“Fake news” is a buzzword used to describe many things these days — from satirical news organizations, to anyone with a differing opinion, to legitimate propaganda campaigns put out by governments with ulterior motives. Regardless of how much merit some of these things do or do not have, with the dawn of the information age has come the dawn of misinformation.
Some may scoff at the United States’ freedom of the press, covered under the First Amendment of the Constitution, saying that our government practically runs major news networks — and those people will point a finger at the network that politically leans toward the side they disagree with. More likely, major news networks primarily concern themselves with money, and the individual journalists and reporters have a whole host of various reasons why they do what they do.
It is very different from news coming out of places like Iran or Turkey, or a place like Burma/Myanmar, for example, where they play on the western fear of terrorism to rally the troops against a Muslim minority (all the while conducting similar attacks to non-Muslims from other minorities on the other side of the country). This type of information comes out of news organizations and is published across the internet, attempting to drown out the overwhelming amount of reports that are literally reporting (with video and in-person interviews) the opposite of their agenda.
It is also different when it comes out of Russian news agencies. Arguments could be made for non state-sponsored Russian news organizations, but it’s important to be able to distinguish between those and the organizations that are literally funded and owned by the Russian government.
Any cursory search regarding the recent OPCW investigation of the chemical weapons attacks in Syria will likely direct the searcher to some of these Russian sites that have pushed their way to the top of the list of articles.
For example, RT Television Network is funded by the Russian government and operates in multiple languages around the globe (the featured image to this article depicts a location in France). RT was initially developed as one of three subsidiaries under RIA Novosti, which operated under the Russian Ministry of Communications and Mass Media. Despite the fact that RIA Novosti has been dissolved (and replaced with another state-sponsored organization), RT is still considered a primary propaganda arm of Russia. The U.S. Department of Justice has officially listed RT a “foreign agent” under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, due to their alleged disinformation campaigns and the fact that they are an active source of news within the United States, not just Russia.
When RIA Novosti was dissolved, it was replaced with another government-spurred organization called Rossiya Segodnya. From Rossiya Segodnya, the news agency Sputnik came to being, also boasting locations across the globe, including Washington D.C. Sputnik is a primary source of articles when it comes to the developments regarding the chemical weapon use in Syria, if one were to do a cursory google search without looking at where the articles were coming from.
Lastly (though this is by no means a comprehensive list), there is TASS, the largest news organization in Russia — in fact, it’s one of the largest news agencies in the world. There are no convoluted ownerships or trails to go down here, it is openly and completely owned by the Russian government.
The obvious problem here is that, in a corporate sense, the chain of command doesn’t stop with the editor-in-chief — it goes up, beyond the organization itself and through politicians and governmental authorities. They have the power to directly, systematically tell these news groups what they can and can’t do.
That’s not to say that state-sponsored news organizations are incapable of the truth, and profit-driven news companies are certainly capable of spreading misinformation. However, an American cannot accurately read international news organizations in the same way they read American news organizations, as they are governed under different laws. Even well-intentioned news organizations from different countries ought to be understood with a critical eye — someone from Brazil, for example, would do well to take the same approach with news coming out of America, that may be run differently from their own country.
Not only should fact-checking and research become a standard practice for all those who seek to know the truth about current events, but finding from what source these “facts” originate is just as important.
Featured image: Xenia Fedorova, chief executive of RT France attends an interview with the Associated Press in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Russian state broadcaster RT, formerly known as Russia Today, already broadcasts in English, Spanish, and Arabic, and has launched a French-language channel on Dec. 18. French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan for a law against false information around election campaigns is drawing criticism from media advocates, tech experts and others. They say it’s impossible to enforce and smacks of methods used by authoritarians, not democracies. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)