Propaganda boomerang from RT: In Russia for the vaccination, in Germany against it

RT propaganda boomerang
In Russia for the vaccination, in Germany against it

By Denis Trubestkoy, Kiev

In Russia RT is promoting corona vaccinations, in Germany the Russian broadcaster acts as the voice of Covid skeptics. Curious consequence: German RT reports are a hit among Russian opponents of vaccination.

With more than 40,000 new infections and around 1200 deaths every day, Russia is currently fighting its worst corona wave to date. The fact that Russia, despite having its own vaccine, has an extremely low vaccination rate by international standards, with around 35 percent fully vaccinated, is one of the most important reasons for the worrying development from a state perspective. Prominent journalists in the state propaganda media, including Margarita Simonjan, head of the foreign broadcaster RT, are correspondingly harsh. After all attempts at persuasion one has to slowly “doubt the cognitive abilities of the vaccine opponents”, she writes on her Telegram channel. A quote about which Russian Covid skeptics complained en masse to the authorities.

However, the sentence also seems a little strange when you consider that the international RT offers are the mouthpiece of the corona deniers. “While the German RT version in particular actively disseminates unscientific information and is generally skeptical of vaccinations, foreign publications by RT are becoming material that opponents of vaccination use as evidence for their theses,” says journalist Alexej Kowaljow from the Russian media in exile, which is critical of the government, Meduza Based in Riga, Latvia. The Russian-language RT website and other domestic offers of the station, on the other hand, follow the official line of the Russian state.

At the beginning of 2020, the management of RT had made ironic comments about the danger of the then new corona virus. But both the editor-in-chief Simonjan and other high-ranking representatives of the station have always supported and supported all government measures on social media. While RT had often taken over the medical treatment of its own employees before June 2021, the station has only supported vaccinated employees since then. “This is the best example to show your team that the vaccination is necessary,” said Simonjan in May. In addition to the usual calls for vaccinations, RT also shot articles in which, for example, the chief physician of a Moscow clinic had offered a virtual “tour” for anti-vaccination opponents and owners of the falsified vaccination certificates. “If you get sick, you will find very comfortable beds here. But be careful, you can only lie on your stomach,” it said.

Heroes here and heroes there

While the Russian-language RT version completely ignores protests against corona measures, such events in other countries are accompanied as detailed as possible and often with live streams lasting several hours. “The heroes of the Russian-language RT are the doctors of a Moscow Covid hospital who fought against the coronary artery,” Meduza writes in one study. “In the English-language version, it is the doctors who were dismissed because of refusal to vaccinate or protests against ‘medical experiments’,” explains Kovalev.

But it is precisely the German RT line-up that plays the most prominent role. Apart from the Russian-language website, which with 40 percent ensures the most visits to all RT pages, the German version is ahead of all other foreign offers with eight percent. According to a report by “Spiegel” in February, the number of so-called unique users on the German RT website has increased by 41 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. But apparently there is an undesirable effect for the Russian government. Meduza analyzed the content of the most popular Russian Telegram channels and chats and found more than 1000 direct links to foreign language RT websites. Numerous other references to RT pages without links were not counted.

No answer for the “agent”

More than half of the links lead to the German RT version. In September, “RT DE”, as the offer is called, reported, among other things, on the controversial statements of two former German pathologists, which in five cases of a “very probable” and two further cases of a “probable” connection between the vaccination and reported deaths of patients. In the RT article, the statements are presented in the opening credits as “deaths in connection with vaccinations”, a critical examination of the contents of the study is completely absent in the text. The statement by the German Society for Pathology, which described the study as unscientific, was only added to the end of the text in November.

A translation of the RT article quickly circulated among the groups of Russian vaccine skeptics. Meduza has found several dozen of such posts on major Telegram channels, one of which has almost 100,000 followers. The Russian version of RT did not report the alleged link between vaccination and death. Not even about French tennis player Jeremy Chardy, who says he regrets getting vaccinated. The German and French RT sides reported on it, and the Russian translations were again widely shared. There was no trace of the news on RT’s Russian website.

In response to a request from Meduza to RT as to why the corona reporting differs so much, the station’s press office only said that in times of the epidemic, the editorial staff’s internal regulations would prohibit contacts with media that are classified as foreign agents. Meduza was actually put on the list of “foreign agents” in April 2021, which massively restricts the work opportunities of the online medium in Russia. “The press office did not refuse to answer,” said RT boss Simonjan. “She only sent the answer she thought was necessary.”

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