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Discussion: Western money flows to pro-Russian media in Serbia and the region

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BRUSSELS – Serbia, Bulgaria and other countries in the region have media outlets that openly support the Russian side in its aggression against Ukraine and deliberately spread misinformation about this conflict, while obtaining funding from the West for their operations. ” was declared during the debate held on Tuesday in Brussels, organized by the Balkan Free Media Initiative (BFMI).

During the debate, it was noted that large Western companies operating in the Western Balkans region often advertise in the so-called Kremlin media, despite the fact that their international policies and guidelines prohibit this, as does their commitment publicly expressed in favor of combating disinformation, and not only in the context of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Titled “Defunding Disinformation in the Balkans: How International Brands Support the Russian Agenda,” the event showed how global brands and advertising agencies risk strengthening the Kremlin’s influence, contributing to the deterioration of the landscape information in an already politically unstable region.

MEP Andrey Kovatchev said democracies must build an immune system to resist forces that attack democratic values, notably through disinformation. “The European Union must become a leader in protecting freedom of expression while regulating the online sphere and promoting media freedom against disinformation,” Kovatchev said.

Peter Horrocks, long-time director of the BBC, said the media in Serbia and Bulgaria are not strong enough, adding that there is not enough funding for independent, quality journalism.

He explained that on the contrary, through advertising, Western money goes to websites and TV channels that have low editorial standards and support pro-Russian discourse. » This is why it is important for advertisers who appear in these media to understand this. problem,” adds Horrocks.

Data from the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) shows that more than 65 percent of media advertisers reporting negative on the European Union (EU) and positive on Russian propaganda come from ‘West.

Some of them do not know how their advertising money is spent, because this type of decision-making often involves intermediaries who choose the media in which to advertise. The problem worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, when many companies unknowingly funded media outlets and portals spreading misinformation, organizers said.

Amid growing concerns about the impact of disinformation on security and democracy in the region, the panel highlighted the responsibility that the European Union, international brands and advertising agencies bear to ensure that advertising strategies of companies do not contribute to the promotion of Russian influence and the erosion of Russia. media freedom in the Balkans.rus

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