On Feb. 18 the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), a think tank established by the Russian President in 1992, presented its new “World Mass Media Hostility Index,” the main goal of which is to rank how friendly countries are to Russia by analyzing their mass media content. It aims to identify the states that exercise the most aggressive media policy towards Russia and threaten its “information security.”
This analytical report is the result of detailed analysis of the media policies of different countries in 2014, when crucial shifts in the rhetoric employed by Western media about Russia occurred. The author of the mass media hostility index is a senior fellow at RISS, Dr. Igor Nikolaichuk. He suggests that, over the course of 2014, Western media started to “spread anti-Russian propaganda more actively than ever,” which he calls the beginning of “the global information war” against Russia.
The RISS positions its index as the first-ever comprehensive analysis of the world’s media content pertaining to Russia. The analysis is based on complex statistical data (provided by Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya) that is examined via a new applied discipline known as “political mediametrics.” A unit for analysis is a significant media publication that gives a reader certain assessments of Russia or its leadership. Ordinary news was excluded from the analysis.
The origins of the World Mass Media Hostility Index
As the world entered the information age, the mass media took on a big part in our lives, and over the last decade, started to influence it to an even greater degree. The mass media contributes to the formation of public opinion and leads to the creation of certain narratives in the political discourse in a country, in a region or even in the world.
The word ‘propaganda’ in recent years has become a new favorite word in the media world. Google Trends show that interest in the word ‘propaganda’ has been rising over time in the ‘news search category’.
The conflict in Ukraine, which erupted in 2014, galvanized a struggle in the media space and contributed to the broad usage of the word ‘propaganda,’ which mostly referred to the information reported by state-owned media, particularly Russian state-owned media.
Propaganda, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is “the information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” The Russian dictionary of Ozhegov defines it as “spreading in society an explanation of ideas, thoughts, knowledge or learnings.”
The difference in the definitions is quite obvious, as is the perception of different types of information. From a Russian linguistic point of view, propaganda mostly serves as a tool for explanation of certain ideas, thoughts and policies. The Anglo-Saxon definition stresses the biased or misleading nature of the promoted information. Herein lies the main dichotomy in understanding the information war between Russia and the West.
However, there is a factor that contributes to the misunderstanding between both Russia and the West. In fact, Anglo-Saxon and Western countries dominate the global media world. This puts the Russian media in a sort of defensive position, forced to explain an alternative, different view of events that may not be popular in the West.
This inevitably led to a clash in the type of information the media promotes, especially at a time of geopolitical controversy. In such circumstances, information warfare became a real fact and the world media started to be engaged in a struggle for “hearts and minds” as never before.
The methodology and findings of the new index
Dr. Nikolaichuk says that the volume of analyzed data is about 70 thousand media pieces that were published between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 30, 2014. The data was monitored for 60 countries. Before the introduction of the research results, Dr. Nikolaichuk touched on the topic of – information security – that has turned into a top agenda issue in the world over the past 12 months. In the light of the Ukrainian crisis, hostile rhetoric in the world media towards Russia, predominantly Western, increased.
The index is calculated as the ratio of negative publications to neutral publications. The author defines a ratio of more than one neutral to five negative publications as an indicator that the country wages information warfare against Russia.
According to this methodology, there are two countries that currently engage in an “information war” against Russia: Germany and the U.S. The countries that follow after them but are less aggressive in their media policies include Austria, France, the UK and Poland.
Here are some findings of the report. Based on the analysis of the media space around Russia in 2014, it became evident that the media front against Russia was comprised first of all by the Anglo-Saxon countries, EU states, Japan, Ukraine, Georgia and Jordan, reports Nikolaichuk. During 2014, Germany had the largest amount of significant publications about Russia – 8,929, followed by the U.S. – 5,771, the UK – 5,209, France – 4,810, and Switzerland – 4,105.
Among the European countries, Italy is out of the picture with its traditionally friendly rhetoric towards Russia. Belgium follows this example. Sweden and Denmark are dominated by the negative media approach; Norway and Iceland are predominantly neutral. The only country with a dominant positive trend in its media was Syria. If one were to compare 2014 with 2013, in 2013 the UK and Georgia had a neutral media policy towards Russia, and the mass media of South Africa, Canada, Japan, and Ukraine did not have strong anti-Russian tendencies. In general, the report concludes that the media environment for Russia worsened in 2014.
A comprehensive report on the Media Hostility Index will be released annually with a detailed description and analysis of trends that changed during the year. RISS also produces short weekly reports on changes in the Media Hostility Index to track how the media environment reacts to different international or domestic events.
RISS views this new index as the start of a comprehensive, statistically-backed product that intends to underscore the biased nature of Western media reporting on Russia, consequently raising this issue to a higher degree of attention and discussion.