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Russian Newspapers Are Warning People About Disinformation On State TV

"News programs on TV will often present distorted and falsified information."

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Late last month Yakutsk Vechernyy, a small newspaper in Siberia, added a disclaimer to its TV listings. "Be careful!" it read. "News programs on TV will often present distorted and falsified information. Most frequently this is seen on NTV and TV Rossiya."

European External Action Service

Yakutsk Vechernyy was the target of an NTV report in March that claimed the paper is a puppet of the U.S. State Department, due to the fact that it received loans from foreign banks years ago.

The Washington Post recently described NTV as "something of a clearinghouse for dirt on perceived enemies of the Kremlin, combining the political sensibilities of Pravda with the sensationalism of the New York Post."

NTV is owned by the media arm of Kremlin gas monopoly Gazprom.

Yakutsk Vechernyy published the disclaimer in response to the attack, and now other independent papers in Russia are publishing it as well. "This is a story about journalistic solidarity," Valeriy Bezpyatykh, editor of Gorodskie Vesti, a weekly paper in the town of Revda, told BuzzFeed News.

Valeriy Bezpyatykh / Via facebook.com

He said he expects at least 20 papers to publish the disclaimer this week, up from the five or six last week.

"The reaction has already surpassed all our expectations," Bezpyatykh said.

The campaign is spreading on social media in Russia, with many expressing support for the papers. This woman in Moscow said the Siberian paper made "a brave, risky, and honest move."

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"Nice to read that there are some respectable journalists left in Russian somewhere," wrote another woman who shared her post.

The campaign also spawned a mascot in the form of Pinocchio delivering a report for NTV.

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Bezpyatykh said the disclaimers have led to serious debate among Russian journalists, with some supporting the campaign and others questioning the tactics.

"They say, firstly, there are thousands of journalists who work for NTV and we cannot blame all of them for a violation of journalistic standards and rules," he said.

The Russian Union of Journalists has come out against the disclaimer. "It’s sad to see that the newspaper printed such a statement addressed to their colleagues from TV," a statement said. "All media should be guided by ethical principles and norms and never descend into insulting others."

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"I respect their opinion, but cannot fully agree with it," Bezpyatykh said. "As for me, in this situation we have the conflict between journalism on the one hand, and non-journalism, or propaganda, on the other hand. Propaganda is not journalism but it can dress up like journalism."

NTV's response has been to publish a disclaimer of its own. The channel's program listing carries a warning that regional papers can spread lies and propaganda — and that their TV schedules may be inaccurate, too.

ntv.ru

Bezpyatykh said this has only strengthened the resolve of the publishers.

"Some of my colleagues are ready to publish the warning again and again, [until] NTV apologizes for its defamation of the regional papers," he said.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently appeared at an event about journalism hosted by the Russian government's news agency, Rossiya Segodnya.

"Information should be objective in all respects and not subjected to any repressive actions aimed at adjusting it," he said, according to a report from Sputnik News, a Kremlin-backed network of news sites that often spread propaganda.

Craig Silverman is Media Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.

Contact Craig Silverman at craig.silverman@buzzfeed.com.

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