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I'm sure this is not an easy question, but one that I feel is important.

Since the start of the Ukraine crisis of 2015 with the Crimean takeover, I've often heard people from Russia saying things about it that I either find far-fetched or just unrealistic, as they really differ from what I heard in the (German) news. For example, a friend of mine told me that the whole development was planned by the USA, which would now profit from the decreasing money rates in Eastern and Western Europe. What I find interesting is that he got that idea from a Russian television broadcaster.

I haven't heard anything like that in the German news, which lead to this question.

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    You're basically asking us to weigh the relative bias in Russian vs. other media. That's going to be very subjective, and may not lend itself well to question and answer format. I'm willing to follow community lead here, but I don't think you'll get a good answer. Jan 2, 2015 at 2:43
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    I am from Russia and we do have strong propaganda, but I'm afraid that the same rate of propaganda is at Easrtern media, because independence of the media from government does not make it independent of its sponsors or funds. When I'm struggling with the acception of any piece of news I ask myself only one question - "who would benefit from this?" - and sometimes it really makes sense.
    – Aleksandr
    Jan 2, 2015 at 19:05
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    I suggest a somewhat different approach than comparing German media to Russian media. Try to compare German media to German media, basically how they report on different conflicts. Compare, for instance, how they report on current crisis in Ukraine to how they reported on the crisis in Syria and Libya. The both Syria and Ukraine currently (and formerly, Libya) suffer a civil war. Do you see any difference in how the media treats the government side and rebels in these cases? This will more or less provide an answer to your question.
    – Anixx
    Jan 30, 2015 at 11:55
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    Objectivity is something you can´t expect from both sides when war is going on.
    – convert
    Jan 24, 2022 at 14:16
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    There is a huge amount of subjective bias in Western reporting - after all, they all back one side wanting it win (Ukraine vs. Crimea & Donbass). Meanwhile, they have just the opposite bias with Syria or Serbia's Kosovo (wanting Western-backed rebels to score against a recognized state).
    – alamar
    Feb 15, 2023 at 17:54

5 Answers 5

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As you said, it's nearly impossible to do a short answer.

However, as good basis of understanding:

  • Nearly 100% of Russian mass media (including 100% of TV) is controlled by Russian government, directly or indirectly

  • Very little of German media is controlled by the government, German or especially USA. Most of them are far to the left of Merkel, and aggressively opposed to Merkel politically; and mildly-to-strongly anti-US (e.g. Der Spiegel).

    The same is true in many other Western countries.

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    Good point, but there has been an interesting survey just some days ago: According to this german source, 47% of the population says that western media wouldn't report objectively about the crisis. I'm searching for reasons why that are so many people (actually more than those that think the opposite).
    – Tacticus
    Jan 2, 2015 at 19:25
  • )(2) espeically compared to the Russian situation - but perfect objectivity isn't attained. (Sorry for the exclusively german sources but I'm sure your favorite translation service will work that out)
    – user45891
    Jan 2, 2015 at 21:29
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    @Tacticus, there's a difference between an absolute objectiveness (which probably does not exist in human world) and completely forged, fake news like "crucified and then eaten russian-speaking infants" being replicated over and over on the russian "news". This article (in German) has a good insight. Jan 9, 2015 at 21:54
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    @Tacticus Survey data should always be taken with a grain of salt. The data doesn't tell you what is true, it only tells you what the majority of the people believe to be true. Also, survey results can be influenced a lot by how exactly the question is worded.
    – Philipp
    Mar 7, 2015 at 12:34
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    From my exposure to russians, most of them fully believe the propaganda and don't care about some contrary Telegram channels. Very anecdotal evidence, but the point is "low priority to go digging" is true for them too
    – user4012
    Feb 15, 2023 at 13:38
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As has been alluded to, you must consider the interests behind each source, reporter, and publication (I will just talk below about US vs Russia, as the West-East divide seems far to large and imprecise to talk about differences in objectivity).

In general, publications want to keep existing, which means their directors must keep happy those who provide their financial resources. In the US this typically means fulfilling readers and the publication's owners political interests (what they think should be produced; these can be your typical ideas of liberalism and conservationism, or even science, art, and money). In Russia news publishers are more biased toward the owners political interests but because they are not all completely subsidized by the state, just more often persuaded by it, the paper must still satisfy readers' politics.

While the reporter also seeks financial resources, they live within a broader culture of ethics, morals, and norms that will influence their capacity for objectivity. Are the journalist cultures in the West and Russia different? How do we show that they are or are not? In both places there are similar formal rules about investigative journalism and reporting, and in both places these rules are broken. Taking from 'Sturgeon's revelation', it is important to assess the best 10% (PBS news hour, political science journals and newsletters, reputable surveys, new yorker, lenta.ru, ) and not wade through the 90% of crap journalism that is inevitably inherent everywhere (CNN, Foxnews, Wallstreet Journal, Nytimes, pravda, RN). When looking at that best 10% of journalism, in Russia there remains substantial physical and financial fear to refrain from reporting objectively. In the US objectivity is curbed by personal and cultural subjectivity and financial interests. Currently in Russia the physical fear and financial fear come from the same place and have interests in maintaining a singular national power. This means that the careful reader can more easily observe and account for bias in Russian publications than in the US whose objectivity comes from multiple venues, but this does not mean that their is truth within either a Russian or US article. Rather it means it is easier to assess bias in Russian publications than in US publications. I believe, to get clarity one must investigate on their own and evaluate the information and knowledge claimed.

Sources of information, whether they are from a scientists or political activists, also have political interests. While if we have sorted out the publication's interests and the reporters' we should be able to determine how a source is found, its quality determined, and how it is used, investigating the source is another important element to being properly informed.

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    I tend to agree... State controlled media exhibit directed bias, from the state. Commercial media in the west exhibit a commercial bias: they emphasize or play down what they think will yield the greatest commercial benefit to them. Consequently, there is a wider range of 'opinionated news' in the west, sort of a 'choose your bias', but the reader interested in the full story is still left with quite a treasure hunt.
    – tj1000
    Jun 19, 2017 at 17:02
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    "what they think should be produced" ... I do not buy milk because I think the milk "should be produced". I buy it for drinking. Same about the information.
    – Stančikas
    Feb 15, 2023 at 14:05
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The way the Western press reports on Ukraine is not very objective despite not telling outright lies the Russian state controlled media is guilty of. What goes wrong with the Western media is that it chooses to report on only some issues, so this is then more a problem a problem of "reporting half truths" instead of reporting outright lies. So, by only reporting about the military aspects of the Ukraine crisis, many core issues of the problem are almost totally ignored.

E.g. in a big BBC report of a few days ago, only a few sentences were devoted to the fact that in a village that has been held by rebels for quite a while, most people are not loyal to Kiev, while the population used to be split 50-50 between pro-Kiev and pro-Russia sides. This is highly relevant for the dynamics of the conflict, yet almost totally ignored.

So, it is possible to effectively tell lies by only telling truths, and the Western media are masters at doing that. But how can that happen if the media is free? The answer is that it happens because the media is too free. What is printed in the press is dictated too much by what people want to read about. After all, the primary objective is to sell newspapers. Sensational stories will drown out other stories, leading straight to the half truth problem.

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    -1: this post if full of biased statements and unbacked claims. They were "just unbacked" in 2015, but after two years since this post was made, it becomes clear that most of the claims are simply false and essentially replicate the Russian state propaganda. Jun 19, 2017 at 17:44
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    @bytebuster This has nothing to do with Russian propaganda. You have to consider that the Western media does have a soap like aspect to it where too much attention can be given to some popular story, which then distracts from other issues that are more important but less popular. The media is also about educating people and a media that's too free is like a school where the children set the agenda instead of the teachers. Jun 19, 2017 at 22:44
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    See here for the same issue in a wider context. Jun 19, 2017 at 23:30
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    The Western press may not be inventing outright lies but it will happily relay outright lies produced by somebody else if they can get a quotation. The example is Denisova who eventually was let go by Ukrainian side but until then used as a source of quotation.
    – alamar
    Feb 15, 2023 at 13:09
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    I agree that the Western press isn't exactly the pinnacle of objectivity but your answer is fallacious and doesn't quote real examples of the Western media being wrong. Feb 15, 2023 at 17:10
3

Some thoughts on this:

  1. Information warfare (IW) is now an integral part of modern warfare. As such, it is naivety to believe that media sources can be truly independent and neutral when there is tremendous pressure from the powers to be to disseminate certain information or withhold some news from the general public during a war.
  1. Many privately owned Western media outlets are definitely more independent than state-owned media like the Russian or Chinese ones. However, independence does not necessarily often result in neutral news. Indeed, a very worrying modern trend has been billionaire corporates buying news media outlets to influence democracies. Some Eg.:

“It is the newspaper in the capital city of the most important country in the world. The Washington Post has an incredibly important role to play in this democracy. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.” - Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, on buying Washington Post

“Independence means if government has done something wrong, you say it’s wrong. But at the same time, you should have courage when the government is doing the right thing every day. You have to also say that.” - Indian billionaire Adani, on buying NDTV (a news channel in India willing to criticise Narendra Modi’s government).

A perception has thus gained that reputed and independent news outlets are now being hijacked by the "military-industrial" complex:

The change in quality of news could be one of the reasons why a recent American survey highlighted that trust in media is so low that half of Americans now believe that news organizations deliberately mislead them.

Thus, corporate owned news media can be considered very similar to state owned news outlets when the profit-motives of the corporates are aligned with a government's wartime goals.

(Note: Despite the scourge of corporate owned medias, democracies in general are better sources of news as they are more liberal about freedom of expression and people face less repercussion when they share an alternate perspective. Thus, you will often find more news, varied news in a democracy than in Russia or China.)

  1. A huge problem in today's world, created especially by the internet, is that people are increasingly attracted to "news" they want to hear.

Confirmation bias is the natural human tendency to seek, interpret, and remember new information in accordance with preexisting beliefs. Consider it our brains’ default setting. Just by going through life, humans discover all sorts of information through focused research, general experience, and wild hunches—and it feels especially good to our brains when what we learn matches what we already expected. Also called “myside bias,” confirmation bias is an innate, universal trait that shows up across cultures. - How to Break Out of Your Social Media Echo Chamber

Most of us today do not want to go through the cognitive dissonance of hearing news that doesn't match our worldview and thus deliberately avoid being educated.

“If you are getting all your information off algorithms being sent through your phone and it’s just reinforcing whatever biases you have, which is the pattern that develops, at a certain point, you just live in a bubble, and that’s part of why our politics is so polarized right now. I think it’s a solvable problem, but I think it’s one we have to spend a lot of time thinking about.” Barack Obama, January 2018, CNN.

(Ofcourse, that insight from Mr. Obama hasn't stopped the US from running spy operations that manipulates social media yet again indicating how much pressure even democratic governments feel to control the flow of information to the public).

  1. A huge problem with point 3 (echo chambers) is the lack of quality "gatekeepers". Reputed and professional media outlets (whether private or state owned) are essentially "gatekeepers" that control what information we have access to. We accept this because we expect these "gatekeepers" to sift through huge quantity of information and presents us the correct / genuine facts. A whole industry (journalism) has been found for this very purpose. But when we now seek information on our own, from social media echo chambers, we may not get information that are factual and correct. In fact, sometimes, echo chambers also twist facts citing reputed media outlets as sources (which could explain why your friend is partially right about the west being involved in the war, while wrongly believing the war is about devaluing currency to make an economic profit).

  2. With respect to all of the above, and in particular to the Russian - Ukraine war, it is thus prudent to consider all media sources as offering a certain biased perspective while the war is ongoing. And so a truly complete picture of the unfolding war is only possible by hearing the "propaganda" and "news" from all sides involved in the war (Russia, NATO and Ukraine).

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  • A media outlet owned by the "billionaire corporate" is not an independent press of any kind.
    – Stančikas
    Feb 15, 2023 at 18:32
  • @Stančikas Unfortunately that's the trend now in developed and developing economies that are democracies. But it is still somewhat better than state-owned-only media, as corporate owned media can turn against the government, if their owners want to, but state-owned media cannot do that.
    – sfxedit
    Feb 16, 2023 at 17:32
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In a normally functioning society, independent press sells the information. Correct information is vital for the modern human.

You can find in every newspapers, what is the current a day of the week and the weather forecast. If I read it's Sunday and it is Monday, this may cost me my job. If I go for a hike prepared for the completely wrong weather because of the bogus weather forecast, this may just kill me. Most important, I would really like both Sunday and sunny warm weather daily but I still pay for this information to be correct. Same goes for the rest of the newspaper. It cannot be any democracy without independent press. How would you vote without knowing what is going on? No objective media, no "westerns values" then ... well this is exactly that Russian PR is talking about.

The Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. This right exists for the reason. The truth is essential.

Another answer writes, readers pay for publishers for "what they think should be produced". Nope, I do not think to pay the publisher for always printing it's Sunday today. Journalists need to do some analysis even for calendar, and for weather forecast they already need sources of information, while not yet WikiLeaks. This is that they need for every article that is worth reading.

Independent journalism builds the reputation over many years. These newspapers are normally trusted because they have not been lying at least very obviously ten, twenty and more years ago, about the things that are now clear for everyone.

Here is the article on how The New York Times fact-checks in an age of misinformation and this is how The Guardian does. And here is the code conduct of Meduza.

Due that, I think, sources that I consider independent I also consider reliable, especially that they give quite a comparable picture of the Ukraine events. It is not beneficial to take a position "I trust no one" as this just removes the ranking: then nothing can be trusted, all sources should be equally reliable and then PR of all kinds readily fills in your head with bullshit up to ears, you will never be able to verify one tenth of it while working on this full time. You need to decide whom you trust. I still believe in independent press.

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    While largely true at some fundamental level, I'm afraid you overestimate people's desire to be objective. As we are learning more and more, most people are happy to be fed what they like to hear, especially when the truth is ugly or uncomfortable. They will happily forget yesterday's incorrect weather forecast. Too many people get their news from tuned echo-chambers, whether in social media or politically-aligned TV. In this context, one of the reasons of much higher yet accepted bias of the Russian media is that the truth is much uglier for a Russian than for an average "Westerner".
    – Zeus
    Feb 16, 2023 at 0:36

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