While a senior BBC journalist has been thrown out of Russia in a tit-for-tat diplomatic row, Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny managed to smuggle a comment article out of his top security prison, in which he reports on being forced to watch state propaganda for eight hours a day.
But from beyond the country’s borders, Russian state broadcasters are storming the German media market by promoting anti-vaccine scare stories, and attacking Germany’s political leaders in an attempt to undermine affairs before the September 24 elections which will mark the end of the long reign of Angela Merkel.
“Thousands of social media posts like these are spreading through Europe’s largest economy, and they all come from RT Deutsch, the Kremlin-backed media outlet,” says Politico, the American online media outlet recently sold to the Axel Springer in Germany.
“In total, the Russian broadcaster — whose aim is to provide an alternative to the Western media’s perspective on current affairs and promote Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategic interests — has become the most prominent media outlet on social media in Germany just weeks ahead of the country’s federal election on September 26.”
Since March, RT Deutsch has focused on promoting anti-vaccine scares about the COVID-19 pandemic and in parallel continuing its long love-affair with the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Its efforts have collectively racked up roughly 22.7 million interactions on Facebook in the form of comments, likes, and shares, according to research from the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States, a Washington-based think tank.
“There’s clearly a huge demand for what Russia is selling here among Germans. And that, I think, across the West is deeply concerning,” said Bret Schafer, head of the information manipulation team at GMF’s Alliance for Securing Democracy.
“It’s clear where this content is coming from. This isn’t like a covert information operation where there is some partisan site that Russia has spun up,” he added. “They are somehow outperforming most, if not all, of the traditional media outlets.”
The cultural director of RT Deutsch is the “bad boy” of German broadcasting. Claude-Oliver Rudolph plans a Talkshow called Clash aimed at “loser-types who all the same have something to say”. He denies he is making Russian propaganda. “The boss looked for someone who wasn’t a conformist a…hole”, he told NTV. He compares himself with Putin: keen on judo, confrontation, and unafraid of IS.