Russian Australians are watching news from Moscow, but not everyone is falling for Putin’s propaganda

In the months following the invasion of Ukraine, Svetlana has become increasingly concerned about her parents’ television viewing habits.

The 23-year-old’s parents live in rural Australia and rely solely on Russian television – which they stream via Chromecast – for their news.

Svetlana speaks Russian fluently and visited her parents recently, where she was bombarded with a very different view of the war in Ukraine on Moscow-based NTV channel, compared to what is portrayed in the Australian and Western media.

“It was like watching the clips that a lot of media portray of places like North Korea. It was extremely patriotic,” she said.

“I found it to be quite jarring, the Russian TV.”

Local residents ride bicycles past flattened civilian cars in Bucha
Some Russian media claim footage and images from Bucha were “fake”. (Reuters: Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Some Russian Australians who share concerns about the narrative broadcast by Russian state media – which describes the war as a “special military operation” – told the ABC that some channels depicted real images from the conflict, but with thinking context, suggesting Ukraine was the aggressor .

Svetlana – who asked to give only her first name – said her mother thought the war was necessary, although she felt for those who were suffering.

Because she wants to maintain a healthy relationship with her parents, Svetlana avoids the topic of politics. It makes her sad that her parents only have one source of news.

That was a concern for many in Australia’s Ukrainian community too.

A woman with short white hair dressed in Beijing 2008 Paralympic gear.
Iryna Dvoskina, head coach of the Ukrainian Paralympic team, is concerned about what messages Russian Australians are hearing. (Supplied: Iryna Dvoskina)

Iryna Dvoskina, the head coach of the Ukrainian Paralympic team, said she was outraged that Russian news was airing in Australia.

Her parents used to watch Russian TV, as her late father could not speak English, and she would often turn it off.

“He was 100 per cent influenced by the propaganda in 2014,” she said, when Russia annexed Crimea.

She said she was especially concerned for elderly Russians who were unable to speak English being overly reliant on Russian-language news and not getting the full picture of what was happening in Ukraine.

A bald man smiling wearing a black T-shirt.
Dr Michael Baron refuses to watch Russian TV.(Supplied: Michael Baron)

That fear was shared by Michael Baron, a Russian IT consultant who came to Australia in 1991.

He said he was “ashamed” of the view Moscow was pushing and questioned why Russian television was still being broadcast via satellite within Australia.

“They show Putin in a positive light and in a very brainwashing kind of style,” he said.

“It’s poisoning people’s minds.”

Moves to block Russian state media

After the invasion of Ukraine, there have been moves to block avenues of potential Russian propaganda.

YouTube blocked some channels linked to state-owned Russian media, including Russia Today (RT) and news agency Sputnik, citing a policy about content that minimizes or trivializes well-documented violent events.

A photo of a woman clutching blankets with cuts on her face
Mariana Vishegirskaya’s image was shared across the world, but Russian officials claimed she was acting and the photos were faked.(AP: Mstyslav Chernov / File)

SBS suspended news bulletins from Russia Today (RT) and NTV Moscow on February 25, “in response to community feedback from the Australian Russian-speaking community”.

Satellite operator Foxtel also blocked the Kremlin-backed RT the following day.

However, a small number of Russian speakers still have access to Russian news channels on their TV screens, either online or through satellite TV subscription companies, including Connect TV and SatPro.

Connect TV – which does not broadcast RT – said it airs other Russian-language channels and Ukrainian channels “to provide a very balanced coverage of all sides of the conflict”.

“We at Connect TV, together with the rest of the civilized world, are very concerned about the situation in Ukraine and, while we may not share the narrative broadcast by some of the Russian broadcasters, we are trying to maintain a freedom of speech approach, “a spokesperson said via email.

“Our prayers are with Ukraine,” they added.

SatPro, which does air RT, was approached for comment.

A person walking past a green Russia Today logo.
Broadcasts of RT, formerly known as Russia Today, were suspended by SBS soon after the invasion of Ukraine.(Reuters: Gonzalo Fuentes)

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher welcomed the decision by SBS and Foxtel to block the channels.

“Given the current actions of the Russian government, and the lack of a genuinely independent Russian media, he has described this as a responsible decision,” a spokesperson said.

“The minister has also written to the large online companies and asked them to take similar action here in Europe and the USA, in light of the exceptional circumstances that are unfolding in Ukraine, and in the interests of protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in Australia said it was not “officially aware of this” step from the minister, “but if, again, it is about denying Australians their right to freely access information, this is really regrettable, especially in a proud liberal democracy “.

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