CATALUÑA: I read some stats on governance there the other day. They were so poor they lent credence to the view that the secession campaign is really a smokescreen designed to mask wholesale corruption there even greater than elsewhere in Spain. What's not to believe?
RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA: I've cited RT's nonsense a couple of times. At the end of this post there's a Times article on Moscow's disinformation campaign. For those really interested in this, here's the link to EU counter measures. http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/ukraine/press_corner/all_news/news/2015/2016_11_04_1_en.htm
GALICIAN JUSTICE?: Two years ago, a couple were arrested for the murder of their adopted daughter. Their trial finally took place last week and they were both found guilty. Given the amount of accusatory media coverage in the interim, it's impossible to believe any of the 9 jurors knew nothing of the case. So, little wonder that one of the defence lawyers commented there was little chance of any other verdict, despite contrary evidence. If you want to know more, the Voz de Galicia is issuing a booklet on it with tomorrow's edition. There goes the appeal. A fair trial?
GRELOS AGAIN: Following global exposure of their gaffe, the As Pontes mayor - thinking of January visitors - has given us the Spanish equivalent of "It's an Ill wind . . . ": No hay mal que por bien no venga.
FINALLY . . . ALTRUISM: Out of the goodness of my huge heart, I often help foreigners with the menu in my regular bar. Some of them even get a free tour of the old quarter. Three days ago, I helped a large family, all of whom impressed everyone with their politeness and friendliness. I thought they were German but yesterday's Voz revealed them to be Czech aristocrats - the Lobkowiczs - en route to Santiago on the Portuguese Way. I do hope they all completed Trip Adviser reviews for my bar.
We’re drowning in a flood of Putin propaganda
It’s difficult to counter lies when your opponent doesn’t care about the truth, but satire could be one potent answer
Western countries are beginning to wake up to the mistakes they made when capitalism trounced communism in 1991. One was to assume that money doesn’t smell. The other big one was to believe that a free press would always triumph.
Russia has proved us wrong on both. Business ties distort our decision-making (BP is now, in effect, a British hostage in Russia). Kremlin dirty money goes into political parties, think-tanks, universities and campaigns, such as opposing fracking. And Kremlin lies and manipulation are running riot, both inside Russia and in the West, calibrated to confuse, befuddle and distract.
Russian media, for example, portrays Ukraine as a failed state beset by neo-Nazis. It slanders the Baltic states as hotbeds of antisemitism and discrimination. It has come out with absurd theories about the downing of MH17, the Malaysian airliner shot down by a Russian missile over Ukraine in the summer of last year, and the killing in 2006 of Alexander Litvinenko — a British citizen murdered with a radioactive weapon.
More broadly it portrays the West as hypocritical, decadent, menacing, unreliable and naive.
That these are falsehoods is beside the point. Even Russian propagandists do not really believe them. For all their anti-western bombast and vitriol, it is here that they educate their children, keep their mistresses and stash their ill-gotten gains.
The aim is not to convince, but to confuse. As Ben Nimmo, a former Nato spokesman, puts it: to distort facts, dismiss criticism, distract attention and dismay adversaries.
Faced with competing claims and contradictory facts, many people simply shrug their shoulders and give up trying to decide who’s right. Facts are mere playthings, used in arguments that rely on assertion and inference, rather than proof.
Countering this — rebutting the claims of people who do not believe in the existence of truth — is hard. Moreover, cash-strapped media outlets rarely have the resources to investigate or explain what is going on.
At home, Russian-language papers are cowed by harassment, beatings and murder. The Moscow Times, once a brave and dependable English-language monitor of events in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, has withered. This week it closed its daily news operation.
Far from being scrutinised by western journalism, Russian lies and propaganda helps to solve our media’s business problems. Papers print lavish advertorial supplements paid for and written by the Kremlin. Websites are delighted when articles attract lots of comments — even though they may be posted by “trolls”, people who are paid to plug Kremlin talking points. Russian talking heads — claiming to be “journalists” — help to fill airtime in talk shows on radio and television.
Our editors and journalists are schooled to prize fairness over truth. Censorship is abhorrent. Critics must be matched by defenders. But Russia spots our weakness, and exploits it.
Nato, the EU and other western governments are belatedly and hurriedly waking up to the threat. A new Nato centre for “strategic communications” has opened in Latvia. America has increased its Russian-language programming. The EU’s foreign-affairs service has just started an excellent weekly digest of Russian disinformation.
But these efforts are piecemeal, and to some extent useless. Broadcasting more radio and TV news about western society to Russia is a waste of money. In the Soviet era, people despised their leaders, loathed their political and economic system, and revered the West. They would risk arrest to tune into the BBC. Now the climate of opinion has changed. Russians may not believe all the regime’s anti-western propaganda, but many regard western news as no more truthful.
Other techniques will work better. Satire, for example, has been all but extinguished on Russian TV. We could commission the best Russian wits to lampoon the Kremlin (and western leaders’ weakness), and put the shows on YouTube. More ambitious is the idea of producing a Russian version of The West Wing, set in the Kremlin. Mr Putin fears ridicule far more than criticism.
Defending our own media landscape is harder. To some extent Russia’s criticisms are justified. The financial crisis, political deadlock and foreign-policy disasters have sapped western self-confidence.The best help we can get comes from the frontline states, where Russian propaganda is most potent and damaging.
I am working on a project at an American think tank, the Centre for European Policy Analysis, to produce “Disinformation for Dummies”, a guide highlighting the techniques used by Russian propagandists. We are drawing on case studies written by experts from countries such as Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They understand the problem far better than we do.
But the biggest problem is the way our society is run. We believe in categories and rules. Journalists guard their independence. Officials guard their secrets. Businesses want to get on with making money. But we face a joined-up threat. Russia’s information-warriors are part of a much bigger power-projection system, from social media trolls to the intelligence services, including energy companies, banks and the military.
We do not have a joined-up response to this joined-up threat. Until we do, Russia information warfare will continue to corrode our alliances, poison public opinion and distract our decision-makers, with fateful consequences for our security.