Ukraine War: Russia Takes TV and Websites Offline as Part of Media Blackout in Occupied Territories | world news

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Russia wields control over the media in occupied parts of Ukraine as regional military administrations seek almost total dominance of the information space.

The tactic has included kidnapping journalists, taking over local newsrooms, blocking Ukrainian television and the Internet, while promoting Russian channels and websites.

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Analysis of the topics covered by the Russian media suggests a concerted effort to Ukraine appear as a failed state. It may be designed to send a message to those in the occupied zone that Russian governance is preferable.

Russia’s Media Narratives

A media monitor developed by Ukrainian publication Texty.UA shows the topics Russian media have focused on and how they have changed since the start of the war:

The Russian media consistently sought to justify the invasion by calling the Ukrainian forces and their leaders “Nazis”. Use of the term in Russian media peaked at the start of the war.

But other stories have become more important over time. Articles referring to Ukraine as a “failed state” multiplied in mid-April.

This included articles like the one below, which has been translated, accusing the Kyiv government of being completely corrupt.

News that supports the occupying regional administrations also featured prominently. For example, articles referring to people in the occupied areas receiving Russian passports – something the military administration has promoted – are common.

But other stories were not covered. In mid-March, anti-Russian protests erupted in Melitopol, but there was little trace of the words ”Melitopol” and ”protest” appearing in Russian press reports.

It is clear that the Russian media currently broadcast in the occupied parts of Ukraine give a particular view of the war.

How did the Russians control the media in the occupied areas?

The first step in controlling Russian media was to take over the physical infrastructure used to broadcast television.

On March 4, it was reported that Russian forces had installed new equipment on two television towers in Kherson and Melitopol, two of the largest cities in the occupied southern regions, to broadcast Russian television channels.

Local newsrooms were also taken over. Some were reassigned to broadcast Russian channels, while others faced the choice of collaborating or being shut down.

The NGO Detector Media reported this month that 44 companies had ceased broadcasting due to Russian attacks and their occupation.

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Day 124 Line of Control in southern Ukraine
Image:
Kherson and Melitopol have been under Russian occupation since the beginning of the war

Russian forces have also targeted individual journalists. Oleh Baturyn, for example, who works for the Kherson Novyi Den newspaper, was abducted in March and held for eight days, during which he was beaten, tied to a radiator and interrogated about his work and his knowledge of the local protests. .

And it is not only through traditional media formats that Russia exercises control. On May 30, Ukrainian Internet services, which had been working intermittently since the occupation, ceased to operate in the Kherson region. Since then, the internet has been routed through Crimean-based Russian service providers, which means Ukrainian websites are often blocked.

It was also reported that the Russian-backed administration was distributing SIM cards using a Russian dialing code. The fear is that these could be easily monitored by Russian forces.

It seems that Russia is trying to totally dominate the communication network.

What are the Russians trying to achieve?

The Russian media blitz is, according to Dr. Ofer Fridman, director of operations at the King’s Center for Strategic Communications, “straight out of the textbook” of information operations.

Control of the information space behind the front line of kinetic warfare can better enable the establishment of governance in the occupied area by suppressing dissent.

Dr Fridman believes media messages in occupied areas will increasingly focus on stability and security.

“What does it mean to win the hearts and minds of ‘Russians’ living in Ukraine? he said. “You win them over by telling them one thing: you can have stability in silence. You say we have provided stability to Russia. We can do that here too.”

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But Dr Joanna Szostek, a lecturer in political communication at the University of Glasgow, thinks any campaign aimed at winning over people is unlikely to succeed.

“Based on the surveys I’ve done and others who are doing them in Ukraine, the number of Ukrainians who sought to join Russia – who one could imagine in some way welcoming this occupying force – n is a tiny number,” she said.

This spirit of resistance is found in Oleksiy, a resident of Kherson who recently fled the region but found a way to access Ukrainian information.

“Communication in the occupation is like air for a diver,” he said. “We woke up checking the news and fell asleep checking it. If there is a connection, there is hope. When the connection was cut, it seemed like life had stopped. “

Oleksiy’s ability to always access Ukrainian information shows how difficult Russia’s task will be to completely control the flow of information in the occupied areas.

By using virtual private networks – tools that mask the location of internet users – people have always been able to access blocked websites. Data from Google Trends shows that the highest proportion of searches for “VPN” over the past 90 days occurred in the busy areas of southern and eastern Ukraine.

Many people in Ukraine also get their information through Telegram, a messaging and social media site, which is not blocked by Russian internet service providers.

And even in controlling television channels, Russia seems to be struggling. The Russian-imposed administration’s Telegram channel in Kherson complained that its broadcasts were interrupted due to faulty equipment.

But they should not be deterred. Earlier this month, they announced that they would recruit a chief engineer and manager for the Kherson radio and TV transmission station.

The Russian government did not respond to a question from Sky News about the media crackdown in occupied Ukraine.


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