RFE/RL Counters Disinformation To Help Combat Coronavirus In High-Risk Countries
From coronavirus hotspots like Iran to China neighbors like Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, audiences are relying on RFE/RL as a source of trusted news and an alternative to inaction and rampant disinformation in the countries where they live.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Accused Of Downplaying COVID-19 Figures, Kremlin Clamps Down On 'Fake News'
Amid skepticism over the government’s response to the coronavirus, Russian authorities have ordered the broadcaster Ekho Moskvy to remove a March 16 interview with political analyst and Kremlin critic Valery Solovei, who dismissed official reporting on cases and fatalities and accused the government of failing to cope with the pandemic. Authorities said the order to strike the interview was part of an effort "to prevent the spread of false information related to the coronavirus.” Solovei has been threatened with a 100,000 ruble ($1,300) fine. Ekho Moskvy has complied.
Rights Groups Raise Alarm About Use Of Coronavirus Measures To Censor Media
The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Russian authorities “to stop censoring news outlets” that report on the coronavirus outbreak in the country. On March 25, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir expressed concern about new legislation passed in Azerbaijan, aimed ostensibly at combating disinformation related to the virus, that requires owners of Internet information resources to prevent the publication of false information online. The OSCE has also registered concern over the introduction of new measures against spreading panic and "fake news" regarding the coronavirus in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
What Exactly Is Going On With Russia’s Low Coronavirus Numbers?
As of March 24, Russia’s official tally of confirmed coronavirus cases stood at just 495, clustered mainly in Moscow but also scattered across at least 46 cities and regions. That put Russia, with a population of about 144 million, at a per-capita level comparable to places in Central America and southern Africa, where the coronavirus is so far almost nonexistent. By contrast, many neighboring and nearby European nations are seeing much higher rates of confirmed cases.
Russia Urged To Drop Terrorism Charges Against Journalist Prokopyeva
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir has expressed "serious concerns" about the ongoing prosecution of Russian journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva, a contributor for RFE/RL's Russian Service who has been indicted by the Pskov prosecutor for “publicly supporting terrorism” through use of a media platform.
Azerbaijani Journalist Muxtarli Released
An Azerbaijani court in Baku on March 17 ordered the release of reporter Afqan Muxtarli from prison, flying him the same day to Germany, where he has applied for political asylum. Muxtarli was abducted in Tbilisi, on May 29, 2017, and subsequently transferred to Azerbaijan, where he was convicted of smuggling, illegally crossing the border, and other charges that Human Rights Watch has dismissed as "politically motivated."
Bulgarian Journalist Hospitalized After Being Beaten With Metal Pipes
Bulgaria's Interior Ministry announced on March 18 that veteran investigative journalist Slavi Angelov was attacked by unidentified assailants near his home in Sofia. Angelov, the editor in chief of the weekly newspaper 168 Hours, was beaten with metal pipes late on March 17. Angelov has reported extensively about an investigation into gambling tycoon Vasil Bozhkov.
CURRENT TIME: A March 23 social video documented firsthand the experience of a patient with the coronavirus in a Ukrainian hospital. The video, which attracted more than 1 million views across platforms in just one day, uses footage from the Facebook account of the first person to be diagnosed with the virus in the western Ukrainian city of Zhitomir. The patient also filmed his hospital’s lack of toilet paper and paper towels, and the chaotic delivery of low-quality food.
The March 20 episode of Footage vs. Footage, the Current Time platform that debunks disinformation, documented how China has started to blame U.S. soldiers who participated in the 2019 Military World Games in Wuhan for spreading the virus. The claim has been propagated by Russian state-controlled media.
In coverage unrelated to the coronavirus, Current Time TV crews took to the streets in Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg, and Kazan to gauge ordinary Russians’ reactions to President Vladimir Putin’s assertion last week that anyone with a salary over the monthly minimum wage of about $150 (11,280 rubles) – 70 percent of Russia’s 145 million citizens– ranks as middle class. One representative response was, “What can I say? He’s laughing at us. It’s a beggar’s life.” The vox pops attracted more than 3 million views across Facebook, Twitter, and VKontake in just three days.
CURRENT TIME FEATURES’s new program, Unknown Belarus, has received 476,000 views to date on YouTube. The March 22 episode depicts a Minsk shelter for female victims of domestic violence, which is estimated to occur in every third Belarusian household, and is ignored by current legislation.
BALKANS: RFE/RL’s Balkan Service has begun issuing the daily newsletter Daily on Coronavirus, to provide audiences with comprehensive reporting about the pandemic, its global impact, and its implications for the Western Balkans, while also debunking disinformation. The newsletter has an average of 19 pick-ups daily by external media outlets this week.
KAZAKHSTAN: The Kazakh Service has sought to debunk disinformation that is undermining effective government and public responses to the coronavirus. Reporting has documented how a dearth of information has created opportunities for speculation and false claims circulated and amplified on WhatsApp and other messaging platforms. It has documented how Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao is using Twitter and Facebook to propagate distorted, pro-Chinese narratives. Kazakh Service journalists Aigerim Toleukhanova and Torokul Doorov have spoken about Kazakhstan’s response to the pandemic on programs sponsored by the Washington-based CSIS and TRT-World programs.