Disinformation website starved of revenue as Czech advertisers keep their distance
The attempt to dam the flow of money from advertisers to disinformation portals is showing concrete results: As of the close of 2021, the EUPortál website, which is listed as a disinformation source by the Czech initiative Nelež ("Don't Lie") and the Slovak project Konšpirátori ("Conspirators"), has ceased operations. More than one firm, institution or publicly-funded enterprise has been gradually espousing these efforts not to advertise on such problematic websites.
All of the EUPortál web pages are out of operation as of this month. The website itself published an article about its upcoming closure at the end of October 2021, presenting itself as "discussing politically incorrect subjects - racism, immigration, the EU, Cikáni, gays" (sic!).
Advertising revenue had declined for the outlet in a tangible way. "EUportál says the reason it is ceasing operations is a lack of money and an outflow of advertisers," says Roman Číhalík of Nelež.
"They're confirming that the attempts made by the Nelež association, the path we are taking, is one that works," he said. The aim has been to limit the spread of disinformation in the online space.
Cut off the money
During 2021, many firms have joined Nelež, almost 200 total so far. Their attempt to not support anti-system, conspiracy-theory, disinformation websites with money allocated for advertising and promotion was joined by, for example, the State Agricultural and Intervention Fund (which advertises, for example, the brand Klasa as a confirmation of quality, or promotes groceries produced regionally) and by the agency called Prague City Tourism, which allocated CZK 15 million [EUR 615 000] to advertising online last year alone.
By the close of 2021, the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic, which represents more than 11 000 firms, had joined the effort, as had the Czech News Center publishing house. Prague Airport, which is state-owned, also joined the sympathizers of the call last year, the aim of which is to "cut off disinformation and manipulative websites from advertising money and to concentrate just on media outlets that do professional work with information that is objective and relevant".
"We are also calling on our business partners, especially airline companies, to join. As part of our common marketing campaigns with carriers, which are financed from what we call incentive programs provided by our company, they also use the Prague Airport logo. The conditions for drawing on those financial resources for 2022 include a point about recommending that they refrain from advertising on manipulative websites that have been designated as such by the methodology developed by the Nelež association," said Jakub Puchalský, a board member at Prague Airport.
"It is exactly the monetization of intentionally manipulative news reporting that we consider to be the biggest danger to society. The Nelež association is striving to make sure that not advertising on disinformation websites becomes an ethical norm for the owners of firms, their directors, brand managers, and the staffs of advertising, media and PR agencies," explains advertising creative Ivan Manolov, who is also active with the Nelež association.
"In addition to our activities, it is certainly necessary to mention that advertisers have greater knowledge about the media and are becoming ever more oriented toward advertising that is targeted, and therefore in the opportunities to influence the visibility of their advertising to an even greater degree. Another cause of this, though, is a kind of 'consolidation' on the side of the disinformation media outlets, because the target group for those websites is not infinite - or rather, it's not growing," Číhalík adds.
The Parlamentní listy problem
Like EUportál, the Vlastenecké noviny (Patriotic News) outlet closed down even earlier. According to an assessment by the Endowment for Independent Journalism, that website was both anti-system and conspiracy-theory driven.
In June 2021, the District Court in Ostrava, convicted its editor-in-chief, Radek Velička, of publishing an article in which he reported that a fire at a tower block in August 2020 meant there were now - to paraphrase - 11 fewer Romani people in the world. Currently Vlastenecké noviny no longer exists, and those looking for it are just referred to the personal profile of its editor on the Russian social media site VKontakte.
The now-defunct media outlet had been published by a company called the Centrální informační agentura (Central Information Agency), of which Velička is the statutory director, and it is still publishing a website called Bez politické korektnosti (No Political Correctness). Velička calls himself a "dissident" in his Vkontakte personal profile.
"We are certainly pleased that this type of 'information' website is closing. Likewise, we are pleased Parlamentní listy has admitted that the activities of Nelež are actually causing them problems with advertising revenue," says Číhalík.
Parlamentní listy is on the list of disinformation websites maintained by Nelež in the Czech Republic, but for the Slovak website Konšpirátori.sk (where almost half of the websites on their list are based in the Czech Republic), the publisher, through a 2018 preliminary injunction, has obtained the outlet's removal for the time being.
"A court issued a temporary decision until a proper hearing of this case is held. Unfortunately, it's taking a long time. This is up to the courts, we are urging them to deal with it because we ourselves want to have a decision in principle to which we can refer," Petr Jančárik of Seesame, the biggest PR agency in Slovakia, which is involved with the Konšpirátori.sk project, has commented to the HlídacíPes.org outlet previously.
First published in Czech for the Institute of Independent Journalism (Ústav nezávislé žurnalistiky).
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