Fake news on Russia in the Guardian

The Russian parliament has just passed a law which makes it an offence to insult [1] the state or its symbols. [2] The offence  is punishable by a fine or a period of administrative detention of 15 days.

To put this new law in content – the punishment of 15 days administrative detention is already on the statute book and is used for such crimes as repeatedly holding unauthorised rallies.

It is also worth pointing out to British readers who may not be aware of this that in Russia respect for the state instituions is in reality something which is held as important by people. Laws aside, most people simply have a value system by which showing disrespect to the state and its symbols is unthinkable. Most Russians would find the level of disrespect which is considered perfectly normal to show towards the institutions of state in Britain, for example in TV shows, as shocking. This is how it is. A different culture and a different value system. The law being enacted (by the elected Parliament) does what good laws do – it codifies the accepted customs of the people. Whereas people who are not familiar with Russia might easily be forgiven for not appreciating the cultural and social context in which this law has been passed it is not clear how this point can pass by British ‘journalists’ who reside in Moscow.

When Guardian propagandist Marc Bennetts (and no doubt other Western journalists) reports on this law as part of a wider narrative about a supposed clampdown on freedom in Russia by some sort of supposed Putin dictatorship the only explanation is he is being deliberately misleading – either that, or despite the fact that he lives in Moscow, Marc Bennetts has no awareness of the culture in which he lives. (We don’t need to have recourse to any particularly sinister explanations; no doubt he is just producing the copy which his editor wants).

The alternative explanation is that this is part of a wider drive to use the law to strengthen the cohesion of Russian society. Similar laws concern making extremists statements online and (in a bill related to this one) spreading false information which engenders society.  This latest bill is part of this drive. This measures in this drive reflect the views of many voters. The measures are debated in parliament and have been subject to criticism and re-evaluation. (The overuse of the law on making extremists statements online has been a subject for open debate within Russia. [3]) None of this fits the overly simple “Putin is a dictator who is suppressing freedom” story line favoured by e.g. The Guardian. So; it isn’t reported.

Whether or not society can be strengthened by such laws and whether or not you can legislate extremism and (as it might be seen in Russia) anti-social and socially disruptive forces out of existence is another question. Perhaps there is too blind a faith in the power of legislation here. But the way this news is packaged up for consumption in the West renders it essentially “fake news”.

It is worth adding that insulting the symbols of the state is an offence in many countries. In France it is apparently an offence to insult the flag or national anthem. In certain contexts this can result in a jail term of 6 months [4] – far more we can note than the 15 days administrative detention in Russia. But the insatiable desire in the Western media to misrepresent Russia will ignore all context. A few facts are extracted and fed to the British public through the template marked “Putin bad / Russia dictatorship we can’t wait to get our hands on their resources”.


1. The word used in Russian media is оскорбление which is translated as “insult, offence, affront, outrage, abuse”.

2. https://www.rt.com/russia/453243-duma-fake-news-law/ 



3. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2018/12/19/state-duma-approves-putins-proposal-to-soften-extremism-law-a63893

4. https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCodeArticle.do;jsessionid=4CFEE8C62B57E9BE28B98BBCEDC74445.tpdjo14v_2?idArticle=LEGIARTI000006418556&cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006070719&dateTexte=20080601

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer