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US-Russia state media in hot war for hearts and minds

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The battle over Ukraine extends across the world: Information warfare is quickly evolving as key nations seek to influence public opinion and gain political support.

As during the Cold War, Russia and the United States are the two main combatants. Some efforts are clandestine, but plenty of material is broadcast to the public as each country attempts to, in the words of political linguists, “constrain the power and influence of the other … and win ‘hearts and minds’ … around the world.”

Key government-sponsored media outlets in the current battle are Russia Today, often known as RT, and two US government-backed operations, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

But it can be hard for many people to tell the difference between these outlets and independent news. As a propaganda scholar, I believe citizens of all nations deserve to know how their media have been filtered and when governments are seeking to influence their views.

My colleague Weston Sager and I developed a test for determining whether a particular media outlet is, or is not, a government mouthpiece. We examine key factors such as government control, funding, attribution and its resemblance to news.

At their best, these types of outlets provide official government information – at worst, blatant propaganda. Here’s how the main players in the US and Russia measure up.

Russia Today: Propaganda with some facts sprinkled in

RT is a multilanguage international media broadcaster that claims to be an “autonomous, non-profit organization.” But in reality, it has officially declared to the US State Department that it is an arm of the Russian government.

In lockstep with the Kremlin, RT has supported the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, the 2014 Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine and the 2022 Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine.

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