Clarifying Sputnik’s Critical Coverage Of IMEC In Light Of Putin Praising This Megaproject

Sputnik’s track record of thus far only criticizing IMEC risks offending some close Russian partners like BRICS’ Indian co-founder as well as the group’s new Emirati and Saudi members.

Plenty of people wrongly assume that publicly financed Russian media outlets are state-run because of the example set by Western ones like Voice of America (VOA), but Sputnik’s coverage of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) debunks this perception. It first published a piece on Monday citing a Chinese and a Russian expert who explained to them “How US Could Turn India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor Into Destabilizing Tool”.

Less than a day later, however, President Putin said the following during the Eastern Economic Forum:

“I believe [IMEC] will only benefit us. I think this will only help us to develop logistics. Firstly, this project has been discussed for long, for as much as several years. Truly, the US jumped into this train at the last moment. I do not see much sense for them to be in this project. Probably, only from the standpoint of business interests. Meanwhile, the extra freight traffic along this route essentially supplements our North-South project. We do not see anything there that can somehow interfere with us.”

Sputnik didn’t get the message though as proven by their follow-up piece just a few hours after that.

Titled “US Railway Plan in Middle East Will Be Another Case of ‘Much Said, Little Done’: Chinese Experts”, it’s actually the republication of a Global Times article as was disclosed as the end. To be clear, Sputnik has the right to republish whoever’s articles its editors want for whatever reason per its partnership agreements like the one that it has with Global Times. That said, this particular republication is ironic since Sputnik earlier updated their audience here about President Putin’s aforesaid assessment of IMEC.

In view of the abovementioned sequence of events, here’s what probably transpired behind the scenes.

One of Sputnik’s editors could have decided to interview experts who they expected would share critical assessments of US-linked IMEC because they felt that this angle would appeal to their audience. A different “power vertical” within that company was presumably responsible for the live updates on President Putin’s speech, and this team had no contact with the preceding one. That first team, unaware of the Russian leader’s praise of IMEC, then republished the Global Times piece from three days ago.

None of this would have happened if Sputnik was state-run like plenty of people wrongly think.

In that scenario, some government agency would have ensured that Sputnik didn’t criticize the same series of megaprojects that President Putin planned to praise later in the week, not to mention republishing a critical article shortly after he praised IMEC. The subject either wouldn’t have been covered at all, would have been covered fairly instead of only critically, or would have only been covered from a positive angle. Instead, IMEC was only covered critically, including after President Putin praised it.

While there are some benefits to this editorial approach, the detriments arguably outweigh it.

On the one hand, it proves that publicly financed Russian media isn’t state-run, thus counteracting malicious claims that these outlets are so-called “propaganda”. On the other hand, however, it can’t be taken for granted that most of their audience will realize that this editorial approach even exists. Rather, they’re much more likely to remain under the false impression that Sputnik is state-run precisely because it’s publicly funded, and this could lead to confusion among casual and expert observers alike.

The consequences of the first misinterpreting this approach are minimal compared to the latter.

Average folks’ views don’t influence the formulation of foreign policy, with the only real consequence of them misinterpreting this being that they might eventually become disillusioned. By contrast, the views of expert observers influence the formulation of foreign policy by dint of their profession, whether they’re members of think tanks or diplomats. The consequences of them misinterpreting Russian foreign policy as seemingly evinced by its publicly financed media could therefore become problematic.

Sputnik’s track record of thus far only criticizing IMEC risks offending some close Russian partners.

BRICS’ Indian co-founder is part of that megaproject as are the group’s new Emirati and Saudi members, all three of whom are very friendly towards Russia and helped it manage the West’s sanctions onslaught. If their think tank experts misinterpret Sputnik’s criticism as having been ordered by the state, not to mention if their diplomatic experts make the same mistake, then hard-earned trust could be damaged. That’s why it’s so crucial to clarify that this critical coverage is only some editor’s preferred angle.

Possible misunderstandings like this one could be avoided by Sputnik covering sensitive issues fairly.

Anything of relevance to Russian partners should give equal attention to both sides instead of solely criticizing whatever it may be. In IMEC’s case, the already published criticisms could have easily been balanced out by talking about its promising long-term economic prospects and emphasizing how it’s the modern-day version of an historical trade route. Had that editorial approach been employed instead of the partisan one, then it wouldn’t matter whether expert observers thought Sputnik might be state-run.

Hopefully this advice will be heeded and Sputnik won’t ever risk such sensitive misunderstandings again.

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