In response to NewsGuard’s emailed questions about the site’s editorial practices, Dmitry Sudakov, editor of English.Pravda.ru, sent NewsGuard analyst Eva Maitland a letter from Pravda.ru’s editor-in-chief, Inna Novikova, which he said he translated from Russian. The letter is published here unedited.
Please find below a detailed response to your questions.
Let me start with the last and apparently the most important question about the “dirty bomb” and IAEA’s opinion that you referred to in this regard. There is defamation in your original question, in which you accuse Pravda.Ru of lies and lack of critical thinking. A “dirty bomb” and nuclear weapons are two completely different things that could equated to each other as much as a tomato could be equate to a mango.
About the “dirty bomb” and nuclear weapons
A “dirty bomb” is like a container in which radioactive materials are collected. Those can be either nuclear waste or military-grade radioactive substances.
A bomb like this is activated by the burster. A detonation occurs, and a radioactive cloud covers an area of several square kilometres. When such a bomb explodes, it is radioactive substances rather than an explosion per se that cause most of the damage as they get sprayed over a large area. Radiation pollutes everything around. Radioactive contamination and radiation sickness will threaten every living being in the affected area.
A nuclear bomb is a much more complex device that is based on the generation of an uncontrolled nuclear fission reaction. It requires a highly purified fissile material (either uranium-235 or plutonium-239). When a nuclear bomb detonates, the explosive sets off a nuclear reaction that releases massive amounts of energy. One nuclear bomb can destroy an entire city. You and I know this from Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, on which the United States dropped Little Boy and Fat Man bombs.
If we talk about a “dirty bomb” and required components for it, there are enough of them in Ukraine. They can be obtained from nuclear waste storage facilities of nuclear power plants in the first place.
Therefore, by asking the question, you were misinformed about the essence of the matter. I have selected three links on the matter for you:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2003/dirtybombqa.shtml, Mental Floss https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/20719/nuclear-bomb-vs-dirty-
nuclear-bomb-whats-difference and TermoFisher Scentific https://www.thermofisher.com/blog/identifying-threats/whats-the-difference-between-a-dirty-bomb-and-a-nuclear-bomb/.
I don’t know to which extent these publications are authoritative for you, but they are not Russian, but British and American websites. You can search for more information in other sources by googling, for example, “difference between dirty bomb and nuclear weapon”.
Other examples of NewsGuard false claims about Pravda.Ru
Let’s look at other NewsGuard false claims about Pravda.Ru:
Co-founders of the resource, referring to NewsGuard analysts, providing no hyperlinks and thus misleading their subscribers, write about Pravda.Ru false narratives. Let’s look into that with hyperlinks:
– the U.S. is developing bioweapons to be used against ethnic Russians
Was it Pravda.Ru that made it up? No: our publication indicated the newsmakers – Vladimir Putin and Franz Klintsevich. Do American publications quote American presidents differently?
– Ukrainian officials have purchased multi-million dollar properties in Switzerland https://english.pravda.ru/news/world/154770-zelensky_welfare_queen/.
Why didn’t NewsGuard say in this case that Pravda.Ru didn’t make it up? Pravda.Ru referred to a FoxNews broadcast in which Candace Owens made this statement in the Tucker Carlson show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ovSJDRr_Wg?
- Ukrainian military sold French-made artillery systems to Russia
In this text, we also link to the original source – Bulgarian Military https://bulgarianmilitary.com/2022/07/05/ukraine-has-sold-two-french-donated-155mm-caesar-howitzers-to-russia/.
It just so happens that NewsGuard calls the materials that contain links to the source of information (whether your sponsors like it or not) false. This is typical propaganda, typical disinformation.
Moreover, it is one of the founders of NewsGuard, Steven Brill, who gives such assessments. It appears that Mr. Brill was related to jurisprudence at one point of his journalistic career. What kind of jurisprudence is that, if it favours lies? Can we talk about personal decency here at all?
Steven enjoys the support from Gordon Crovitz, another co-founder of NewsGuard, who has been openly criticised in the past for spreading lies in The Wall Street Journal: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120726/03471619840/wsj-still-hasnt-corrected-its-bogus-internet-revisionist-story-as-vint-cerf-xerox-both-claim-story-is-wrong.shtml
Eva, your bosses are professional liars and defamers. If you are interested in the openness and transparency of journalism, if this is your calling – to understand the transparency of media and information, how can you work with such people?
About “opinionated language” and specific text
Here the question primarily lies about a difference in journalistic approaches. Let’s take a roundabout approach to the subject.
Russian journalism dates back to the 17th century. Its founding father is legitimately believed to be Archpriest Avvakum, the author of “The Life of Archpriest Avvakum.” You are unlikely to know anything about him, because Russian journalism is not part of educational courses at faculties of journalism in the USA, although Russian universities do have courses of American journalism. Surprisingly, the first Russian guideline defining journalist was an oppositionist. One of the first newspapers was “The Chimes About All Sorts of News” (1676).
In the United States, journalism was born not much later, in 1690, with Benjamin Harris being its founding father. The first successful newspaper, The Boston News-Letter, was published in 1704. It was indicated in the newspaper that it was “Published by Authority”.
In both cases, these were primarily political publications with factual news. While developing, American journalism came to separate facts and opinions, while Russian journalism remained primarily a journalism of opinions. If materials in Pravda.Ru are published with /news in the Url, then this is obviously news. News stories are published in a separate block highlighted by “News” heading. As a rule, news articles are three or four paragraphs long. If you are familiar with journalism, you should probably know at least a little about its genres.
When you ask a question about the publication “Why is it too early for Putin to press the red button?” https://english.pravda.ru/world/155854-
ukraine_provocation/, I can say that:
- If an article in Pravda.Ru is published indicating the author outside the news section, this means that this is an author’s article that contains conclusions of this specific author;
- The article that you mentioned is based on specific sources – messages in Ukrainian Telegram channels. In other words, the conclusions of the author are based on actual evidence from eyewitnesses;
- Lyuba Lulko https://english.pravda.ru/author/lulko_lyuba/ is a well-known author, a Pravda.Ru observer, who has significant audiences in both Russian and English versions of Pravda.Ru. Many follow her articles and we can see that in the stats of the publication.
Can you please explain to me what you mean by opinionated language in this particular article? What is it that remains unclear to you as experienced journalists, in the quoted statements? We could explain, as we have repeatedly done so in classes with students of journalistic departments, the principles of the structure of journalistic work, the application of the laws of logic and the development of statements. We are ready to do this for free to provide educational assistance.
Therefore, our views on the use of “opinion” label differ, based on our traditions of journalism. At the same time, please note that Pravda.Ru refers to sources, whereas your resource, which gives assessments to media outlets in transparency, is not transparent in its assessments. In our opinion, NewsGuard is an openly propaganda resource that has little to do with credibility in journalism, as I showed above with examples of conclusions about Pravda.Ru made by the founders of your resource.
In a brief excursion into the history of journalism in Russia and the United States, we found out that it appeared at least half a century earlier in Russia. Do you think that colleagues from the USA are entitled to impose their own standards on us so that we forget the traditions of Russian journalism and meet American standards instead? It’s too self-confident and even somewhat ridiculous to not respect other peoples’ cultures and identities, don’t you think?
About ownership data
You are right here, they were not indicated in full, but only because the English version is not the main one for us. We work for our Russian-speaking audience in the first place. This can be seen in the number of published materials. In February, we published 25 articles and 126 news stories in the English version of Pravda.Ru, while the Russian version carried 273 articles and 4,916 news articles.
Ownership data have been available on the Russian version for a long time: https://www.pravda.ru/ownershipfundinginfo.html.
Thank you for pointing this out to us. We have included the missing information for the English page accordingly: https://english.pravda.ru/ownership.html
The owner of the publication is Vadim Gorshenin, a Soviet and Russian journalist who started his professional career in the newspaper in 1983 (this year marks his professional anniversary – 40 years in journalism).
He was engaged in human rights activities, chaired the Public Supervisory Commission of the city of Moscow for three years (the organisation exercises control over the observance of prisoners’ rights).
Serving a member of the commission, Mr. Gorshenin initiated and achieved the following:
– the implementation of telemedicine in pre-trial detention centres in Moscow, which then spread to many Russian regions;
– against the backdrop of a shortage of places for meetings between lawyers and those under investigation, he insisted on implementing their meetings in absentia through a closed Internet connection. Long queues of lawyers in Moscow pre-trial detention centres have become shorter as a result.
In the above-mentioned article, NewsGuard co-founders write about Pravda.Ru’s affiliation with a political ally of Vladimir Putin. That is, they know perfectly well who the owner of our publication is. I told this to Vadim Gorshenin. He chuckled:
“A real journalist, even a government supporter, always remains in opposition to the government on some issues. This is how Pravda.Ru has behaved in recent years. We criticised pension and tax reforms. That was a point of view of our journalists, and they expressed it freely.
“Yet, if the American near-journalist environment refers to me as Putin’s political ally, then I am glad to be an ally of the president, who writes and edits his speeches himself, who can stand four-hour live meetings with journalists, and who does not shake hands with air, fall on airstairs and try to publicly call dead people to ask their opinion. I am proud that Russia has a capable president who thinks, who does not read from a prompter what assistants write for him, who does not forget the names of countries and the names of his interlocutors.”
Pravda.Ru and authorities
It is clear that there was a catch in the question about ownership data: it is Pravda.Ru’s alleged connection with the Kremlin and the authorities that you had in mind. In your already mentioned note, your bosses pointed out that Pravda.Ru was a pro-Kremlin publication.
However, Pravda.Ru has been subject to several ridiculous (in our opinion) administrative fines during the recent years. The fines came from Roskomnadzor (the government agency that regulates the media in Russia). One of them (you won’t believe it!) was imposed for retelling the news of the government information agency. Last year, we were unable to officially change the founder of Pravda.Ru from OOO Technomedia (which is owned by Vadim Gorshenin) to Vadim Gorshenin himself for nine months. If someone believes that the publications that are close to authorities may have such problems, then he or she is deeply mistaken.
It is also worth asking whether a publication close to authorities could publish this article by late Senator John McCain who explicitly criticised Vladimir Putin in it: https://english.pravda.ru/opinion/125705-mccain_for_pravda_ru/
We did this because it was the dialogue between politicians, their arguments and opinions that were important to Pravda.Ru in the first place.
Let me ask you a counter question: how often, where and to which extent did the leaders of your resource, including the co-founders, criticise the US President, the government, US intelligence services for military operations in Iraq, Libya, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and other countries of the world? By showing your incompetence in defining such things as “dirty bomb” and nuclear weapons, how many times and where did NewsGuard co-founders criticise US authorities for using atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
You may want to ask a question about our position on the Ukrainian crisis.
It’s easy to answer. Starting from 2014, many Pravda.Ru correspondents were living in Donetsk and Luhansk regions with rockets and artillery shells flying above their heads as the Ukrainian authorities were killing their friends and loved ones. The Ukrainian authorities held one of our correspondents, a young woman, a hostage for a significant amount of time.
We wrote about this on our pages, but no Western publication supported us, not even out of professional solidarity.
One more question for you, Eva:
NewsGuard, as it can be seen from biographies published on your site, has many journalists who worked in different publications. Has anyone of them published a news article, an article, a comment about the Kyiv authorities bombing their own citizens in Luhansk and Donetsk regions? Have they published anything on the subject at least once from 2014 to 2022?
Maybe the current Ukrainian conflict started, among other things, because of the Western press that was taking such a position? If our American and European colleagues had reported the events that were happening in Luhansk and Donetsk regions then just as they do now about the Ukrainian conflict, maybe the Russian military operation in Ukraine would not have taken place? The Western press, despite its influence on public opinion, did not want to take advantage of the possible “peace lobbyism” then.
About the business of the English version of Pravda.Ru
For us, publishing this version is not a business, because it operates without bringing profit.
The English version is currently edited by Dmitry Sudakov, who has been working with us for many years. He browses articles on the Russian page of Pravda.Ru that appear most interesting to foreign audiences (from his perspective) before they get translated and adapted for English-language readers. In his work he tries to convey the positions of both the Russian authorities and the Russian people to foreign audiences.
About the corrections policy
We don’t have a separate page where we report corrections, but it’s easy to spot that in published materials: if there is a modification date next to the date when the material was published, it means that the text has been changed, corrected, modified, etc.
There are many such texts in 22 years of history of the English version. Our CMS, unfortunately, does not allow us to search for modified texts, so it is difficult for us to search for examples, let alone the fact that this is time consuming.
As we assume, the questions about the corrections policy was an additional one to supplement the main ones about the dirty bomb, opinionated language and ownership data. If I were you, I would prefer to ask a question about Bucha, but you did not, even though the answer would be of interest for you too, I guess. NewsGuard has published a lot of lies about Bucha, and you did not even try to hide those lies behind an alternative point of view to those events, even if it were a sketchy point of view.
NewsGuard employees assessing Pravda.Ru
Despite the fact that I wrote a fairly detailed answer to your questions, I could not help but notice a biased approach in your questions, as well as in assessments of NewsGuard co-founders.
Are we concerned about an assessment that your company employees may give us?
No, we are not.
Do you know why?
Firstly, as I wrote above, the English version is not a business for us. There is no profit there. It is maintained mainly by the income that we as a publisher receive from the publication of the Russian version. Unlike in the vast majority of Western publication, the English version does not have advertising articles or lobbyists. No one pays us for this or that editorial policy. As long as this is a private project, there is no censorship in it. Dmitry Sudakov chooses independently what to publish and what to skip.
Secondly, our audiences are completely different from those of NewsGuard.
Pravda.Ru readers are those who try to think and analyse news, opinions, comments, and independently develop their own point of view on events.
You have a different audience – your readers are ready to pay a little money so that someone else thinks and decides for them what they need to read and what they do not need to read. They voluntarily entrust themselves to censors who lie in their assessments, as we found out above. This is what they call audience zombification. In our country, even in the days of the Soviet Union, people managed to read books that had been banned by censorship.
We believe that the future belongs to those who make independent decisions, rather than those, who let censors decide instead.
I would be grateful if my full opinion could be published on your pages, although I am convinced that Pravda.Ru does not fit into either NewsGuard standards or its policy of lies even though your users pay you expecting to get a high-quality product in return.
Thank you for reading my comments to the end,
(I asked Dmitry Sudakov to translate the email and send it to you)