Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Times accuses Putin's Russia of running a black propaganda operation in Scotland

The Times newspaper has a couple of important stories and articles today.

The main front page story, which is also the subject of an article covering most of two pages inside and a leader is about the propaganda organisation Putin's Russia has setting up in Edinburgh posing as news outlets.

I very rarely agree with the SNP on anything but I will say this to Nicola Sturgeon's credit - since she took over the SNP leadership senior figures in the party have mostly refused to act as 'useful idiots' for Putin and his mouthpieces RT and Sputnik.

West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty-Hughes urged party supporters to consider messages from Kremlin-backed media sources like Sputnik news carefully before reading or sharing them on social media. He said:

"It is often tempting to think that the messages put forward by these channels are progressive, but it may be worth asking if the sources funding the likes of Sputnik News really do share your views.

"These are news sources directly funded by a regime which has absolutely no problem with abusing human rights and minorities, and most certainly would not tolerate a nationalist movement like our own within its own borders."

Incidentally Alex Salmond, when he was SNP leader, did not appear to get this: he was a regular guest on RT and so, before his election as Labour leader, was Jeremy Corbyn.

The Times describes how Russian news outlets put forward in 2014 the suggestion - ridiculed as "absurd" and "self-evidently a piece of disinformation" by Ben Nimmo who is quoted in the article - that the Scottish Independence referendum had been rigged. The grounds on which this was argued was that the some of the venues used to count the votes were too big ("Like an aircraft hanger" was the expression used) so that observers were too far away to see what was going on.

Anyone who has actually attended a UK election or referendum count will know that the actual counting and checking takes place on normal-size tables at which representatives of all interested parties including candidates and the press can stand on the other side from the counters and watch what is going on from a few feet away. They are sorted into bundles with coloured cards to identify which way the votes in each bundle were cast, and then the counted and checked votes are put on piles in a central table: although the observers could not possibly read an individual vote on the table they can tell how the piles are growing for each side and if there were some discrepancy between the votes on the central table and what they had seen counted on the ones they were watching, experienced observers would notice.

Ridiculous as the Russian allegations were, they prompted 100,000 people to sign a petition calling for a new referendum witnessed by independent international observers. (Actually there had been such observers present and all observers except the Russian ones said that the referendum had been a model on how to conduct a free and fair poll.)

The Times also reported that the Sputnik, a Russian "News Agency" had been promoting the allegation - which they wrongly attributed to the head of Labour Leave, Brendan Chilton, by means of misleading selective quotations - that the Labour MP Jo Cox had been murdered by the "Remain" campaign in such a manner designed to appear that a Brexit supporter had carried out the attack so as to create a sympathy vote for the "Remain" side.

Mr Chilton said he was "appalled" at the "absurd, shocking and completely unprofessional" way Sputnik had misrepresented him as supporting this view by means of selective and misleading quotations. He added that he would be making an official complaint.

As the Times leader said, "Vladimir Putin rules not only over Russia, its space and its citizens but also over an alternative reality where black is white, night is day and right is wrong."

Until such day as an honest politician comes to power in the Kremlin and completes the most herculean cleansing of Mr Putin's Augean journalistic stables, all information from any Russian state outlet should be taken with a bucketful of salt.

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