Lies and logical fallacies How Russian state TV covered Moscow’s election protests for the first time
On August 3, more than a thousand people were arrested during Moscow’s latest unsanctioned protest for fair citywide elections. Similar protests have been a regular sight in the Russian capital since mid-July, but this week represented the very first time Russian federal television stations all covered the demonstration in their weekend roundups. In those segments, state TV hosts and writers all took on a critical stance toward the August 3 protesters, and many of them made similar or identical claims. Meduza fact-checked those arguments.
Claim: The protest was intentionally disguised as a stroll around the city
Vesti Moscow: This Week in the City: The activists slyly labeled their provocation a “stroll” — after all, who can stop people from walking around the boulevards? […] But in this case, identical posters appeared out of the blue, followed soon after by chanting.
Today: This stroll around Boulevard Ring for supporters of opposition candidates who were not permitted to run for the Moscow City Duma was in fact a stroll by name only. In actuality, it seems that the organizers were very much counting on an escalation of last Saturday’s riots. […] Moscow authorities attempted to compromise with the protesters and expressed willingness to issue a permit for a given location, but for some reason, the opposition activists ignored their offer.
What’s wrong: These segments insinuate that the protest was organized under the guise of a stroll around the city as part of a preexisting “provocation.” That isn’t true. The Libertarian Party submitted a permit request for a peaceful protest, but Moscow officials did not consider any of the locations the party suggested. Instead, the officials suggested their usual alternative, Sakharov Prospect (a fact state TV stations did mention). When Libertarian Party representative Mikhail Svetov turned down that offer, he was arrested as soon as he left City Hall (which the TV segments did not mention).
Claim: Police officers acted “carefully”
Vesti Moscow: This Week in the City: [Police arrested the protesters] carefully, without any disproportionate use of force.
What’s wrong: This claim is false. Police officers and National Guard troops openly treated protesters with brutality and cruelty. They used their batons to beat protesters who refused to walk toward police vans on their own. There has also been at least one reported case of a protester being beaten at a police station following their arrest. All of those actions were recorded, but none of the resulting videos were displayed on state television.
Claim: Those accused in the rioting case connected to the protests beat and threw bottles at police officers
Vesti Moscow: This Week in the City: This is Kirill Zhukov, who punched police officers in the mouth. And this is Samariddin Radzhabov, who threw bottles at the officers.
What’s wrong: Both Zhukov and Radzhabov’s actions were not nearly so severe. The video that accompanies Vesti Moscow’s segment shows Kirill Zhukov making an upward movement with his palm near a police officer’s face as though he is trying to lift the visor on the officer’s helmet. The evidence in the case against Zhukov does not include any testimony that the police officer involved felt pain or received injuries.
In Radzhabov’s case, police officers said they saw a single plastic bottle fall to the ground near them, not multiple bottles as mentioned in the Vesti Moscow segment. A police officer with the surname Linnik did testify that he felt pain after being hit in the neck with a plastic bottle.
Claim: The candidates protesters marched to support had submitted fake signatures on their petitions to run for the Moscow City Duma
Vesti Moscow: This Week in the City: Lyubov Sobol is a record-holder when it comes to collecting fake petitions. She submitted autographs to the election commission that were purportedly made by dead or entirely nonexistent people. Many of her fellow opposition candidates did the same.
Today: And here are some real examples of violations in the opposition politicians’ petitions — a few so-called dead souls. One of Lyubov Sobol’s signatures came from Natalya Ivanovna Sokolova. She passed away in May of this year and signed, according to these documents, in June. One of Dmitry Gudkov’s supporters was Alexander Britvin, who died a few months ago.
The Times: There’s also an even easier way to check [the signatures]: You can input the passport numbers in the Internal Affairs Ministry’s public database. There, you’ll find a number of “dead souls.”
What’s wrong: The segments imply that all or most of the opposition candidates’ signatures belonged to dead or nonexistent constituents, but that isn’t true even by official standards. For example, Lyubov Sobol submitted 4,940 signatures to her local election commission, and 712 of them, not all, were blocked (that number was lowered to 688 on appeal). Among those several hundred signatures, only four were found to belong to constituents who had died, and 23 names were supposedly nonexistent. The rest of the signatures were rejected for “other violations, including errors in filling out forms and inaccurate data about signature collectors.” Neither Sobol nor any of the protest’s other figureheads is a “record-holder” when it comes to submitting dead people’s signatures.
Sobol and other independent candidates have stated multiple times that most of their signatures were rejected either due to inconsistencies between constituents’ actual passport data and the data entered in the Internal Affairs Ministry’s database or due to reports from official graphologists who said some groups of signatures were in fact written by a single person. Voters later wrote statements confirming that they had signed the petitions themselves, but local election commissions and the Moscow City Court simply did not consider those statements in their decisions not to allow the candidates to register.
Meanwhile, NTV claimed that Dmitry Gudkov’s petition included a signature from a dead man while displaying a petition onscreen that was submitted for an entirely different candidate, Alexander Solovyov. Solovyov’s name is visible near the top of the photograph displayed.
Claim: A significant number of independent candidates will be allowed to run for the Moscow City Duma
Vesti Moscow: This Week in the City: More than 200 people have registered this year as candidates for the Moscow City Duma. Sixty-two of them are independent candidates, and some of those candidates are aligned with the opposition.
Today: There’s nothing unusual about this election campaign. For example, during the last elections in Moscow in 2014, 107 candidacy petitions were denied due to various violations. This time, only 57 were rejected.
The Times: 233 people in total have registered as Moscow City Duma candidates, and according to the Central Election Commission, no more than 20 percent of them support the ruling party. There are currently five candidates running for each open seat, so voters will certainly have plenty of people to choose from.
What’s wrong: These statements misrepresent the nature of independent candidacy. In fact, the 62 candidates mentioned are independents only in the sense that no party officially nominated them. The other 171 candidates were nominated by a particular party. It is obvious that not all of the independently nominated candidates can actually be considered politically independent, not least because the ruling United Russia party did not officially nominate a single candidate this year. Meduza has published a detailed report in Russian revealing which of this year’s “independents” have ties to United Russia or to Moscow City Hall.
State television reporters did not clarify why an overall decrease in the number of rejected candidates this year might justify the rejections issued to individual candidates.
Claim: Some of the protesters cannot legally vote for Moscow City Duma deputies
Today: Among those who demanded a different kind of election were individuals who cannot yet vote because they remain underage.
What’s wrong: The implication that non-voters should not protest is a logical fallacy. Just like Moscow officials’ arguments that some protesters have been traveling to Moscow from outside the city, these segments try to sell viewers on the logic that if you don’t have the right to vote in Moscow, you don’t have the right to demand fair elections there. In fact, both underage Moscow residents and those who live just outside Moscow are heavily affected by the Moscow City Duma’s decisions. The City Duma approves all citywide laws and budgets, and those measures affect anyone who is located in Moscow no matter their age or their official place of residence.
Claim: Western governments take harsher measures against protesters
The Times: In France, it is mandatory to negotiate with police and notify the mayor’s office [about protests] at least three days in advance. […] In Sweden, police must be notified seven days in advance about any gathering larger than 15 people. […] In Great Britain, notification is mandatory six days in advance.
What’s wrong: All of the regulations listed are less harsh than those that are currently in place in Russia, where protest organizers must notify officials of their plans at least 10 days in advance if the action in question involves more than one person. That fact (and the details of the permit approval process itself) went unmentioned in the segment, which only directly compared the maximum sentences available for legal violations during protests.
Claim: A volunteer who collected signatures for Lyubov Sobol is among those jailed for rioting
The Times: Climbing onto pillars [along the protest route], the man directed protesters along, inciting them to jump up and down together and shout slogans in the style of Ukraine’s Maidan tactics. He was always at the front of the crowd. It later became clear that the man was Sergey Fomin, who collected signatures for Lyubov Sobol’s campaign. […] Sergei Fomin has been jailed under the criminal case against mass rioting in Moscow.
What’s wrong: At the time the segment was released, Fomin had not been jailed. His home had been searched, and he had been called in for questioning, but he was only listed as a witness in the rioting case. Only the following day did reports emerge that Fomin’s status in the case was changed to that of a suspect, after which Fomin was brought to a courtroom to determine whether he would await trial in jail.