Czech-language disinformation websites spread pro-Kremlin propaganda, are anti-Romani and racist
The organization European Values (Evropské hodnoty) says that an economic, media and political disinformation campaign has been underway in the Czech Republic for a long time that is part of the hybrid warfare being waged by the Russian Federation against Western democracies, and that the intensity of this propaganda significantly increased at the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine. As part of its Kremlin Watch project, the organization has compiled a list of disinformation websites including the characteristics of their content and the authors they publish in order to help readers orient themselves in the pro-Kremlin scene.
According to the study, most of these websites are untransparent with respect to who runs them, but roughly 100 persons are said to be directly creating disinformation in the Czech Republic, with the identities of only one-third of them being known. According to news server Romea.cz, the vast majority of the disinformation websites on the European Values list are also strongly racist and publish anti-Romani articles.
Jakub Janda, Deputy Director of European Values, says the aim of the disinformation campaign is to distort public understanding of the legitimacy of membership in international organizations like the European Union and NATO, thereby distorting transatlantic partnership; to ruin citizens' confidence in the mainstream media and traditional political parties; and to undermine democratic institutions. "Inhabitants of the Czech Republic who are especially active on social networking sites, as well as others, are being exposed on a daily basis to varying degrees of pro-Kremlin influence in the form of extensive offerings of so-called alternative sources of information that provide biased news reporting and very often absolutely abandon the basics of serious journalistic practice. The consequence is a frequently all but unbelievable spin on domestic and international events and a depiction of reality that is distorted in multiple ways so that it appears the only rational, stable actor in world affairs is the Russian Federation, headed by President Vladimir Putin," the authors of the study say.
According to the study, the most important role in the disinformation system is played by the web platform Parlamentní listy (PL). "We perceive [PL] as a transition between serious media and the grey zone of pro-Kremlin manipulation. We encounter manipulation techniques there more frequently than we do on [the website] Sputnik, for example," said Janda, referring to a recent Masaryk University study that included that pro-Kremlin information channel.
News server Romea.cz reported at the beginning of 2012 on PL's fabricated anti-Romani "news item" about the allegedly Romani treasurer of an allegedly existing Romani political party who allegedly embezzled its funds. At the time, all of the big, "serious" mainstream news servers republished that report without fact-checking it.
The media outlets involved apologized for publishing the fabrication after news server Romea.cz released its findings. Today, however, PL's news section is visited by more Czech-language readers every day than visit the mainstream online media outlets iHNED or Lidovky.
Kremlin Watch also notes that PL does more than just serve up disinformation. During June, 33 MPs and Senators, most of them from ANO and the Czech Social Democratic Party, gave interviews to the website.
Janda says it is precisely famous personalities and politicians who play an important role in disseminating disinformation, especially through social networking. "[Czech MP] Jaroslav Foldyna shares news items from Svobodné noviny, [Presidential spokesperson] Jíří Ovčáček shares news from Sputnik, [Governor of South Moravia] Michal Hašek and [Vice-Chair of the Senate] Zdeněk Škromach share news from Aeronet, and [Czech MP] Tomio Okomara or [Czech MP] Stanislav Huml share articles from Protiproud," Janda said, adding that we should especially be teaching high school students how to work with information.
A large number of disinformation websites are inspired by or directly take their disinformation from foreign sources. "In addition to official Russian propaganda channels such as the English-language version of Sputnik or the television news station Russia Today, we can also name the websites Global Research, Southfront, or 'What does it mean?' as examples of the usual sources of disinformation," Janda said.
A LIST OF CZECH-LANGUAGE DISINFORMATION WEBSITES
Svět kolem nás
Czech Free Press
Moravská Informační Kancelář
Bez politické korektnosti
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