"Independent, Quality, Journalism Is A Key To Fighting Russian Disinformation"
30 November, 2016

What You Need to Know:

✅  Russian disinformation and propaganda in the European Union aims to distort facts, influence public opinion and create disunity. Several small initiatives have been launched to counter this – but more needs to be done. 

✅  Rebecca Harms says the E.U. should plan a response carefully. "I think this detection of fake news is very important; and then how to respond? You can not respond to propaganda with your own propaganda."

✅  The German MEP argues quality, independent media is an indispensable pillar of democracy. The 'echo chambers' of social media also pose new challenges

✅  But the staunch supporter of Ukraine confesses some of the European Parliament colleagues don’t hide their pro-Kremlin position. “They have no problems to always join invitations by Russia Today (RT) or Sputnik.”

German MEP Rebecca Harms has said the E.U. must make more efforts to counter fake Russian news influencing public opinion in the 28-nation bloc. She argues an effective communications strategy must be drawn up to prevent anti-E.U. sentiment spreading further through social media and Kremlin-backed news outlets such as RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and the Sputnik news agency. But Ms. Harms argues fighting propaganda with propaganda is not an option. 

“Journalists but also the general public should be alerted on real fake news, dedicated to really misinform the public or to create uncertainty among citizens. I think this detection of fake news is very important; and then how to respond? You can not respond to propaganda with your own propaganda.”

Ms. Harms says the European Union could work further to ensure Russian state news outlets conform to broadcast regulations. For instance, the decisions of OFCOM, a UK media watchdog, to issue warnings the Kremlin’s international broadcasting arm RT over its lack of fair and balanced reporting. Yet such progress in making Kremlin media more accountable could be being savaged by some of the European Parliament members themselves.

“I have colleagues. They have no problems to always join invitations by Russian media, especially Russia Today (RT) or (the news agency) Sputnik. Others, like myself; we say these channels are made to create distortions in the European public and to work in a subversive way against the European Union”, Ms. Harms says. 

But Russian disinformation is not the only challenge. Social networks have also become an echo chamber for spreading unfiltered news and opinion. The E.U. has largely failed to find a comprehensive solution for this - if one is even available. Although such institutions have little sway over the news feed algorithms and personal filters of our Facebook feeds, more work can be done to promote brand Ukraine itself. 

“The idea of this DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement) is showing good results. It's triggering reforms and good economic development. The question is 'how can Ukrainian citizens participate in these good developments' because mainly the mood is bad and the social situation for many people is getting worse.”

This positive promotion of Ukraine globally would run against the tide of negative news in recent years. The war in Donbas and the seemingly snail speed pace of reforms often dominate headlines in place of positive developments.

Yet, the deliberate blocking of state reforms in Ukraine still continues to be a problem. 

“'The political class must know if they want to keep the system because of their interests, the process with the E.U. will fail. Right now, the Europeans are very much alerted because they see it's going wrong in Moldova.”

Hromadske International correspondent Tom Bell spoke with Rebecca Harms, member of the European Parliament for Alliance ’90/The Greens on November 26.