The fake news about Russian fake news

Yesterday, once again, Russia was accused of spreading fake news by a European government. It was the UK turn this time, where government officials have rebuttedas fake news the news, reported by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, that the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who contracted the coronavirus, was put in intensive care on a pulmonary ventilator.

Downing Street was quick to react, slamming Russian “disinformation”. On Sunday evening the UK Prime Minister was put in an intensive care unit and was given oxygen before being admitted, sources have said.He was, however, not put on a ventilator. The Russian new agency had claimed Boris Johnson, according to a “source close to the leadership”, would be put on a respiratory support machine.

UK media too reported that the Prime Minister was taken to intensive care as a precaution after his symptoms from the COVID-19 infection worsened, and that he might be put on a ventilator later.

UK media and the government, however, were quick to single out the Russian state agency for reporting the news.

Johnson’s spokesman rejected the claim, saying: “That is disinformation. Our specialist government units have seen a rise in false and misleading narratives since the coronavirus pandemic started. It’s vital that any disinformation is knocked down quickly”

Almost since the first days of the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, that in some cases causes severe pneumonia and respiratory deficiencies, Russia has been vehemently accused of spreading “fake news” and “disinformation” about the disease and the way Europe and the European care systems are dealing with the crisis.

Sometimes, however, the line between “fake news” and rumours is a very thin one. Boris Johnson may not have been put on a ventilator, but in this case to accuse a foreign country of “fake news” is an accusation out of proportion, considering UK media were running similar reports. It might have been a bit of inaccurate reporting from the Russian news agency, but inaccurate reporting is a vital part of the everyday business of journalism, even what passes as impeccable “objective”, fact-based journalism.

Russia certainly engages in some propaganda efforts and in news spinning – but this does not make it different from any other country or news organization in the world. Labelling everything that comes from Russia as part of immense malign propaganda campaigns, aimed at destroying confidence in European governments, will not make the West look better. An increasing number of people in Europe and in America does not buy into this well-crafted narrative anymore.

Stefano Di Lorenzo

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