U.S. launches Russian-language TV station in Eastern Europe “with zero spin” to “break through the drumbeat of Kremlin narratives”

“Focusing on personal storytelling, instead of politics, will allow their content to spread in Russia.”

The stealth approach. Seduction. The approach of pedophiles, drug dealers, sexual predators, and con artists —
— I really like you. I’m your friend. You can trust me.
— Would you like to come to my house and see my puppy? 
— It’s only one pill, and it’ll make you feel better. And it’s my gift to you. 
— You deserve more. I just want to help you.

From Foreign Policy

February 9, 2017

by Kavitha Surana and Reid Standish

Outlets that don’t toe the Kremlin line have long had trouble gaining a foothold in the Russian media market. As a result, the expertly-produced state media enjoys a virtual monopoly in the Russian-speaking world, stifling independent voices and stories critical of official Russia.

Now, a new network for Russian speakers has entered the market and it hopes to break through the drumbeat of Kremlin narratives by focusing on local issues and people’s daily lives.

Current Time, backed by U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Free Liberty and partnered with Voice of America, launched its 24/7 Russian language television channel on Tuesday. It had already started a website last year. With about 100 staff members in Prague and correspondents stationed throughout the region, the network will broadcast in 11 countries across the former Soviet Union, including Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, and the Baltic countries.

“Our focus is on real human beings, bread and butter issues,” Daisy Sindelar, the director of Current Time, told Foreign Policy during an interview. “The videos really tap into day-to-day but universal issues, like corruption and poverty and health care.”

The move comes as European Union officials have stepped up criticism of Kremlin-controlled media. Moscow-funded outlets like RT and Sputnik often set the tone on stories like the Ukraine conflict, NATO, and domestic issues inside some countries with large Russian-speaking populations, sometimes sparking controversy with false information.

“Russia tries to challenge the stability and the minds of Western societies,” said Anna Fotyga, a Polish member of the European Council who sponsored an EU report on Russian disinformation last year. “I consider a Russian-language satellite and digital network an excellent response to this threat.”

Current Time may have trouble drawing eyeballs away from well-funded state media pumped up with drama and glitz. The new outlet will have to make due with a much smaller budget than established Russian networks enjoy. Meanwhile, local affiliate stations that Current Time relies on to distribute their content in Russia are often hesitant to pick up foreign programming for fear that they could lose advertising revenue by going against the official line.

“In the short term, we don’t anticipate that our TV penetration will be significant in Russia,” said Sindelar.

Current Time’s founders think they’ll have better luck reaching the millions-strong Russian language audience across the region on their smartphones, using video to tell personal narratives and highlight local issues. The digital division has already garnered more than 200 million views on sites like YouTube, Facebook, and the Russian social media site VKontakte since January 2016.

Glenn Kates, the managing editor of Current Time’s digital department, said the team was inspired by the growing popularity of short subtitled videos on Facebook from outlets like Al Jazeera +, Buzzfeed, and others news sites that managed to excel in accessing audiences on social media platforms.

“I had seen how those videos were capable of engaging with people and I realized that there is no reason that something that works there shouldn’t work [for Current Time],” he said.

Current Time, which is affiliated with the Broadcasting Board of Governors and funded by the U.S. government, will also need to shed criticism it has its own state-funded editorial viewpoint.

Sindelar counters that the Russian government pours millions into their glossy media industry, blocking independent channels from offering different points of views. She said Current Time doesn’t push a political viewpoint besides highlighting human rights and rule of law issues.

“We present one of the few alternatives that Russian speakers have to this state-orchestrated media,” Sindelar said. “I think in the end we will have an audience that knows they can come to us with zero spin and good factual reporting about things that are important to them.”

Focusing on personal storytelling, instead of politics, will allow their content to spread in Russia, Sindelar and Kates argued. Some shows, like “Unknown Russia,” gives viewers a glimpse of life across Russia and tells personal stories from the far-flung regions that many Russians themselves have never visited. Others focus on how-to advice, such as “Business Plan,” a show about creating start ups in Ukraine.

But it won’t be all lighter fare. For example, one recent story used smartphone video footage and audio recordings to expose a harrowing episode of police brutality — and its coverup — in Russia.

Other digital offerings use animation to explain murky topics, like a complex new surveillance law in Russia.

Where it becomes powerful is where we are able to show Russians all over Russia that a problem that may seem very local or particular to one city is actually of interest to everybody,” said Sindelar.

New Russian-Language Channel Seeks to Counter Kremlin Spin

Background information:

Foreign Policy was launched in conjunction with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace which acquired full ownership of it in 1978. The Washington Post Company (now Graham Holdings Company) bought it in 2008.

Foreign Policy co-founder Samuel Huntington (from Wikipedia)

As a consultant to the U.S. Department of State, and in an influential 1968 article in Foreign Affairs, he advocated the concentration of the rural population of South Vietnam, via a strategy of carpet-bombing and defoliating the rural lands and jungles of Vietnam, as a means of isolating the Viet Cong.

If the “direct application of mechanical and conventional power” takes place on such a massive scale as to produce a massive migration from countryside to city, the basic assumptions underlying the Maoist doctrine of revolutionary war no longer operate. The Maoist-inspired rural revolution is undercut by the American-sponsored urban revolution.

— Foreign Affairs, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Jul., 1968), p. 650

In an absent-minded way the United States in Viet Nam may well have stumbled upon the answer to “wars of national liberation.” The effective response lies neither in the quest for conventional military victory nor in the esoteric doctrines and gimmicks of counter-insurgency warfare. It is instead forced draft urbanization and modernization which rapidly brings the country in question out of the phase in which a rural revolutionary movement can hope to generate sufficient strength to come to power.

— Foreign Affairs, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Jul., 1968), p. 652

He also was co-author of The Crisis of Democracy: On the Governability of Democracies, a report issued by the Trilateral Commission during 1976. In 1977, his friend Brzezinski – who had been appointed National Security Adviser in the administration of Jimmy Carter – invited him to become White House Coordinator of Security Planning for the National Security Council. He served in this position until the end of 1978.

During the 1980s, he became a valued adviser to the South African regime, which used his ideas on political order to craft its “total strategy” to reform apartheid and suppress growing resistance. He assured South Africa’s rulers that increasing the repressive power of the state (which at that time included police violence, detention without trial, and torture) can be necessary to effect reform. The reform process, he told his South African audience, often requires “duplicity, deceit, faulty assumptions and purposeful blindness.” He thus gave his imprimatur to his hosts’ project of “reforming” apartheid rather than eliminating it.

During the 1980s, the South African apartheid government of P.W. Botha became increasingly preoccupied with security. On Huntington’s advice, Botha’s government established a powerful state security apparatus to “protect” the state against an anticipated upsurge in political violence that the reforms were expected to cause. The 1980s became a period of considerable political unrest, with the government becoming increasingly dominated by Botha’s circle of generals and police chiefs (known as securocrats), who managed the various States of Emergencies.

Co-founder Warren Demian Manshel

As a teaching fellow at Harvard, he shared an office and friendship with Henry Kissinger…Manshel became director and chief administrative officer at the Council for Cultural Freedom, an anti-Communist organization of American and European intellectuals (1954-1955). He then joined Coleman & Company in New York in 1955, eventually becoming its managing partner and director of institutional research; and retired from the firm in 1977. An expert investment banker, Manshel also co-founded the European Options Exchange in Belgium in 1978, now a unit of Euronext.

He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations

David J. Rothkopf, CEO and editor of Foreign Policy

He is also President and CEO of Garten Rothkopf, an international advisory firm specializing in transformational global trends, notably those associated with energy, security, and emerging markets.

He is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he chairs the Carnegie Economic Strategy Roundtable, and chairman of the National Strategic Investment Forum Dialogue, a forum convening leading institutional investors for discussions about critical issues of investment strategy

Rothkopf was the chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Intellibridge Corporation, a leading provider of international analysis and open-source intelligence for the U.S. national security community and selected investors, financial organizations and other corporations. Before founding Intellibridge, Rothkopf was managing director of Kissinger Associates, the international advisory firm founded and chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

 

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