Russian, Western media offer different images of Aleppo
While Western media are filled with grim images of life in areas of Aleppo under siege by Russian-backed Syrian government forces, Russian news reports tell a very different story. News outlets such as CNN and the BBC prominently reported a United Nations special envoy’s observation last week that rebel-held parts of the besieged city could be “completely destroyed in two months” by Russian and Syrian bombardment. On that same night, state-owned broadcasters in Russia glossed over the envoy’s remarks. Instead, they aired stories about the mortars Syrian rebels fired at an expensive hotel where Russian journalists were staying.
As Russia’s air campaign in Syria enters its second year, the portrayal of Aleppo has become a key weapon in the Kremlin’s public information armory as it looks to retain domestic support for a military intervention that is generating widespread condemnation abroad. The Kremlin-controlled TV channels that are the primary source of news for most Russians barely mention the destruction inflicted by the jets their government is flying over rebelheld areas of the city. The less-extreme damage in areas controlled by President Bashar Assad and purported links between Western governments and Islamic extremists noticeably dominate the newscasts.
“Russian media is very selective in what they show,” said Ulrich Schmid, a professor of Russian culture at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland. “The main message the Russian media is trying to get across to audiences is that Russia is the only nation fighting Islamic State effectively.” From the start of Russia’s bombing missions in Syria, Western and Russian media have reported the assault through different lenses. Russian reports say Moscow’s air strikes are launched to wipe out extremists. Western coverage, by contrast, gives time and space to claims Russia backs Assad to advance its own geopolitical agenda.
The differences have been particularly stark in recent weeks, as international criticism of Russia’s actions in Syria has intensified to include allegations of war crimes. When the cease-fire brokered by the US and Russia was collapsing last month, Western media focused on a statement by the World Health Organization that just 35 doctors were left in rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo to care for 250,000 people.
Meanwhile, evening bulletins on Russia’s main state-owned television networks showed almost identical reports about a mortar shell that, after failing to explode, became lodged in the roof of a school in government-held Aleppo. The almost exclusive media focus on attacks apparently being carried out by rebels on parts of Aleppo under Assad’s control appears to be part of the Kremlin’s media strategy. Unlike rebel-held Aleppo, these areas are less damaged. They have not been subject to months of intensive aerial bombardment, nor have they seen their civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, systematically destroyed.
But a top news executive at the sprawling state-owned Channel One network said Russian television crews were just reporting what they saw. “Rebels are besieging areas controlled by Assad and they have recently been on the attack,” Channel One’s director of news Kirill Kleymenov said in an interview. While reporting on the devastation in rebel-held parts of Aleppo, newspapers and television stations in the West have highlighted the work of the White Helmets, the volunteer civil defense force that digs the dead and injured out from collapsed buildings. But the White Helmets, which was shortlisted for a Nobel Prize, receive much less coverage in Russian media, where they are portrayed as stooges for Western powers. — AP
MOSCOW: In this file photo dated Friday, Oct 7, 2016, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov speaks during a media briefing in the Defense Ministry.— AP