How the Cold War was replaced with fake news

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

More than 2,000 articles based on false Russian propaganda have been tracked down over the past year. [EPA/RITCHIE B. TONGO]

The Cold War has faded into history but it was replaced by a media war which rages above all on the internet. Fake news plays a major role now, argues Herbert Vytiska from EURACTIV Germany.

The electoral victory of Donald Trump to some extent can be attributed to the use of fake news, with which especially the Democrats and their top candidate Hillary Clinton had to fight. Over and over again, so the complaint goes, Putin’s Russia is said to have had its hands in the game.

For some time now, Europe has also been confronted with increasing disinformation from Russia. This was also the reason to deploy the “East Stratcom Task Force” in Brussels in 2015 and to resettle it in EU foreign policy boss Federica Mogherini’s department in order to uncover and combat those Russian “internet combat force”.

Moscow’s propaganda war against the EU

More than 2,000 articles based on false Russian propaganda have been tracked down over the past year. Moscow’s goal is to cause disarray and confusion among the EU partners, “to undermine the political mainstream in Europe,” said Task Force Chief Giles Portman at a meeting in Vienna co-organised by Otmar Lahodynsky, President of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ).

Moscow began with the propaganda war in the wake of the annexation of Crimea. In fact, even today, a large part of this fake news is said to address the conflict in Ukraine, but to an increasing extent also the issue of refugees.

Only recently, according to Portman, eight EU foreign ministers approached Mogherini with the desire to increase the resources for the task force. The point is to effectively fight the Russian media attacks.

Moscow is not only focused on targeted disinformation, the spread of manipulated content, but also with “a constant downgrading of European values”. And Moscow relies on different channels. In Central and Western Europe, in particular, social media are used to spread fake news. In Eastern Europe, local media are being used to impose the idea of Russophobia and conspiracy theories.

Yes, they even do not shy away from personal attacks on EU Commissioners. Katharina Schell, from the Austria Press Agency, summed it up: “Fake news has become the new lying press”.

Counterpoint to “Al Jazeera Balkans” wanted

Another “media problem” taking place in the Balkans has recently been raised at the sidelines of an EU conference in Marseille. The activity of the Al Jazeera Balkans channel, which opened in 2011 and is part of the Al-Jazeera network, is being watched with critical attention.

It is known to be financially supported by the Qatari ruling family and, according to repeated allegations, also used as a political and diplomatic tool to support the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Jazeera Balkans has its headquartered in Sarajevo. Other studios are located in Belgrade, Zagreb and Skopje. Every day, six hours of news, documentaries, background reports, especially in Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian, are broadcast, while the rest of the program is provided by Al Jazeera English.

The distribution area is spread over a particularly important and sensitive region for the EU that includes two member countries and four potential candidates for accession: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia. For some time now, a massive investment in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Islamic countries has already been registered.

Addressing the EU Commission in Brussels, therefore, a serious demand for a media counterpoint to the Arabic broadcaster is being raised, amongst others forwarding the idea of a European network establishing and operating a supranational broadcasting corporation in the Balkans.

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