December 21, 2018  |  Updated March 20, 2019

Russian Mass Media in Germany: Independent Journalism or Political Weapon?

By Susanne Spahn

In a recent study for the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, independent researcher Susanne Spahn exposes the modus operandi of Russian state media in Germany. Published in German and Russian, the main purpose of the report is to inform consumers of platforms like RT Deutsch and Sputnik about their agenda as influence agents of the Kremlin. Spahn provides numerous reasons to demonstrate that Russian state media lacks credibility and integrity.

Spahn uses a broad array of data and statements from the Kremlin’s chief propagandists to demonstrate how Putin’s Russia has increasingly weaponized information in the aftermath of Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution in 2013-2014. She highlights many examples of how RT Deutsch and Sputnik disseminate distorted and biased coverage, fake news, and disinformation. Both outlets use a selective combination of facts and misinterpretations of facts to sow confusion and portray Russia as a victim rather than the aggressor. RT Deutsch and Sputnik, together with other Russian state media outlets, absorb and instrumentalize existing Euroscepticism and reservations about NATO and the U.S. in German society. Views that don’t follow the Kremlin’s narrative are either ignored or manipulated.

The “Lisa Case”, according to Spahn – a false story of a 13-year-old girl allegedly abducted and raped by migrants – is a paragon for the favoured Russian tactic of “whataboutism” – a rejoinder to criticism and a tactic to distract from the issue at hand by accusing your critic of what you yourself are guilty of. In addition, Spahn highlights how Germany has become a focal point in Russia’s hybrid war against the West – something that became particularly evident ahead of the federal election in September 2017, when Russian media openly advocated for populist parties on both the far left (DieLinke) and far right (AfD). Predictably, Russian coverage about Chancellor Merkel and her government was predominantly negative. In many articles, Merkel was advised to resign.

Spahn concludes that these platforms are successful because they position themselves as “alternative news” and “independent” sources. Chief propagandists frequently appear in German mainstream media and are introduced as free journalists. In fact, however, they are directly financed by Moscow and content is supplied almost exclusively from Russia – something that RT Deutsch, Sputnik and others actively try to hide.

This article was originally published in Kremlin Watch Briefing by European Values

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