Journalists Vs. Putin’s War on Truth

Journalists combat Moscow’s misinformation campaigns.
Associated Press photographer Evgeniy Maloletka points at the smoke rising after an airstrike on a maternity hospital, in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

Journalists on either side of the Russia-Ukraine border are playing a critical role in the war. Moscow’s most insidious tactic is misinforming the public, and Russian media is notoriously controlled by Putin’s regime. Marina Ovsyannikova, a journalist for the Russian state media, found out what happens when a reporter refuses to go along with Putin’s propaganda.

Marina Ovsyannikova protests Putin’s war on Russian state television.

On March 14, 2022, Ovsyannikova staged an on-air protest of Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine (pictured above). Following the protest, Ovsyannikova posted a video in which she stated: 

“What is happening in Ukraine is a crime. Russia is an aggressor country and the responsibility for this aggression rests on the conscience of only one person. That person is Vladimir Putin. My father is Ukrainian, my mother is Russian, and they’ve never been enemies… Unfortunately, I’ve spent the last few years working for Channel One, doing Kremlin propaganda, and I’m very ashamed of this. Ashamed that I allowed lies to be broadcast from TV screens. Ashamed that I allowed others to zombify Russian people. We were silent in 2014 when all this started. We didn’t protest when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We just silently watched this inhuman regime at work. And now the whole world has turned its back on us. And the next ten generations won’t wash away the stain of this fratricidal war. We Russians are thinking and intelligent people. It’s in our power alone to stop all this madness. Go protest. Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t lock us all away.”

Ovsyannikova has faced harsh punishment for these statements. She was detained, fined, and now faces up to 15 years in prison due to new laws that were enacted just 10 days before her protest. Russian “fake news laws” No.31-FZ and No.32-FZ were passed on March 4, 2022, stating that anyone “discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces could be arrested. This law also led to an exodus of international news outlets out of Russia in fear of detainment.

Ovsyannikova continues her protest in court. She is now on house arrest until October 2022. She has been praised by world leaders for her dissent, including Ukraine President Zelensky and French President Macron. Norway’s Oslo Freedom Forum awarded her the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent.

Some journalists are getting even more creative with their approach. Torrents of Truth is a cyber campaign attempting to skirt Russian censorship and deliver news of the war to Russian citizens. Following sanctions enacted at the beginning of Putin’s invasion, Russians are having difficulty accessing their favorite TV shows and movies from “unfriendly countries,” resorting to downloading pirated files of foreign-made films. That’s where Torrents of Truth comes in. Ukrainian journalist Volodymr Biriukov says by disguising their videos as popular movies like “The Batman” and “Better Call Saul,” they’ve been able to find a loophole in getting information into Russia. 

In Torrents of Truth videos, journalists and public figures try to break through Moscow’s state propaganda by showing images of ransacked cities, dead civilians, and missile strikes while describing atrocities they’ve personally witnessed. The hope is that when a Russian civilian sees these short minute videos instead of the downloaded movie, that it cuts through the noise.

Embed YouTube video:

Example of a Torrents of Truth video disguised as a movie download.

The stakes for journalists in this war are life and death: as of June 2022, eight journalists have been killed, mostly by being shot or bombed. Along with Ukraine and Russia, journalists killed in the war were also from France, Lithuania, America, and Ireland. While the responsibility to report the true, brutal nature of the war is dangerous, it has never been more important to fight on the front of misinformation.

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