We need comprehensive national strategies for the media sector
In the last of a three-part article, Elina Lange-Ionatamišvili and Diāna Potjomkina give some recommendations for combatting Russian propaganda, suggesting that the strategic priority for the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova should be the development (or empowerment) of comprehensive national strategies for the media sector and for cross-government strategic communications, which should be integrated with other state policies. Read the first and second parts of this text.
The states in question should focus on promoting a wide array of alternative views in a democratic and thriving media environment that cannot be dominated by any single force. Special attention should be devoted to providing quality information in minority languages, focusing on the promotion of own national narrative rather than fixating on dismissing Russian propaganda. For this purpose, providing help and platforms to independent voices from Russia would be a wise investment.
Such effort will require also an increase in funding for a public broadcaster in the Russian language. As mentioned above, the free market in most cases cannot ensure that the media fulfills the educational and integration functions, promoting civic awareness, statehood ethos, and a feeling of belonging to the state, etc. This also cannot be done by the independent Russian media that would, in any case, remain oriented on Russia.
Integration of the Russophone population is made even more complicated by the lack of a neutral and high-quality national media in their language, which could include them in the national-level communication sphere. A dramatic increase in the national budget for public broadcasting in the Russian language, building international coalitions, and attracting external funds are a must for establishing effective and engaging communication with the Russophone part of society.
Another important aspect for governments to consider is the need for a strict, transparent, and well-enforced media and media-related regulation for putting an end to deception and manipulation. Ensuring transparency in media ownership at all times, introducing more robust corruption prevention measures, and actively prosecuting the harassment of journalists are some of the key steps.
Last but not least, it is of utmost importance to improve mass media professionalism as well as the (digital) media literacy of society. This could be achieved by different support programs for training and education, and also via social advertising (for example, an advertising campaign teaching society how to recognize propaganda products).
All of the above also goes hand-in hand with introducing changes in other state policies such as education, integration of society, regional development, and others. Although the main problem is undoubtedly Russian propaganda, it must be admitted that the propagandists cleverly exploit problems in the target states and societies.
Elina Lange-Ionatamišvili, is a senior expert at the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Latvia.
Diāna Potjomkina is currently a research fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs; she has a more than four years’ national- and EU-level experience in the civil society sector. Her main research interests include Latvia’s foreign policy and Europeanization processes, Latvia’s relations with the Eastern Partnership states, and civic participation in decision-making.
 These recommendations are based on the results of the event “Mass Media – Competing for People’s Hearts and Minds in Russia’s Neighborhood” held in Riga, Latvia, on 12 September 2014, and separate contributions by Andres Jõesaar, Alexander Rondeli, Ainars Dimants, Alex Grigorievs, Dmytro Kondratenko, Petro Burkovskyy, Jānis Kārkliņš, Viktors Makarovs, and Elīna Lange-Ionatamishvili. The authors and organizers behind the report are grateful to everyone involved. Individual experts who have provided contributions to this report cannot be held accountable for the final set of recommendations.