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EU spin in the time of coronavirus

Anna Belkina
Anna Belkina
Anna Belkina is RT’s deputy editor in chief and head of communications, marketing and strategic development.
Anna Belkina is RT’s deputy editor in chief and head of communications, marketing and strategic development.
EU spin in the time of coronavirus
While the world is combatting COVID-19, a real pandemic, it seems the European Union is worried about a fake virus – the omnipotent, omnipresent, all-encompassing “Russian disinformation.”

News of a brand-new EU report, still-secret yet seamlessly leaked to the likes of Reuters and the Daily Mail, made over a hundred headlines throughout Europe in the last few days. 

The report is said to be produced by the European External Action Service, and although the EEAS – probably abiding by social distancing guidelines – didn’t feel like sharing the paper with RT, anecdotal evidence suggests that our channel is an essential part of it. At the very least, no major news media coverage of the report has resisted the urge to write about RT. This is what they dug up:

The Daily Express accused Russian media of murderous plotting and objected to vital factual reporting on social behavior during a pandemic: “Russia plots to boost coronavirus death toll in Europe with fake news […] A recent report from Kremlin-backed Russia Today showed Britons ignoring the shutdown while visiting the Spanish seaside resort of Benidorm.” 

The Financial Times found the true menace in ‘advancing apocalypse’ – RT’s popularity: “RT Spanish — an outlet of the Russian state-backed news agency formerly known as Russia Today — registered more than 6.8m shares across Facebook, Twitter and Reddit for coronavirus content between January 1 and March 12, the analysis says. That made it the 12th most popular source among a basket of domains surveyed, ahead of some big western media outlets.” 

Reuters, the most reserved of the bunch, ventured into tone policing: “Russia too is clearly stepping up its own efforts to shape the international narrative. […] The most-read story on Russia Today this weekend featured the dramatic scaling back of the upcoming U.S.-led “Defender 2020” NATO military drills in Europe, mocking the United States for being unwilling to risk infection to demonstrate its commitment to the continent.” 

And The Independent reaffirmed establishment paranoia writing: “EU accuses Russia of looking to destabilise west with coronavirus disinformation campaign. The European analysis suggests Kremlin-funded media like RT have consciously pushed “apocalyptic stories.” […] It quotes “fake news” created by Russia in Italy, the western epicentre of the crisis, which reported health systems elsewhere would be unable to cope – and people left to die.” 

I will get to Italy in a moment, but bear in mind that the Independent’s report came just four days after fellow British paper the Guardian ran the following headline: “Coronavirus may force UK doctors to decide who they’ll save. A lack of resources could mean that younger, healthier patients are prioritised, while others are left to die.” 

The cognitive dissonance is giving me whiplash. 

Also on rt.com Russophobic obsession more important than coronavirus: Kremlin slams ‘unfounded’ EU report on Russian pandemic disinformation

To sum up: mainstream media ran hundreds of news articles about the threat of Russian disinformation, placed RT front and center, yet failed to provide a single example of a “fake news” story, an error, inaccuracy or said ‘disinformation.’ No shred of evidence, however miniscule, has been offered to link RT to any such activities in any article – because there is none. Now you tell me who is really in the disinfo business. 

There are, of course, cases of misinformation, disinformation and old-fashioned erroneous reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. American magazine Foreign Policy for example, debunked three such stories back in January – all sourced from American and Canadian media. 

This phenomenon is, unfortunately, not atypical in the face of any new, fast-growing, barely understood threat and leaves no part of the world, nor media of any country, immune. 

So, why RT, why Russia? Russia didn’t birth hand sanitizer memes, although we now share them with just as much delight as our American and German brethren while we fastidiously stock up on buckwheat. Russia did not invent the UK’s herd immunity proposals, nor reports about Italian hospitals so strained for resources they had to prioritize patients by age and likelihood of recovery.

What we can glean from the EEAS paper, leaks, and subsequent press headlines is their combined core premise: that Russia is deliberately engaging in an ephemeral “disinformation” campaign to make Europe look bad, undermine the public trust, and terminally lead to the failure of the ‘European project’. 

Let’s leave aside the absurd paranoia from which one’s poor mind must be suffering in order to divine this Evil Russian Grand Plan, and consider this: if the aforementioned stories, however damaging to the European image, are based on reality, how is any of that Russia’s fault? By framing responsible, factual reporting and any insufficient genuflection before Brussels as a foreign disinformation campaign, the EEAS and the mainstream media are acting like their biggest problem is the PR, not the pandemic. 

Also on rt.com Russiagate all over again: Secret EU report blames Russia for coronavirus ‘confusion, panic and fear’

To understand the cause of this rather troubling dissonance it is important to understand who, or what, is behind the incendiary report. The EEAS, which spawned East Stratcom Task Force that in turn spawned the spurious EUvsDisinfo, has clearly relied on the work of these divisions. As the Daily Mail put it: “information analysed by the Mail were collated by EUvsDisinfo, a project of the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is funded by the European Union”.

In its own words, “EUvsDisinfo is the flagship project of the European External Action Service's East StratCom Task Force.”

EUvsDisinfo started out with a stated goal of tracking, combatting and correcting – you guessed it – disinformation, which by their definition was any fact or opinion that undermined the EU talking points. In their view, any dissent from the “it’s always sunny in Brussels” narrative posed an existential threat to the EU project – especially if it’s coming from Russia.

Its reputation suffered a major blow a couple of years ago, when it labeled as “fake news” three separate reports on Ukraine by independent Dutch media. The reports were unimpeachably factual and objective, and dealt with issues of corruption, LGBTQ rights and far-right extremism in Ukraine. Except according to EUvsDisinfo, any acknowledgement of such problems in an EU-aspiring country amounts to Kremlin Disinformation, and the reports were giddily slapped with a “fake news” label. 

The Dutch media, with support of their government, sued – and won. Since then EUvsDisinfo recalibrated, to only track “Russian disinformation” by obsessively watching mostly domestic Russian talk shows and meticulously logging into their spreadsheet any time someone isn’t being deferential enough to the EU. 

EUvsDisinfo is purely a political ‘thought police’ with no pretense of balance or even common sense, masquerading as an impartial observer. In their view, all EU problems are simultaneously the result of Kremlin disinfo and are Kremlin disinfo. The rigor of their analysis is akin to going into LA’s Chinatown, finding two men with coronavirus, one of whom has died, and declaring that Covid-19 only affects Asian males on the US West Coast and has a mortality rate of 50 percent. Myopic, willfully blind, broadly ignorant. 

Final fun fact: RT entries, however dubious, amount to a paltry 2 percent of the total in EUvsDisInfo’s extensive database. Yet, the TaskForce’s talking heads and press releases never fail to mention our channel as their raison d'être and the main menace to civilization when lobbying for the next round of financing. These guys know good PR. 

Also on rt.com Why are there so many snowflakes on the Western media Russia beat?

Whatever the forecasts, the coronavirus pandemic is already too real a challenge for the world to chase a phantom one. And for the first time in ages, from South Korea to Russia to Italy to the US, we are together in laughing at toilet paper memes, crying about sick loved ones and worrying about short-term social isolation and long-term economic impact. This is the time to embrace truly global understanding, cooperation and support. Instead, the EEAS’s efforts to sow discord between peoples and nations are not just shameful, but dangerous. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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