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U.S. envoy demands stronger action against Russian, Chinese disinformation in Western Balkans

Western Balkan countries are vulnerable to Russian and Chinese disinformation, “a big chunk” of which comes out of Serbia, a U.S. diplomat whose job involves exposing and countering foreign propaganda said on April 11 in an interview with RFE/RL.

James Rubin, coordinator for the U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center, said the distribution of the disinformation and propaganda out of Serbia is a major problem that needs to be dealt with.

Asked about RT Balkan, an online Serbian-language project launched in November by the Russian state-controlled media operation formerly known as Russia Today, Rubin said, “We would not like to see Russia Today or Russian media outlets anywhere in the world. We’d like them shut down.”

Rubin said the West has been slow to realize the dangers of disinformation and information manipulation not only from Russia but from China as well.

“They’ve been spending billions and billions of dollars on [projects] in the information domain for many, many years. And I think we need to step up our game,” he said.

The European Union banned broadcasts by RT and Sputnik, another Russian state media outlet, in March 2022 just days after Russia invaded Ukraine. Around the same time Google Europe said it was blocking YouTube channels associated with RT and Sputnik.

Rubin said it’s no secret that there are outlets in the Western Balkans that repeat Russian lies and disinformation. He cited an example of reports about biological weapons in Ukraine, saying this has been rejected by the Biological Weapon Convention in Geneva.

“All these flat-out disinformation lies, unfortunately, in the Western Balkans are too prominent and too pervasive,” said Rubin, speaking to RFE/RL in Pristina. “I’ve come here to talk to the governments that can do something about it.”

Rubin, who visited Montenegro on April 10 and traveled to North Macedonia on April 11, said he recognizes that it is a difficult problem and said the United States is “not perfect” in its own approach, but Washington would like to see governments in the Western Balkans do more.

“We’d like to see them set up government entities that can begin to examine and analyze this problem so that we can try to put a stop to it,” Rubin said.

The steps they can take include labeling foreign government accounts as such and ensuring that foreign ownership of media properties is transparent, he said.

“People shouldn’t think this is just your average Chinese person saying something….They should know it’s a government account,” Rubin said.

In addition, governments should ensure — to the extent that their regulations allow — that if an outlet is simply duplicating a Russian lie that it can’t claim to be produced by journalists.

Rubin said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken selected him for the job of coordinator for the Global Engagement Center because he wants the United States to increase its efforts against propaganda and disinformation.

“Secretary Blinken believes that this is a real and significant threat to the world and has pointed out that this happens every day all over the world,” he said.

Source: rferl

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