Text by Triin Ilves, Estonia

Members of the European media are facing a difficult challenge: how to get past the trolls and free the readers from Kremlin influence. When current media channels fail to win the readers abroad with fact-based reporting and objective journalism, how to present news in a more compelling manner?

In 2014, when Ukraine blocked 14 Russian TV channels from its cable networks to stop them from spreading war propaganda stories, many international organizations took it as a threat to open society. However, at the local level, this was seen as a critical but necessary measure to decrease the pro-Russian view of the conflict broadcasted over Russian television news, Deutsche Welle’s correspondent Frank Hofmann explained.

Interia’s manager of news section Ewelina Karpinska-Morek added that it is important to see behind the content: are the talking heads speaking about a subject that you are interested in or do they actually have an answer that defines their own discourse.

Natalia Antelava, co-founder and CEO of Coda Story said that the general European media might be good with spotting fake news or fake comments, but the real victory comes when we take over their agenda. Even the “green men” or the inability to define the Russian armed forces on foreign ground is an example of how the western media has already lost a battle.

Kremlin policies are affecting the region, the overall discourse and narrative, she noted. “It’s a system of pressing buttons. It’s a problem that is quite easy to tackle with good journalism,” Antelava added.

News channels such as RT (previously Russia Today) and Sputnik are built to have a strong international grasp. With 22 satellites and over 230 operators, the channel is broadcasted to 700 million people in more than 100 countries. Some perceive the news as complete fiction. Nonetheless, Antelava said that Kremlin is allowed to have as many media channels as they want.

What is important is to understand why they have that many viewers and readers, she noted. “Traditional media needs to find more compelling ways of putting their narratives across.”

Then, balanced news is not a powerful weapon enough to support the western media in becoming more influential again, Antelava added.

Hofmann noted that one of the reasons causing a lot of uncertainty is the Western European’s bleak understanding of the whole Eastern block. “To many western European countries, eastern Europe is still a black box.”

Initiatives like the East StratCom Task Force that was set up to address Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns help shed light on how to best tackle the proliferation of fake news.

Secondly, investing more into research, Karpinska-Morek said, such as the establishment of a pan-European or international organization could offer a systematic approach to detecting fake news and propagandist narratives.

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