Remove Russian-language propaganda from the airwaves, say critics

A group of Russian-language journalists in Canada are calling on the federal government to take two Russian-language television stations off the air in Canada, which journalists say spread hate and propaganda.

Last week, Canadian television providers pulled English-language network RT, formerly known as Russia Today, from their services. But the Russian-language channels, RTR Planeta and Channel One Russia, are still available and air “military-grade war propaganda”, says a letter from the Canadian Association of Russian-Language Media.

“This aggressive propaganda is being used to justify Putin’s invasion, spread anti-Ukrainian hatred and radicalize parts of the Russian-speaking community in Canada,” reads the letter, signed by 18 journalists from multiple outlets, including Russian Canadian. Broadcasting, Russian Infotrade LTD and Russianweek.ca.

“While we are fully committed and desperately trying to deliver to our viewers, listeners and readers the truth of the events unfolding, in accordance with international journalistic practices and standards, our voices simply do not match the machine of 24/7 Kremlin war propaganda.”

The organization sent the letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. It calls for a directive to be issued to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to remove all Russian-approved, state-controlled or state-owned channels from the public airwaves.

RTR Planeta, an international service of Russian public broadcaster VGTRK, and Channel One Russia are a source for Russians around the world for news and commentary in their language. However, the channels are delivering lies more than anything, argues Alla Kadysh, a Russian-language radio and podcast host in Toronto who signed the letter.

“It has been going on for years; it’s basically lies and projections,” Kadysh said of RTR Planeta, whose recent broadcasts have not been seen by the Star. “It’s basically hate propaganda. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t watch it for three or four minutes, you’d go crazy.

Earlier this week, Canadian television operators announced that they were removing RT, the English channel, from their channel lists. This state-backed English-language news network has been accused by analysts of spreading disinformation designed to undermine democracies around the world.

But RTR Planeta and Channel One Russia are still carried by Rogers and Bell, according to the Canadian companies’ websites. (Neither Bell nor Rogers responded to requests for comment.)

Channel reviewers say RTR Planeta is particularly grim. Kadysh said she feared it would radicalize her viewers, as presenters frequently call Ukrainians “Nazis” and report fake news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She fears this will fuel hatred that could lead to violence here in Canada as the war continues.

She said many members of the Russian community bought into the rhetoric.

“I talk to people like that every day,” Kadysh said. “They don’t believe anything you say because they are already conditioned to believe only Russian propaganda. You talk to these people and there’s something wrong with them.

RTR Planeta signal is not available since last week for unknown reason; a message on the screen indicates technical difficulties. The channel’s website is also down.

The Star attempted to speak to representatives of the channel, but was unsuccessful.

Marcus Kolga, disinformation expert at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, shares Kadysh’s concerns. Often, Russian news programs take a nationalist stance aimed at retaining Russians abroad and use distorted news as part of that approach, he said, adding that the channels are a major source of information.

“The shows they air there use extremely inflammatory language to describe Ukrainians today,” Kolga said, referring to RTR Planeta. “They call them dogs, dogs that need to be put down, that’s the kind of language you hear where governments and organizations are about to engage in genocide.”

The Star last week asked the Department of Canadian Heritage whether it planned to address concerns about RTR Planeta and was told in response that the government was asking the CRTC to investigate RT, the English and French channels taken down by the Canadian satellite TV providers earlier. this week.

“We will continue to listen and be led by affected communities,” wrote David Larose of Canadian Heritage Media Relations. He pointed out that the CRTC had said in a statement regarding its preliminary views on RT that the channel’s programming “may not comply with the Commission’s broadcasting regulations, in particular the abusive comment provisions”.

The Star pointed out that the question was about RTR Planeta, the Russian-language channel, and got no response. Some countries have already taken the decision to ban RTR Planeta.

Last week, Lithuania banned the broadcaster along with a number of other Russian stations. A majority of the country’s population speaks Russian, which worries the government.

Lithuania’s Ambassador to Canada, Darius Skusevicius, told The Star that the Lithuanian government does not want the country to be subjected to the “lies” of Russian television.

“We don’t want our population to be poisoned,” Skusevicius said. “Simple.”

He said during the invasion, the network reported that the Russian military was welcomed with open arms in Ukraine, even as the country maintained fierce resistance to troops from Moscow.

“It’s just unacceptable, it’s a continuation of Putin’s glorification,” he said of the lineup.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Russia passed a bill threatening 15 years in prison for those who publish information contrary to Moscow’s version of events in Ukraine.

State media in Russia calls its attack on Ukraine a “special military operation” instead of calling it a “war” or an “invasion.” Moscow also blocked Twitter and Facebook from the Russian Internet.

The move came as no surprise to Kolga, who pointed out that Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been working to silence dissent against his regime in the country for years.

Kolga not only wants the network taken off the air, but said Canada must apply sanctions to deter people from taking part. He said it’s not a free speech issue, it’s a national security issue.

With files from The Associated Press

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Sylvester L. Goldfarb