Cablegate: Russian Tv Paints Georgia-Us Plot in South Ossetia

DE RUEHMO #2343/01 2241311
O 111311Z AUG 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Russian TV paints Georgia-US plot in South Ossetia

1. (SBU) Summary: Russian broadcast coverage of the events in South
Ossetia has placed the onus of the conflict on Georgia. We have
noticed signs that some broadcast and electronic media outlets are
distorting coverage to suggest that the conflict is part of a
U.S./NATO plot against Russia. Broadcast coverage was devoted
particularly to civilian casualties, allegedly inflicted by Georgian
troops, and reports of Russian military activity within Georgian
territory received little to no play. Reports of U.S., NATO, and
other "unfriendly" (ex. Ukrainian, Baltic) involvement on the ground
and support for Georgia are cited regularly. Statements by U.S.
officials are covered but often accompanied by commentary making it
clear Georgia is acting on behalf of U.S. interests. More
alarmingly, false stories originating on the Internet have started
to gain speed, claiming direct U.S. military involvement in the
conflict. Overall, the Russian media has bent the truth at the same
time it accuses the West of an anti-Russian bias. End summary.

Good vs. Evil

2. (SBU) Russian television has turned the conflict in South
Ossetia into a classic good (Russia) versus evil (Georgia/U.S.)
narrative. Rossiya, the state television channel, focused its
coverage on the successful efforts of Russian and South Ossetian
troops to beat back Georgian "aggression" and the civilian
casualties inflicted by Georgian troops. Action shots of Russian
tanks and North Ossetian "volunteers" rolling towards Tskhinvali are
interspersed with pictures of wounded South Ossetian civilians,
local residents hiding in their basements, and damaged and destroyed
buildings. All civilian casualties are attributed to Georgian
troops and little or no mention is made of Russian military action
in Gori or other areas outside South Ossetia. Russian officials
accusing Georgia of "genocide" against South Ossetia are thrown
into news broadcasts and heavy emphasis was placed on the
humanitarian crisis "created" by Tbilisi. These genocide
accusations were accompanied by calls for South Ossetia to be
severed from Georgia, as seen on the August 11th afternoon news
broadcast on NTV, a domestic Russian TV channel.

Washington Pulling the Strings

3. (SBU) While Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili is
personified as being most responsible for the "crimes" committed in
South Ossetia, both Rossiya and Channel One (another
state-affiliated broadcaster) portrayed the U.S. as ultimately in
control of the situation. Rossiya made a point of showing
Saakashvili announce martial law in English, with the newscaster
saying that Saakashvili was "awaiting" a statement from POTUS.
Reports of up to four U.S. arms shipments per day to Georgia by the
Russian website have sprouted on the Internet. These
reports later surfaced in the 1 PM news broadcast on NTV, a Russian
domestic channel. In addition, online media announced over the
August 9-10 weekend that U.S. soldiers were captured or killed in
South Ossetia; these reports have since disappeared by the afternoon
of August 11, but Interfax quoted a South Ossetian hospital
administrator as saying there were "foreigners" in his facility.
Likewise, carried a report dated August 11 asserting
that mercenaries from Ukraine and the Baltic states were fighting in
South Ossetia on the Georgian side. While these stories have not
gained much traction yet, their existence suggests that pro-Russian
forces could be floating a trial balloon to see how the public
responds to an anti-U.S., anti-foreigner campaign.

The Deck is Stacked Against Us!

4. (SBU) Russian media and officials have also been preoccupied
with the "biased" Western broadcast reporting of the conflict. On
August 10, Channel One and Rossiya both devoted large amounts of
airtime to criticizing Western television coverage as being
pro-Georgian and of turning a blind eye to the plight of South
Ossetians who have suffered from Georgian aggression. In a Rossiya
report on a BBC report of the Russian bombing of Gori, the
commentator said the BBC's coverage "... suggests that should Russia
get the upper hand over Georgia, other former Soviet republics may
come under threat." Channel One noted on the night of August 10
that "His (Saakashvili's) statements and footage of what is
described as Russia's bombing of Gori is what Western coverage is
limited to. The goal is that no one in the West should have any
doubts about who attacked whom in this conflict." If this
commentary was not clear enough, the Russian news service Interfax
quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Karasin as saying "We would
like Western television to broadcast not only pictures of Russian
tanks... but also show the suffering of the Ossetian people, dead
elderly people and children, villages razed to the ground and
Tskhinvali lying almost in ruins. This would be objective reporting.

MOSCOW 00002343 002 OF 002

The rest are politically-motivated versions."

5. (SBU) Russian print media, which reaches a smaller, but arguably
more elite and influential audience, has published a wider range of
coverage and opinions, some critical of Russian's actions. Like
broadcast, the print press also highlighted the media's role
covering the conflict: Business-oriented Vedemosti noted that,
"Russian authorities allowed their Georgian opponents to win a
blitzkrieg in the media ... Saakashvili gives several interviews on
Western TV every day, depicting Russia as the aggressor. ...As soon
as the attack on Tskhinvali began, Russian authorities should have
sent foreign journalists to the conflict zone, under protection of
the Russian military, and give the floor to OSCE representatives who
would confirm the scale of destruction, and victims among civilians
and peacekeepers. Instead, Russian TV told about Saakashvili's ties
to the U.S."

7. (SBU) Comment: The message Russian television is sending its
audience seems to be threefold: 1) We're fighting the good fight; 2)
It's a Washington-Tbilisi conspiracy against Russia; and 3) We are
not going to get a fair shake in the Western media. The goal seems
to be to convince the Russian domestic audience that Russia is not
only engaged in a noble struggle but that it had no choice because
of Washington's and Saakashvili's machinations. The focus on the
"unfair" reporting by Western media could be an attempt to inoculate
the Russian public from future international condemnation of Russian
activity in the region. Thus far, intentional plants or
misrepresentation in the Russian media seems mostly confined to the
Internet and wire services.

6. (SBU) Comment continued: The other interesting feature of
Russian television reporting is its emphasis on the inhumane
conditions allegedly created by Georgia. Accompanied by comments by
South Ossetian and Abkhazian leaders that Georgia had forfeited its
right to rule over South Ossetia, Russian media may be trying to lay
the groundwork for the Russian government to make a comparison
between Kosovo and South Ossetia with the argument that like Kosovo,
South Ossetia should be severed from its current ruler out of
humanitarian considerations. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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