In Russia, television is the primary source of information and news among ordinary Russians. But television networks are tightly under the control of Vladimir Putin.
There were also radio, newspapers and online platforms but the people are glued on television watching developments in nearby Ukraine as Russian troops poured into their neighbors in what the government said was a war to liberate Kyiv from “Nazi” control.
Vladimir Putin has a tight grip on Russian media and ordinary people hardly get the true picture of what is happening outside its borders. The main platform, RT, has a wider audience abroad but it only offers propaganda about its country.
It is not surprising that Putin has a high 70 percent popularity rating among Russian people and the majority supported the invasion in Ukraine.
There were a few protests, particularly in St. Petersburg, after opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for daily protests against “insane” Putin. Putin has responded by rounding up protesters.
Putin does not tolerate dissent and the Russian media is not expected to criticize Putin’s policies, including his decision to intervene and invade Ukraine.
There are a few brave and courageous publications, available on the internet and social media, which had exposed Putin and his oligarch’s wrongdoings, but they are in constant fear of arrests, detentions, and even deaths.
An investigative journalism outfit has closed shop and its editors have fled Russia, fearing for their safety. The credibility of media agencies and journalists who are critical of the government are under constant attacks.
The situation in Russia is not unique. It is happening everywhere in countries ruled by tyrants and dictators. Moscow has become a model for countries on how to control the media.
Tyrants and dictators also want to control the narrative, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, to have a tight grip on the people. They also use troll farms to spread disinformation to confuse people and to help like-minded leaders in other countries to discredit the media and the opposition.
The situation in Russia mirrors what is happening in the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte, who transformed the democratic space won after the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986 into an authoritarian regime.
Since coming into power in 2016, he has disregarded the rule of law, violated the Constitution and implemented a more security-oriented than a health-directed coronavirus pandemic plan.
Putin looked tamer than Duterte after the latter launched a campaign against illicit drugs, killing more than 6,000 people based on official police records but human right advocates believed the body count could be twice to five times more. Based documents file with the International Criminal Court (ICC), it could be from 12,000 to 30,000 people.
If Putin was using the “Nazis” as his bogeyman to win support to invade Ukraine from his people who did not forget the unpleasant memories of Nazi German atrocities 80 years ago, Duterte and his propagandists from the National Task Force to End Local Commmunist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) have been using the Communist scare to galvanize support from the public.
There is, however, a big disconnect in this narrative. NTF-Elcac’s hysterical propaganda was that the Communists were about to take over schools, workplaces, and the media, but the military has been beating its chest to show successes against the New People’s Army on the ground.
During the Marcos period when the NPAs had more than 26,000 armed fighters, they were not near a strategic victory phase in the insurgency.
The NPAs are now down to 2,500 armed regulars and many of their cadres are old, sick, and tired. It’s just a matter of time when they all fade away but the rebellion is not about ideology – communism.
There are people taking up arms against the establishment because of widespread injustice, inequality, neglect, corruption, and poverty.
The government has to address these social ills and improve the quality of life of ordinary Filipinos to quell the rebellion.
Both Putin and Duterte used the media as a bull horn to advance their agenda, quash dissent, and hijack the narrative. They also used paid armies of keyboard warriors to spread lies and disinformation, and iscredit critical voices, including the media.
Some members of the Philippine media have been red-tagged and many were called names – “Dilawan,” “Bayaran,” and “Biased.” These are real threats not only on social media platforms but also in physical form.
The worst form of attack is to question the credibility of journalists. Information could become a one-way street, controlled by the government and echoed by social media influencers.
Once the public loses its faith in journalists and the media, it could mean the end of democracy in the country.
The Nobel Peace Prize committee has recognized the dangers and everyday threats journalists face from Russia and the Philippines by picking two journalists, including Maria Ressa, to represent the brave and courageous truth-tellers in the two countries. They represented the faces of journalists under threat.
In Russia, journalists have started to flee and fight elsewhere, away from the reach of the Russian government.
In the Philippines, journalists chose to stay and fight back. Maria Ressa is not fighting the Duterte regime alone, there is a big community of Filipino journalists standing up for truth and justice.
The recent initiative of media organizations to work together and fact check assertions made by officials and politicians during the election is a big step to push back disinformation.
The task is not easy. It is an uphill battle to change the public’s mindset clouded by disinformation, but the battle will be won through perseverance.
The Philippine media must not waver.
It has to fight back the government’s attempt to hijack the narrative and spread disinformation in social media, which have been slowly chipping away its credibility and the public’s trust in the journalism profession.