Melbourne-based Russian radio show probed over Kremlin propaganda

The Australian media regulator is investigating a Melbourne-based Russian community radio program after receiving complaints it was broadcasting Kremlin propaganda on the Ukrainian war, pushing President Vladimir Putin’s false narrative that Russia is seeking to “demilitarise and de-Nazify” Ukraine.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority said it was concerned about the complaints it had received. Some called for the program to be immediately shut down, but the station’s manager said it would take six weeks to investigate, due to the fact the station was run by volunteers and many things needed translating.

Residents clean up the damage from a missile attack in Kramatorsk.Credit:Kate Geraghty

The war in Ukraine is in its fourth week and Moscow has been amping up its information war against the West to justify its actions. Many major Western news outlets have been forced out of the country and the Kremlin has blocked Russians from accessing numerous social media platforms.

The Russian program on Melbourne ethnic community radio station 3ZZZ regularly espoused Putin’s disinformation as recently as last week. The listeners are often non-English-speaking migrants and are unlikely to get their information elsewhere.

Host Oleg Bydanov praised ultranationalist Russian MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky on the February 25 program, one day after the invasion of Ukraine, and claimed he was smarter than all Western politicians and foreign policy experts, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“Vladimir Zhirinovksy’s prophecy [about Donbas] has come true,” Mr Bydanov said in Russian.

“Whatever you think about him – I personally respect him and forgive him for his eccentricity – he is a professor who understands geopolitics better than all the experts in the west including our Morrison here and all the rest. He prophesied, he’s been in hospital with COVID for a few weeks, but he forecast when he was still in Parliament in a debate in September or October that it would all start in February of 2022.”

Mr Bydanov then played a speech Mr Zhirinovsky gave to the Duma, the Russian Parliament, where he said while he wanted peace, if the Ukrainians did not comply with Moscow’s demands, Russia needed to show the world it was a great power.

He also broadcast Mr Putin’s speech to the nation on February 24 in which he recognised the independence of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and said the war was justified to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine. In the broadcast, Mr Bydanov falsely claimed the Russian army was not firing at Ukrainian towns.

On March 4, Mr Bydanov revealed his former boss was Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of Russia and a member of Mr Putin’s inner circle, who has been sanctioned by Britaiin and the US under both countries’ Magnitsky laws.

On the March 4 program, Mr Bydanov also spoke to Russia’s Ambassador to Australia, Alexey Pavlovsky, who said he wanted to explain Russia’s point of view but that it was hard because of the pressure he was under in Australia and the “one-sided press”. He added he was concentrating on social media to communicate Moscow’s position, and that he approved of Mr Bastrykin’s work.

“My former boss Alexander Ivanovich Bastrykin, he’s now the head of the investigative committee, says there are more than 450 criminal cases open for crimes in Donbas,” Mr Bydanov said.

On the February 25 broadcast, the host played a Russian propaganda song mocking protests in Kyiv which led to the overthrow in 2014 of Moscow-backed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

A new announcer hosted the most recent broadcast on March 18 and made no political comment about the war, but she played an excerpt from the Russian news which talked about atrocities committed by Ukrainians against Russian speakers in Donbas.

3ZZZ manager Jon King said the station was investigating the program after receiving multiple complaints, but the probe would take up to six weeks.

“We’re a volunteer-run organisation and we have to allow volunteers time to respond to things,” Mr King said.

“Because we’re an ethnic radio station, we have to have things translated, which takes time and costs … We don’t want the investigation to take six weeks, we want it to be quicker … but the irony is the continuous correspondence we receive from complainants is taking additional time and is taking me away from the investigation.”

An Australian Communications and Media Authority spokeswoman said it had received two complaints about the program.

“The ACMA is concerned about these complaints. It is currently considering the matter and has been in contact with the broadcaster regarding the program and their response,” the spokeswoman said.

“Community radio broadcasters operate under a co-regulatory scheme. Co-regulation gives broadcasters an opportunity to respond to the complainant in the first instance.”

However, Denis Muller, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism, criticised the regulator and the radio station for not immediately shutting down the program.

“The comments were made a month ago and we’ve got this licensee basically playing for time in the interest of promoting Russian propaganda,” Dr Muller said.

“Why would that not breach a serious constitute of licensing conditions … This is stirring up enmities and hates from [the diaspora’s] old countries and that is deeply against the public interest.”

He said while propaganda had always been an integral part of warfare, Russia was the aggressor in the war and its disinformation should not be allowed to proliferate, particularly in Australia.

Many of the Western major news outlets and activists have been forced out of the country, while the Kremlin has also blocked Russians from accessing numerous social media platforms.

SBS and Foxtel have suspended the broadcast of Kremlin-controlled state media Russia Today and NTV, while federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has asked Facebook, Twitter, Google and other digital platforms to block Russian state media to curb “disinformation in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

Mr Bydanov has been contacted for comment.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article