#ElectionWatch: Kremlin Media Ignores Inaugural Protests

How Russian state-funded media reported on the country-wide protest “He is not our Tsar!”

Left (Source: YouTube/Россия 24); Right (Source: Intnet.org).

On May 5, protests against the inauguration of Russia’s long time president Vladimir Putin took place across the country. According to a Russian human rights monitoring site OVD-Info (ОВД-Инфо), Russian authorities detained over 1,600 people. This is about as many detentions as during the protest against corruption on March 26, 2017.

Independent Russian media outlets Novaya Gazeta and TV Rain created video compilations showing the brutal use of force used during the detention of protesters.

Protests were widely covered across western media, while Russian state-controlled media outlets were oftentimes mute, or channeled just the official announcements of state authorities.

Kremlin TV

On May 5, Russian state-owned TV channel “Perviy” (Первый) broadcasted news at 10:00, 12:00, 18:00, and 21:00. None of the broadcasts mentioned the protests. Five out of ten news stories of the last news broadcast covered the Victory Day celebrations scheduled for May 9.

Translated from Russian: “The broadcast of ‘Vremya’ program at 21:00, May 5, 2018” (Source: Perviy Kanal)

Another Kremlin-owned TV channel “Rossiya” (Россия) did not mention the protests during its broadcast at 11:00 nor its Saturday’s broadcast with Sergey Brilev. In fact, quite the opposite occurred. At the end of the broadcast, Sergey Brilev spent ten minutes on a story detailing the Kremlin castle where Putin’s inauguration took place.

(Source: YouTube / Россия 24)

The protests were completely ignored also by “Vesti Nedeli”, a weekly re-cap show on channel “Rossiya”.

Contrary to “Perviy” and “Rossiya”, TV channel NTV, owned by the state-owned natural gas company Gazprom, published at least five stories about the protests.

Left (Source: NTV); Middle (Source: NTV); Right (Source: NTV).
Left (Source: NTV); Right (Source: NTV).

The coverage of the protests started with news about detention of its organizer Alexey Navalny. The rest of the coverage channeled messages of official state sources. It claimed the number of protesters in Moscow to be 1,500, while Navalny’s team in Moscow posted on its VKontakte (ВКонтакте) page that the actual number is multiple times bigger. Navalny’s team did not name any actual number, though.

Translated from Russian: “The police counted 1.5 thousand participants for the shares ‘He is not our Tsar’ in Moscow. It’s funny. There were times more of us. Show photos from the meeting to your friends, tell them about why we went to the protest and what is happening in Russia now. On TV this will not be shown.” (Source: VK / Команда Навального | Москва)

Also, despite numerous videos that show violent detentions of ordinary protesters, NTV channeled the message of the capital’s regional security department that justified the actions of the police.

News sites

Compared to other Kremlin-owned new sites, RIA Novosti covered the protests the most extensively. @DFRLab identified at least 26 news articles about the protests.

(Source: RIA Novosti via Google)

Most of the coverage focused on detentions during the unsanctioned protests. Three news stories covered developments of Navalny’s detention. Four stories were dedicated to explaining police behavior during detentions. Three news articles mentioned that protests were nationwide. Two articles addressed the European Union’s response to detentions during the protest. One article suggested that EU prepared their response to protests before they occurred. RIA Novosti also channeled the official message, reporting that the amount of protesters was insignificant.

Another state-owned news agency — TASS — published just six news articles about the protest. It reported that only 1,500 people gathered in Moscow, that 300 of which were detained, and that later 80 percent of the detained were released, including under-aged protesters. One of its news articles concluded that the unsanctioned protest in Moscow did not lead to any complications in the Moscow city center.

Similarly, @DFRLab identified at least four news articles about the protests on RT’s Russian version. The articles covered statements of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the amount of protesters, number of detainees in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the fact that under-aged detainees were released.

“Izvestiya”, a media outlet affiliated with the Kremlin, published eleven articles. Four of them focused on Navalny’s detention.

Finally, the official Russian state’s newspaper “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” published just one article titled “The provocation by the opposition failed — police and Russian National Guard worked properly”.

Conclusion

The official Russian state TV channels “Perviy” and “Rossiya” ignored the fact of the nation-wide protests completely. Two other TV channels that are partly owned by state companies covered the protests mostly focusing on the narrative that they were illegal and that the police was doing its job.

The only state-owned media outlet that provided extensive coverage of the protest was RIA Novosti. It published at least 26 news articles mostly focused on detentions. Other state-owned news portals reported official statements by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other state authorities.

All state-owned news sites covered in this report channeled the message that the protests were insignificant.


Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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