Watchdog: Anti-Western Propaganda Increased in 2020

A new report on anti-western propaganda, published by Media Development Foundation (MDF) – a local media watchdog, shows overall growth in statements against the West and a gradual increase in messages portraying Russia as the power with no alternative in Georgia.

The report, covering the period from January to December 2020, indicates that the amount of anti-U.S. and anti-Western messages have increased across the board in the given monitoring period, with those targeting the U.S. almost doubling compared to 2019. Anti-American messages also have the highest share among the anti-Western narratives.  

But, MDF noted, in contrast to previous years in 2020 Kremlin and its affiliates had to employ defensive communication on top of their offensive strategies, to “counteract the response of the West to hybrid threats emanating from Russia.”

The study was carried out in partnership with the UN Association of Georgia (UNAG) within “Promoting Integration, Tolerance and Awareness Program in Georgia” implemented by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Media Development Foundation has studied anti-Western propaganda in Georgia since 2014. Their sixth annual report monitored 15 outlets, including TV, print and online media, analyzing a total of 3,545 anti-Western comments.

Anti-Western message box

MDF reported that the rise in anti-U.S. narratives was partially accounted for by messages about internal developments in the U.S., and the Kremlin-friendly Alliance of Patriots “campaign” to discredit National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute in the run-up to Georgia’s 2020 parliamentary elections.

The watchdog identified three new types of propaganda messaging targeted at the U.S. – allegations about deep polarization and rigging of the 2020 presidential elections; messages about systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd; and portraying lobbyism in the country as corruption.

With regards to the European Union, the watchdog said new messages concerned accusations of the COVID-19 pandemic having jeopardized the 27-member-bloc’s unity. “2020 saw the increase in messages about uselessness of the Association Agreement for Georgia,” the report also noted.

MDF reported that messages against NATO had halved in 2020, possibly explained by “the absence of any initiative in the direction of integration.” Still, the watchdog said new narratives portrayed NATO as non-functional due to the pandemic, and its security altered after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

According to the report, anti-Western messaging highlighted Moscow’s role in the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and portrayed Russia as the only power capable of protecting Georgia against “threats” coming from Turkey and Azerbaijan. In this context, MDF said that the 2020 “Cartographers’ Case” investigations into the alleged ceding of land to Azerbaijan “created a fertile ground” for pro-Kremlin groups to divert attention from the Russian occupation. 

The watchdog argued that the anti-Western propaganda also channeled identity politics – along with older accusations that Western values are incompatible with Orthodox Christianity and that the West causes moral degradation of Georgia, new messages alleged that President Joe Biden’s election would further the “LGBT agenda.”

Conduits of disinformation: Media, Parties and Organizations

MDF said the main source of anti-Western messages was media (1,943), followed by political parties and politicians (634), separate representatives of society (566), civil organizations (321) and the clergy (81).

According to the watchdog, the Alliance of Patriots dominated with anti-Western comments, followed by Georgian March (38), Neutral Socialist Georgia (21), Georgian Dream (21), Georgian Idea (19) and Kartuli Dasi (19).

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