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‘Russia Today’ said foreign news outlets and Navalny’s team spread a fake video about Sunday’s deadly aircraft fire. Two days later, the network retracted the story.

Источник: Meduza
Sergey Fadeichev / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

On May 7, the Russian state television network RT (formerly Russia Today) published an online article (read the original version here) that was titled: “Fake News: Sheremetyevo ‘Dispatcher’ Video Spread by Ukrainian Bloggers and Navalny Supporters.” The report accuses “accounts from Alexey Navalny’s media network” and other “public opinion leaders,” like Radio Svoboda, Golos Ameriki, Deutsche Welle, and the bloggers Rustem Adagamov and Andrey Malgin, of spreading footage that allegedly shows Moscow airport staff laughing at Sunday’s deadly fire aboard an SSJ100 aircraft.

The “dispatcher” video

The video was originally titled: “‘Making Sparks Fly’: Sheremetyevo Dispatchers Mock the Tragic SSJ100 Landing”
Kryzhopol Kryzhanovsky

After this footage appeared online, Sheremetyevo airport announced that neither its staff nor anyone from Aeroflot was involved in the video. “Sheremetyevo’s management will demand the strictest punishment for those who participated in the recording of this video, which features statements that go against all the norms of basic human decency and professional ethics,” the airport said in a press release. In the video, individuals watch the SSJ100 make its emergency landing, as one man jokes that the plane “landed well, making sparks fly.”

RT’s article says its attribution claims are based on research it ordered from the media-monitoring firm “Kribrum,” a project run by former Rambler executive director Igor Ashmanov and his wife, Natalya Kasperskaya, the owner of “Infowatch.” Ashmanov and Kasperskaya have criticized the instant messenger Telegram for refusing to cooperate with the Russian authorities and endorsed a new law that will enable the federal censor to “isolate” the RuNet from the outside world.

In 2016, the newspaper Vedomosti reported that a foundation subordinate to Russia’s Communications Ministry invested 150 million rubles ($2.3 million) in Kribrum. This March, together with RT, Kribrum started publishing irregular “Harassment Ratings” to catalog the abuse public figures supposedly suffer in Russia’s news media. In the first release of these ratings, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan was listed in second place. Since then, Kribrum has published these ratings only twice more, most recently on April 8.

Following RT’s report, Alexey Navalny immediately responded that neither he, nor Ruslan Shaveddinov and Ilya Pakhomov (his two supporters who were mentioned in RT’s Telegram post about the story) ever shared the “dispatcher” video. On May 8, Deutsche Welle communications director Christoph Jumpelt also released a statement “categorically denying” RT’s claim that it shared the dispatcher video and demanded that RT retract the story.

“The report deals not with the [social-media] accounts of these individuals, but the accounts that support the activities of these public-opinion leaders,” a spokesperson for Kribrum told Meduza, explaining that 380 Twitter users shared the video, 64 percent of which (243 accounts) “have more than 11,800 markers of close ties (reposts, hyperlinks, quotations, and so on) to the Internet resources of Alexey Navalny or his entourage, which are included in his media distribution network.”

On May 9, RT edited its article, adding the text: “This report previously stated that the ‘Sheremetyevo staff’ reaction video was shared by Deutsche Welle, Golos Ameriki, and Radio Svoboda. This is inaccurate.”

RT published a similar correction on its Telegram channel, rephrasing its allegations against the “accounts of Shaveddinov, Navalny, Pakhomov, and others” into claims about these people’s “supporters.” RT also removed from its Telegram post an image showing a page from Kribrum’s report that refers directly to the Navalny team’s “accounts,” not its supporters’ accounts. RT does not acknowledge that it deleted previous references to these figures’ Twitter accounts, and the network doesn’t explain what “supporters” it is now citing.

Mikhail Zelensky

Translation by Kevin Rothrock