as Russia's media spotlights the ongoing protests and demonstrations in Ukraine. Germans living in Moscow criticize the coverage.
"The Russian media talk about Ukrainians, but they never talk with Ukrainians," said Ulrich Heyden, a German author who writes for German media and has lived in Moscow for years. "In my opinion, that is a major drawback."
According to Jens Siegert, who heads the Moscow bureau of the Heinrich-Böll Stiftung,a German politicalfoundation associated with the Greens, President Vladimir Putin and his propaganda machine "spent the past years hammering home an old notion that goes back to Stalin, namely that Russia is surrounded by enemies while at the same time, agents within the country collaborate with these enemies." That, Siegert said, sums up Russian state media reports about Ukraine.
Siegert said he only switches on Russian TV channels when he wants to know what the Kremlin has to say.
"The Russian government gives the viewer the impression that the EU is putting terrible pressure on poor Ukraine to join the bloc - the reason being that things are headed downhill in the EU, in particular the economy," Siegert said, adding the impression given is that the EU aims to "suck the Ukrainian economy dry."
Ulrich Heyden reached the same conclusion. In talk shows, Russian political scientists claim the EU has developed a strategic plan to take advantage of Ukraine as a market for its own products, he said. To make matters worse, they claim the West has long-term plans to include Ukraine in the NATO alliance.
The Russian media that report objectively are few and far between and consist mainly of the Echo of Moscow radio station, Doshd Internet TV broadcaster, a few independent print media with marginal circulation and a few Internet portals. State television remains to be the main source of information for most Russians.
Interpretation instead of information
Disinformation starts with numbers, Siegert said. It is not right to show 50 protesters if in fact up to a million people demonstrated in Kyiv, he pointed out. Siegert added that police and the opposition in Ukraine also come up with differing figures, but if even Ukraine's police reports about 50,000 people, then it's not right for Russian TV to mention 200, he said.
Siegert said he remembers a recent TV program that showed a protester supposedly paid to demonstrate. "They said, see, these are the methods used by EU supporters - they pay people to protest against Russia." Later, it turned out the protester was a supporter of Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych, Siegert said. If people are constantly exposed to such broadcasts, no matter how preposterous or dubious, something is bound to stick in the end, he added.
No way to make friends
Russian TV tends to focus on extremes, Heyden agreed, such as the toppling of the Lenin monument in Kyiv and the participation of right-wing radicals from the nationalist Svoboda party. Regular demonstrators and citizens don't make it onto Russian TV and aren't interviewed for other media. Instead, correspondents on site give interpretations of the situation. A Russian TV audience has no chance to find out why, and against whom or what, the people are actually protesting,
Russian state TV can be picked up almost everywhere in Ukraine, but the coverage of events in Ukraine is not likely to make Russia many friends in the country, said Heyden, adding that while some Ukrainians may not take it seriously, others are angry.
A Russian TV correspondent in Kyiv recently accepted a prize awarded to a senior propagandist at Russia's Rossiya state-owned television. The prize was awarded "For the most impudent lies about the Maidan" protests.