The disinformation game

Latin America has not taken Russia Today off the airwaves, why?

As war rages in Ukraine, Russia’s disinformation campaign continues. The influential broadcast platform, Russia Today (“RT”) has been banned on North American and European airwaves amidst allegations of propaganda peddling and impartiality. In Latin America, RT’s Spanish-language platform faces no such barrier – administrations are hesitant to curtail its presence.

Is the platform as regionally influential as detractors claims? An executive of Grupo Imagen Mexico – a media conglomerate – said, “In Mexico, compared to other media agencies, RT has a relatively small and niche impact and its appeal is mainly limited to the country’s leftist circles. There are certainly political overtones to its broadcasting – it has allied itself to AMLO’s Morena party. That said, it has a more moderate tone in comparison to other outlets including La Jornada or El Soberano.”

“In Mexico, compared to other media agencies, RT has a relatively small and niche impact and its appeal is mainly limited to the country’s leftist circles.”

Executive, Grupo Imagen, Mexico

Despite a more limited appeal in Mexico, RT’s network is well developed across the region. The network also has high visibility across Youtube, Facebook and Twitter allowing it to use social media to spread disinformation and pump out Moscow’s ideological lines – #abolishNATO is just one of many hashtags to have trended regionally in recent days.

Mexico is among a region that has resisted efforts led by Washington and Europe to isolate the broadcaster. In Mexico, AMLO is keen to cultivate an image of an administration that preserves and recognises the importance of diverse and independent media – no matter that he himself has had a tempestuous relationship with the media and often rejects criticism of the administration as “fake news”.

The administration also sees the channel, as is the case in countries across the region politically dominated by the left, as liberalising the media environment and taking power away from established conservative media conglomerates – in that sense, RT fits their political agenda nicely. Naturally, regional governments vary in their hostility to Washington – those where such hostility is sharper – see Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua – have tended to be more sympathetic to Moscow’s geopolitics.

A lawyer and senior public sector consultant said, “Latin America has always had a population base sharply critical of Washington, more influential in some countries, less so in others. Where the channel is popular, administrations have tended to emphasise its role in informing ‘the other side’ of the debate. Especially in terms of conflict coverage, where US channels are perceived as biased, RT and the likes of Al Jazeera are often regarded as purveyors of more objective analysis.”

Another challenge lies in the constitutional impediments to closing media outlets. This is Colombia’s defence despite strong pressure from the US, its key ally. The administration has stated that Russia has not directly threatened Colombia and Moscow’s continued supply of weapons to neighbouring Venezuela is unlikely to be perceived as an imminent threat for the time being thus sees little reason to ban RT.

The lawyer added, “Colombia’s Constitutional Court exercises jurisprudence over the right of free expression, so apart from a suspension of constitutional protections in extreme cases, I do not think the Colombian government can simply close the doors to a media outlet or an agency just like that.”

“I do not think the Colombian government can simply close the doors to a media outlet or an agency just like that.”

Lawyer and senior public sector consultant, Colombia

RT’s bias itself could prove to be its biggest downfall in the region, the lawyer underscored the importance that the region’s increasingly politically and socially conscious citizens attach to impartiality, “Regardless of what happens in Ukraine, the Russian media cannot present information that is radically contrary to reality either, because they risk losing credibility.”

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