Photo: German Federal Minister of Interior, Nancy Faeser.

Document Leak: German Government Admits Plans to Shape Reporting On War In Ukraine

Did the German government interfere in how the war in Ukraine should be reported in Germany?

At the end of September, the NachDenkSeiten exclusively published an internal document of the federal government, leaked by a whistleblower, which showed concerted action to shape reporting on the war in Ukraine with the participation of a network of news corporations, educational institutions, think tanks and so-called “fact checkers. According to the leaked document, the objective is to alleged fight Russian disinformation. The concept of Russian disinformation is not explained, but presumed.

The whistleblower explained to NachDenkSeiten that he was deeply shocked when he received the document. For him, it was “the concerted attempt at narrative synchronization”.

“In my eyes, it is a glimpse into the abyss of bundled activities of a horizontal (cross-departmental) and vertical integration of modern state propaganda. From the ministries and their partnerships with transatlantic think tanks like the ISD down to the press, “fact checkers”, social media, “multipliers”, “critical civil society” and so on. You don’t even stop at the involvement of schools and children of primary school age,” the whistleblower reportedly said.

On 11 October, the German federal government confirmed the leaked document was authentic. This was in response to a written request sent to the federal government by Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) member of parliament, Götz Frömming, asking: “Can the federal government verify the authenticity of the document made public by a whistleblower entitled “Ongoing activities of the departments and authorities against disinformation in connection with the RUS war against UKR”? confirm or deny?”

The German government replied:

”The general overview “Current activities of the departments and authorities against disinformation in connection with the RUS war against UKR” was created by the federal government. It is intended to ensure a common level of information on the measures taken by the departments and authorities to counteract the targeted dissemination of false or misleading information, especially in the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”

The response from the federal government also stated that the document would not be published for the time being:

“There are no plans to publish this working document on the website of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland at this time,”

What the Leaked Internal Document Says

The whistleblower said that the document was only “the tip of the iceberg” and that the projects listed were not complete.

The leaked document is entitled “Current activities of the departments and authorities against disinformation in connection with the RUS war against UKR”. It has10 pages and lists the activities of the federal ministries and subordinate authorities in detail as of June 27th, 2022.

In the document, Russian “disinformation” is tacitly understood to mean all information coming from official Russian sources, such as the Kremlin.

The document calls for the concerted “linking to fact checkers on the websites of the federal government”. The funding sources of the self-described fact-checkers is not seen to pose a potential problem of conflict of interest. For example, the private fact-checker Correctiv is financed mainly by the Canadian billionaire and Ebay founder, Pierre Omidyar.

As part of the “narrative synchronisation”, the document states that brochures on “disinformation in the context of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine” are to be produced and sent to federal ministries, members of the Bundestag, states and municipalities. The list is supplemented with the reference: “Distribution to multipliers in civil society is ongoing.”

The document also contains a section dedicated to cooperation with the press. A background discussion with Der Spiegel is mentioned, as well as the preparation of articles and interviews with Interior Minister Faeser, with explicit reference to STERN and Tagesspiegel media.

The document further states that the term “Task Force Against Disinformation” has been successfully established in reporting.

The plan also aims to conduct “outreach into the parliamentary space”, that is, influencing members of the Bundestag and state parliaments.

A critical point in the so-called “10-point Resilience Plan” is to influence social media platforms to promote narratives that allegedly fight Russian disinformation, with talks to be held at “State Secretary level”. The document asks to intensify “cause-related” contacts and discussions with social media companies”in order to sensitize them to state-controlled disinformation”. Explicit reference is made to Twitter, Meta, Google and Telegram.

The document states that the deputy government spokespersons are regularly in “bilateral exchanges with Google/YouTube, Twitter, Meta, Tiktok and LinkedIn” to discuss the “respective strategies of the platforms to combat disinformation, especially in the context of the war in of Ukraine”.

The Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM), which is responsible for Germany’s media policy with a budget of over 2 billion euros, is mentioned as a major participant in the fight against Russian disinformation. According to the document, the BKM is planning a new funding program “with a focus on promoting news skills among the general population to combat disinformation.”

The Ministry of Family led by the Green politician Lisa Paus is mentioned as a key player. The private Foundation Zentrum Liberale Moderne (LibMod), which is close to the Green Party, is listed as a collaborator in the fight against alleged Russian disinformation. LibMod is involved in the highly controversial project “Opponent Analysis” which labels system-critical media as a “radicalization machine”. On the website of the project “Opponent Analysis”, the background statement reads:

“More and more people are using so-called “alternative” media as a source of information. They have a far-reaching effect on society and fuel distrust of parliamentary democracy, science and the media.

Opponent Analysis critically examines channels that see themselves as opposed to the existing media public. We want to explain how the system-opposition counter-media become a radicalization machine and what can be done to counter them.”

The document states that the Family Ministry is funding the LibMod project with six-figure amounts as part of the federal program “Democracy Life!”
The leaked plan also targets educational institutions, with attempts to influence “curricula in the schools and by involving the adult education centers and voluntary structures.”

The use of child reporters from the age of 6 against “disinformation” is mentioned. The document states: ”Child reporters – strengthening news competence and thus resilience to disinformation of 6-14 year olds through active media work.”

Training on fighting disinformation for federal government employees is provided by private third-party providers such as the “Institute for Strategic Dialogue” (ISD) and the “Business Council for Democracy” of the Hertie Foundation, which lobby for NATO. Board members of the ISD include Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the management consultant Roland Berger and the CEO of Axel Springer, Matthias Döpfner.

The Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport, which is responsible within the federal government for the “legal framework for digital services”, is mentioned as another central instrument in the fight against Russian disinformation. According to the document, the BMVD is responsible within the federal government for “enforcing the ban on Russian media, RT and Sputnik. NachDenkSeiten pointed out that the document’s use of the term “ban” in incorrect because in fact, there is no “ban on the distribution of RT and Sputnik”. The EU regulation passed on 1 May 2022 explicitly refers to “cessation of broadcasting activities”. In addition, this regulation is a “non-legislative act”.

The Ministry is described to be in “regular exchange with the online platforms on engagement in combating disinformation”

Reference is made to the “EU Code of Conduct on Disinformation”, the “Digital Services Act” (DSA) and a “Regulation on the Transparency and Targeting of Political Advertising”. According to the leaked paper, the Digital Ministry hopes that the DSA will provide “incentives for more commitment to combating disinformation”.

It is also emphasized that the Ministry plans to bring up the topic of “disinformation” at the “G7 Safety Summit” bring up the topic of “disinformation” in November 2022, and the use of “software-based technologies to combat disinformation.”

According to the document, the implementation of the “Action plan by the federal and state governments against disinformation and for a well-fortified democracy” has begun.

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