The war in Ukraine is going according to plan. Locals in Russian-occupied territories are forming their own governments independent of Kiev. The Ukrainian army is rocketing residential areas and using civilians as human shields. Welcome to the parallel world of Russian State Television news, the main source of information for 70 per cent of Russians.
It’s a world where the West is scared of the might of Russia’s military, where a wise government has a perfect plan to protect ordinary people from the effects of Western sanctions. In this world, Vladimir Putin is the defender, father and protector of his people against evil enemies who are working to subvert Russia from outside – as well as from within.
The Kremlin’s propaganda brew is a heady mix of patriotism, reassurance and an unhealthy dose of hatred towards variously-defined “others” – including foreigners (the UK has been a favorite bogeyman for years), NATO (an evil expansive empire), Ukrainians ( who are supposedly Nazis and fascists) and of course Russian traitors who are treacherous or corrupt enough to critics Putin. The resulting television product, honed over two decades, is slick, well-produced and designed to resonate deeply among it target audience of older viewers who do not use the internet.
“Some of Russia’s most talented producers and directors work in [the Kremlin’s TV] machine,” says Vadim, a former employee of Russia’s Channel One’s news team who now makes entertainment shows for the channel. “A lot [of them] came from a background of advertising. They know what resonates. Soviet war movies. The idea of a heroic Russia standing up alone against the world. Fighting your way to respect. Protecting your own people. Fighting fascism.”
Among the light entertainment offerings available are glitzy Dancing With the Stars-style shows, upbeat soap operas featuring heroic female police officers, talk shows about health and family, and children’s shows. All are subtly, and sometimes not-so subtly, laced with propaganda – for instance a 30-minute “educational” video entitled “A Lesson About World Peace” produced by the Ministry of Education featuring popular childrens’ presenter Denis Polunchukov explaining to 12- year-old singing prodigy Sofia Khomenko that Russians troops are in Ukraine to protect Russians there from “neo-Nazis.” A cartoon for younger children also featured school kids in flag-coloured jerseys where an evil child wearing stars and stripes convinces a confused Ukraine to become a bully – only to be stopped by Russia.