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EU, Merkel rail against social media and Russian propaganda

While Merkel launched a war on Europe's "fake news" - actually real stories on the plight of ordinary Germans in the face of the migrant deluge - Europe's bureaucrats were extending the fight to Russia.

Published: November 24, 2016, 7:11 am

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    On Wednesday the EU Parliament voted on a non-legislative resolution which calls for the EU to “respond to information warfare by Russia”. Russian news websites RT and Sputnik news agency are alleged to be among the most dangerous “tools of Russian propaganda”, calling on EU member states to boost financing counter-propaganda projects.

    Some 691 lawmakers took part in the vote: 304 voted in favor of the resolution dubbed “EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it by third parties”, 179 voted against and 208 abstained from voting. Authors of the document have equated counteracting Russia with the resistance to the Daesh terrorists.

    The document thus places Russian media organizations alongside terror groups such as Islamic State (ISIS).

    As a result of the vote, Russia is now accused of “information warfare,” with such entities as RT TV channel, Sputnik news agency, Rossotrudnichestvo federal agency and the Russkiy Mir (Russian World) fund alleged to be among its most threatening propaganda “tools”.

    FWM spoke to a German IT specialist about the resolution against Russia. “I live in Germany and I have RT and Sputnik apps on my smartphone and tablet. These news stations are a bit like ‘Voice of America’ during the Cold War, and the way people in the DDR were illegally watching the West German TV stations. It’s a breath of fresh air,” he said.

    German news sites are notoriously controlled. Dr. Udo Ulfkotte, the editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest newspapers, said the aim of much of the deception was to drive nations toward war.

    Ulfkotte, 55, once an advisor to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, says the corruption of journalists and major news outlets by globalists is routine, accepted, and widespread in the western media.

    His book, currently available only in German, “Gekaufte Journalisten” (Kopp 2014) has become a bestseller in Germany but, in a bizarre twist which Ulfkotte says characterizes the disconnect of the western media, the book cannot be reported on.

    “No German mainstream journalist is allowed to report about [my] book. Otherwise he or she will be sacked. So we have a bestseller now that no German journalist is allowed to write or talk about.”

    The controversial report submitted to lawmakers suggests that Moscow provides financial support to opposition parties and organizations in EU member states, causing disintegration within the bloc.

    Written by a Polish member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, Anna Fotyga, the report alleged that Moscow aims to “incite fear and divide Europe,” and called for the establishment of measures to tackle the perceived Russian propaganda threat.

    Sputnik has appealed to the UN, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and a number of international journalists’ organizations and NGOs, including Reporters Without Borders, to take measures to stop what it considers to be interference into freedom of speech in the EU.

    “The resolution hits straight at a number of respected media, including Sputnik agency, and has an aim to stop their activity in the EU. Moreover, the resolution bluntly contradicts the EU’s own human rights and freedom of press norms,” reads the letter signed by Sputnik Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan.

    The humiliated US mainstream media, meanwhile, has a new convert: Angela Merkel. The German chancellor railed against the power of social media to call out the establishment, uncover fabricated stories and sniff out censored information.

    After launching her campaign for a fourth term, Merkel spoke in parliament for the first time since her announcement Sunday and cautioned that public opinion was being “manipulated” on the internet. She warned that “populism and political extremes are growing in Western democracies”.

    “Something has changed — as globalisation has marched on, [political] debate is taking place in a completely new media environment. Opinions aren’t formed the way they were 25 years ago,” she said.

    Quoted by France 24, she declared that “Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls — things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms and we have to learn to deal with them.”

    The chancellor said the challenge for democrats was to “reach and inspire people” …with censorship. “We must confront this phenomenon and if necessary, regulate it,” she explained.

    That means initiatives by her right-left coalition government to crack down on “hate speech” on social media because there are “concerns about the stability of our familiar order”. “Hate speech” would presumably include the leaked cache of confidential emails and notes passed between the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state government and local police revealing the cover up of hundreds of migrant sex attacks in Cologne this year with the police being fully aware of what was going on.

    The migrants were consistently described by the victims as North Africans, between 17-28 years of age. In all, some 1 200 women were sexually assaulted and raped on the night in Cologne and Hamburg, but the authorities censored the details of the mass attack fearing a backlash against Merkel’s open border policy.

    Merkel’s warning was issued only a week after Google and Facebook moved to cut off ad revenue to news sites they deem unworthy. Meanwhile disgruntled employees at Facebook have revealed a software tool which enables censorsing information geographically.

    The reason for Merkel’s clampdown on social media, is that while her conservative Christian Democrats might be favourites now to win the German national election, expected in September or October 2017, she is facing a strong challenge from a resurgent rightwing party, Alternative for Germany (AfD).

    Shortly after the EU vote, Russian president Vladimir Putin expressed his dismay at the EU parliament’s resolution against Russian media, but nevertheless congratulated RT and Sputnik journalists on their efforts.

    While “everyone tries to lecture” Russia on democracy, Putin said, European lawmakers themselves resorted to a policy of restrictions.

    “More recently — and these attempts are still ongoing — they [European officials] tried to ‘teach us’ democracy, and we have always heard from these ‘teachers’ that the most vicious way to do business with opponents is to ban something and that it is not consistent with the principles and norms of democracy. Open discussion is always the best way,” Putin said.

    He concluded that the EU parliament resolution is an “evident sign of degradation of the Western society’s vision of democracy,” Putin said. It is curious how many “western society” citizens agree with him.

    karin@praag.org

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