This is Ukraine today, at least as seen by most Russian news media: the government is run by anti-Semitic fascists, people killed in protests were shot by opposition snipers and the West is behind it all.
And the room to disagree with that portrayal is getting smaller by the week.
With Crimea set to hold a referendum on Sunday on whether to merge with Russia, the push to demonize Ukraine’s leadership has reached fever pitch. Authorities in Ukraine have responded by blocking Russian TV channels.
Lev Gudkov, head of a respected independent Moscow-based polling agency, says the propagandist tone of Russian state television has reached new levels.
“For intensity, comprehensiveness and aggressiveness, this is like nothing I have ever seen over the whole post-Soviet period,” Gudkov said.
News bulletins on top network Channel 1 carry extensive reports detailing purported rampant lawlessness to vague threats of reprisals against ethnic Russians and Jews, as well as showing interviews with talking heads alleging foreign-engineered plots.
NTV, owned by gas giant Gazprom’s media arm, on Thursday aired a report about purportedly hacked email correspondence between U.S. and Ukrainian officials on plans for staging an attack on military jets. The piece goes on to claim that the incident was to serve as an excuse for the United States to take military action against Russia.
It is steadily becoming conventional wisdom in the most widely watched news shows that those shot dead during protests in Kiev last month were victims of shadowy figures possibly hired by opposition forces.
Right Sector, a radical ultranationalist group that spearheaded the most violent assaults against riot police, is a subject of scaremongering daily exposes. For all the attention it has received, the group has not been granted any posts in the new government and observers say it has little actual clout.
Late Thursday night, clashes broke out in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk between government supporters and a hostile pro-Russian crowd. At one point a pro-Russian mob encircled and threw objects at a small huddle of people, shouting for them to get on their knees. At least one person died in the turmoil.
Rossiya-1, another state station, on the same evening reported that the incident had been provoked by “special forces” of the Maidan, the informal name of the movement that brought about last month’s ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Ukraine’s pushback against the Kremlin-led smear campaign has not been much more sophisticated.
Broadcast authorities there on Tuesday ordered the suspension of the signal of Russian state-controlled television stations — a move that drew swift indignation from Moscow and international media advocacy groups alike.
People in Russia’s provinces, where Internet penetration is weak, are particularly prone to one-sided information.
“The only sources of information there are the federal television stations, and they have been conducting an exercise in brainwashing,” Gudkov said.
In Crimea, one continued…
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