Manufacturing Dissent: RT France’s Challenge in a Brand-New Media Landscape
[This article is part of our publication project “RT in Europe and beyond”]
“What are we waiting for, to ban them?”, asked French senator Claude Malhuret, in July 2019. He was referring to RT and Sputnik France during a hearing held by the Senate Commission of Culture, Education and Communication. “Their programmes are not made by journalists; they are made directly by the Department D1 of the FSB in Moscow, as in the heyday of the cold war”.2 Xenia Fedorova, the present director of RT France, immediately fought back and fulminated against “cold war fantasies thrown out without evidence, and accusations and calls for censorship, only because RT France stands apart from the mainstream media”.3 This kind of skirmish between a state-elected official and the French arm of the Russian state-controlled TV channel was not the first of its kind, nor will it probably be the last.
During the 2017 French presidential elections, RT France and Sputnik succeeded in becoming a talking point of the French political debate, as well as a subject of diplomatic tension between Paris and Moscow. In recent years, both publications had managed to make national headlines in France on several occasions, for instance, through the exploitation of social and democratic crises such as the “Yellow Vests” movement. Their names therefore regularly wound up in a number of political controversies.
Today, France is not the same country it was at the beginning of the 21st century. This year – a few months ahead of a new presidential election – the political landscape seems more fragmented and polarised than ever, with a national discussion focusing on Far-Right themes that are being pushed by a changing media environment amid local social tensions and an international health crisis. It is apparent that Russia still attempts to exert influence over the political process in certain Western democracies, and there is no reason to believe that France is now out of the Kremlin”s crosshairs. But Russian propaganda outlets are not the sole players anymore and find themselves challenged by other media players in France. Will RT France be able to locate its own position within this new equation, and still maintain its ability to help shape the future of French politics?
The fog of “disinformation war”
In 1988, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky theorised the concept of the “manufacturing of consent” by the “mass media”, accusing the latter of spreading certain narratives to legitimise elite ideology. This concept, and its weaponisation by other political actors in France, has been highly disputed.4 However, the last decade witnessed the rise of another phenomenon—new actors entered the democratic media arena and did the exact opposite: alternative and foreign state media attempted to destroy any remaining democratic consensus by fuelling controversies and mainstreaming radical voices once confined to the darkest corners of the Internet. This was a “manufacturing of dissent”.
A 2020 study by the Pew Research Centre in Washington DC found that “partisan polarisation in the use and trust of media sources [had] widened in the past five years” in the United States. “Deep partisan divisions exist in the news sources Americans trust, distrust and rely on”, the study found.5 During the 2016 US presidential election, the Centre also noted that “the 2016 campaign [was] unfolding against a backdrop of intense partisan division and animosity. Partisans’ views of the opposing party [were] more negative than at any point in nearly a quarter of a century”.6
Polarisation, and disinformation fuelled by social media, are often considered by some as good explanations for understanding the political outcomes in the United States in 2016; others think the role of disinformation may have been overstated. For example, a 2018 study by Ohio State University suggests that about 4 percent of then-President Barack Obama’s 2012 supporters were dissuaded from voting for Hilary Clinton in 2016 due to fake news.7 Contradicting this view, a 2020 study published in the academic journal Nature Human Behaviour suggests that exposure to fake news during the 2016 US presidential election has been overstated.8
Nonetheless, it is no longer a question whether Russia tried/did not try to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election. The United States’ 2019 Mueller Report declared that the Kremlin did in fact try to garner more public favour for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.9 It is also well documented that the Democratic National Committee’s 2016 email leak was indeed the work of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (still commonly known as GRU). Many reports suggest that there were new attempts made to interfere four years later, during the 2020 US presidential election, with the aim to undermine Joe Biden’s campaign. Social media companies flagged attempts by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) – the troll factory of “Putin’s cook” Yevgeny Prigozhin – to create disinformation networks and a fake domestic left-leaning outlet called “Peace Data”.10 Again, these disinformation operations aimed at capitalising on a pre-existing polarised political environment, this time by recruiting local journalists to write on highly divisive issues.11
Such disinformation exercises, as monitored in the United States, are also visible in other Western countries, especially in Europe. In March 2021, EUvsDisinfo (the European Union’s disinformation watchdog, run by the bloc’s External Action Service) said that Germany was the main target of Russian disinformation. The watchdog tracked 700 cases, since 2015, of deliberately fake or misleading reporting that aimed at spreading disinformation about Germany. In comparison, over the same time period, the institution documented 300 such cases for France, 170 for Italy, and 40 for Spain.12 Weeks before the German federal election in September 2021, RT Deutsch had become the most prominent media outlet on social media. For months prior, the German arm of Russian propaganda focused on promoting fears about the Covid pandemic, and advocating for the far-right party Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland); this generated more than 22 million interactions on Facebook, thereby outdoing the online reach of German mainstream media such as Bild or Deutsche Welle.13
“Russian interference attempts are real. But today we do not have the required methodological tools to measure their real effect on electoral behaviour”, says Colin Gérard, PhD. candidate at the French institute of Geopolitics, where he focuses on Russian informational influence strategy.14 “It widens the scope of possibilities for interpretations, but the reality is that we do not know much and that we have a tendency to forget endogenous factors existing in the countries that are targeted by Russian actors”.15 Those endogenous factors are key to understanding the possible reach of RT France, and other Russian disinformation operations in France. In June 2019, the Institut Montaigne tried to understand if there was a polarisation in French media similar to that in the US, and concluded that:
• the polarisation of the American media space unfolds on a horizontal political axis opposing the left to the right;
• it takes place within the traditional media space (Fox News is opposed to CNN);
• it is aligned with the opposition between political actors and the institutions they represent […]; and
• this phenomenon of polarisation has been emphasised by the emergence of new media to the right of the political spectrum.16
According to this study, a very different kind of polarisation is at play in France. “The polarisation of the French media space is unfolding on a vertical axis, opposing institutionalists to those who could be considered “anti-elites” […] the polarisation of the French media space is less aligned with that of political actors than in the United States, due to the multiplicity of political actors in France”.17 This study concludes that social media, and the creation of more and more new alternative media on both sides of the political spectrum, will only strengthen this trend to further polarisation.
But like in the United States, France is seeing a stark radicalisation of its right-wing media outlets. France even has its own Fox News, called CNews18. In May 2021, the audience numbers for CNews surpassed that of BFMTV news and weather channel for the first time.19 Since then, CNews (owned by French billionaire Vincent Bolloré) has allowed the most radical voices of the far right to pour into mainstream political discourse. Its front columnist, Eric Zemmour, is now a likely candidate for the 2022 French presidential election. Such successes force other mainstream media to rethink their editorial strategies as well, with some shifting towards the right of the political spectrum too;20 this is a few months before a presidential election where the current president is due to face Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the main far-right party, National Rally (Rassemblement National).
“The more polarised European societies are, the more it serves the Kremlin’s general purpose to delegitimise the liberal democratic norm”, confirms Maxime Audinet,21 a research fellow at the French Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (IRSEM) and author of a book on the same subject.22 This would however require RT France to find the optimal position to do that in French politics, and this is more complicated than it was in 2017.
The “wannabe elite” of the anti-elites
Did RT France exert some influence on the evolution of the French media environment over the past five years? “There is, beside RT and disinformation campaigns from abroad, a French media and political space that is becoming more and more savage”, says Roman Bornstein,23 a journalist and researcher at the Fondation Jean-Jaurès. He authored “Digital interference, a manual: Russia and the 2016 US presidential election”,24 and undertook an extensive investigation into RT France, which was published in 2019.25 “The standards that traditionally frame the public debate – whether it is about the codes of political communication, the rules of journalistic work or the border between facts and opinions – are collapsing one after the other. RT France is taking advantage of it, but is not at the origin of it”.26
However, Christophe Deloire (the secretary general of Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF) suggested otherwise in June 2021. During a “France Culture” broadcast about fake news and information warfare, he said: “I can testify, having seen it, that French news networks made editorial decisions that were linked to the competition represented by RT. Executives, in private, said “yes, I made this editorial decision because otherwise RT will gain ground and I cannot let them do it’”.27 But Deloire did not specify which French news network in particular he was referring to, and the RSF did not reply to our request for comment.
“That is exactly the wrong thing to say”, reacts Maxime Audinet. “It gives RT the opportunity to present themselves as what they claim to be: an alternative media capable of reaching a specific audience in the French media landscape. In their communication, it allows them to say that they are an alternative media rather than a media at the service of Russian foreign policy”.28 Sure enough, RT France immediately jumped on the occasion to portray themselves as standing against the established system. Xenia Fedorova, RT France’s director, ironically rejoiced on Twitter: “If we get other channels to raise the bar, it’s a tribute to our efforts… and good news for all audiences 😘”.29
Worryingly, the best publicity for RT France has often been offered by French politicians themselves. During the last French presidential elections, in May 2017, Nicolas Dhuicq – a member of the centre-right party Les Républicains (Republicans) and a staunch defender of Vladimir Putin – gave an interview to the Russian newspaper Izvestia, which was then re-published by Sputnik in English.30 Dhuicq accused Emmanuel Macron of being a “US agent” backed by “a very wealthy gay lobby”. The interview was not even translated in French, or published by the French outlets of Sputnik or RT, but it raised controversy in public political debate anyway.
Two weeks after Dhuicq’s interview, the-then Secretary General of Macron’s party “En Marche!” (“On the Move!”) Richard Ferrand publicly accused Russia of targeting Macron’s campaign with disinformation. “For several weeks now, Russia Today and SputnikNews have been striving to spread the most defamatory rumours about Emmanuel Macron. […] These two sites are the prime relay of all the attacks against Emmanuel Macron, and in particular the threats of Julian Assange”, he wrote in the French newspaper Le Monde.31 According to him, the website of “En Marche!’ and its infrastructures were then the “targets of attacks of various forms every month”.
He also noted that Macron’s then principal political rivals, François Fillon and Marine Le Pen – who both received the support of Vladimir Putin at the time32 – were apparently not the target of such attacks. Macron’s staff started to picture their champion as the French version of Hillary Clinton, with his rivals being depicted as Russian puppets. And because there is no such thing as bad publicity, Sputnik jumped on the bandwagon again, portraying itself and RT as legitimate “free press” outlets under attack by the French government and mainstream French media.33
The suspicions expressed by Macron’s staff were not unfounded. In February 2017, Julian Assange – the founder of Wikileaks, who was considered for many years as one of the arms of the Russian propaganda ecosystem and who also published the leaked DNC emails a year before – said: “We have interesting information concerning one of the candidates for the French presidency – Emmanuel Macron. This data comes from the personal correspondence of former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton”.34 This claim was relayed to the public by both RT France and Sputnik,35 but that so-called information never saw the light of day.
Instead, a few days before the last election run in May 2017, WikiLeaks published 20,000 e-mails stolen from the “En Marche!” party. According to an American cybersecurity company, the hacking operation could have been the work of APT28, a hacking group better known as “Fancy Bear” with suspected ties to Russian military intelligence.36 Unlike the hack-and-leak operation aimed at the DNC in 2016, this trove of emails did not contain anything relevant or compromising about Macron. But it was still extensively reported on, not only by RT France and Sputnik, but also by several French media outlets such as Mediapart and Libération.
After his victory, the new French president started to target RT France and Sputnik as foreign agents interfering in France’s political processes. The subject became a matter of tension between Paris and Moscow. In May 2017, during a press conference at Versailles with Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron said: “The truth is that Russia Today and Sputnik did not behave as media organisations and journalists, but as agencies of influence and propaganda, lying propaganda – no more, no less”.
“RT’s existence depends on what others will say about them”, analyses Colin Gérard. “The declaration of Emmanuel Macron in Versailles was the biggest publicity stunt for them. After that, Macron’s opponents were wondering ‘why not RT?’”.38 “It stages the binary opposition that RT seeks with power, and there, all of a sudden, it was obvious”, confirms Maxime Audinet.39 This anti-government posture helped RT to finally find its audience, one year later.
November 2018 saw the birth of the “Yellow Vests” movement. Each week, during violent protests, the “Yellow Vests” demanded institutional political reforms and more social justice, reflecting an increased (and open) hostility towards the figure of President Macron. But the movement was also accused of providing a new forum for extremist views, anti-Semitic discourse, and conspiracy theories, coming from ideological discourse on both the far-right and the far-left. The French government’s main response was the creation of a new “crowd control” doctrine that led to more violence between police and protesters. This was a perfect scenario for RT France, according to Maxime Audinet: “There was a form of convergence between the Yellow Vests and the alternative, anti-elite, or even populist posture of RT France”.40 The better explanation for this ideological match comes from Xenia Fedorova herself, who said to Le Monde: “The Yellow Vests know that we are not esteemed by Macron”.41
“By nature, RT France has a real playing card on social media”, says Roman Bornstein. “The algorithms of YouTube and Facebook push the publications that are the most likely to trigger reactions and emotions. Structurally divisive, shocking, sensationalist content therefore finds audiences more easily. RT France knew how to play it very well at the time of the “Yellow Vests”, by live streaming clashes between demonstrators and the police; the very prototype of what works on social media: a spectacular, violent, divisive and political sequence”.42
Thanks to this “riot porn” strategy, RT France – alongside other alternative media outlets like Brut – became one of the favourite news sources for those in the “Yellow Vests” movement; they had, so far, rejected virtually every mainstream media source as sympathisers and supporters of the French government. According to Maxime Audinet, the Russian propaganda outlet more than doubled its audience, going from 2 to 3 million visitors on its website every month (during regular times) up to between 8 and 12 million during the “Yellow Vests” movement.43 RT France became the biggest French media source on YouTube, with 23 million views – way ahead of mainstream media like Le Monde that were providing coverage on the same topic.
At the same time, RT France tried to put on a respectable face by recruiting famous personalities to its staff. In 2017, it recruited former Radio France director Jean-Luc Hees to its Ethical Committee, alongside National Rally’s Member of the European Parliament and Putin apologist Thierry Mariani. Hees finally announced his departure from the committee in 2020. Mariani, who officially declared that he had been contacted by RT as early as 2015,44 resigned in 2018, but was still able to get on the air regularly.45 In July 2018, RT France also recruited Frédéric Taddeï, once a popular figure of French public television. More recently, RT announced the arrival of Régis Le Sommier, ex-deputy director of the iconic French magazine Paris Match.46 “Contrary to what is often said, RT is not a daily broadcast of ‘fake news’”. On the contrary, there is an effort to build trust in the channel, to install it in the landscape, to build an audience and to establish a connection with it”, says Roman Bornstein.47
Contrasting with its apparent desire for respectability – and continuing its live stream coverage of the “Yellow Vest” protests between 2018 and 2019 – RT France also gave airtime to the most radical voices such as Étienne Chouard; he was a major ideological reference for the proponents of the “Yellow Vests” movement and a defender of far-right figures such as Alain Soral, as well as a propagator of conspiracy theories about major events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks.48 The objective was not only to depict France as a country drowning in chaos and disorder, but, of course, to simultaneously make Russia look good in comparison. To do so, RT France had no difficulty in finding protesters advocating for Vladimir Putin in a movement where far-right militants were numerous. For instance, RT France interviewed a “Yellow Vest” protester in December 2018 who claimed that French policemen were dressing as civilians and staging the urban destruction occurring during the protests. The protester was, in fact, a militant from the anti-same-sex marriage movement “La Manif Pour Tous”, and RT France was publicly accused of facts manipulation.49 A few months later, in February 2019, RT France interviewed another Yellow Vest’ who demanded that “Putin speak out and reason with our moron president! […] He shows how to lead a country. […] Whether it’s with an iron fist or not, we don’t care, we just want to stop being in trouble”.50 This is a clear example of Russian propaganda talking about democratic illusions on the streets of Paris.
The exploitation of the “Yellow Vests” movement by Russia led some political leaders and press outlets in France to conclude that the movement was in fact nothing more than a Russian fabrication. An argument was put forward (which disturbingly mirrored a Russian media theory) that this movement was in fact a “colour revolution” staged by the United States’ intelligence agencies, because Macron was advocating for the creation of a European army.51 In December 2019, The Times and Bloomberg published a study suggesting that a network of hundreds of trolls, allegedly connected to Russia, were publishing 1,600 tweets a day about the “Yellow Vests”. The Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security, acting on the authority of the French Prime Minister, even opened an investigation to verify whether there were any such attempts of foreign interference.
However, further analysis showed that this so-called Russian network was, in fact, a group of militants of different ideological persuasions, comprising both locals and foreigners, and ranging from conspiracy theorists to Trump supporters to Polish nationalists. No obvious link with Russia was found among the top ten influencers.52 “Of course, Russian-state media capitalized on the “Yellow Vests” movement, but there is no evidence that Russia was behind the movement itself”, sums up Colin Gérard.53 “Yellow vests” were not CIA or GRU agents – they were an organic French social movement that was exploited by every actor who had a vested interest in doing so, with Russia naturally being one of these actors. No more, no less.
RT France”s moment of glory did not last, as public interest in the protests started to fade, and Covid-19 putting a temporary halt to all public gatherings. Its new audience moved elsewhere, and the Russian propaganda outlet eventually reverted back to its original audience. While it has considerable social media success, RT France does not prove a viable competitor on television, and cannot be considered a mass media outlet. It is available only on satellite and cable, and thus cannot compete with any major French news channel.
But even though the social conflict in France never really stopped – with the “Yellow vests’ movement merging with anti-Covid restrictions and anti-vaccine movements in the summer of 2021 – RT France was unable to exploit the situation in the same way it did in 2018/2019. “They are, of course, doing intense reporting on protests against the vaccine pass, because they understand that there is an audience to find there and that this topic could play a role during the election”, admits Colin Gérard.54 “But it is interesting to observe that their Russian-speaking versions advocate for a massive vaccination campaign in Russia, and that they would never cover such protests. In France, they don’t care about the pandemic; they just try to capitalise on the protests”.
In France, RT and Sputnik certainly tried to sow doubt about the credibility of Western vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca, but only to the benefit of the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V—a narrative unable to acquire an audience and which only deepened ongoing tensions in France the same way the “Yellow Vests” movement did. Moreover, they are now being challenged by other powerful domestic media that are occupying the very ground that RT and Sputnik were not able to secure, and face the threat of being marginalised within the French “manufacturing of dissent” ecosystem.
RT France now finds itself blocked by its paradoxical desire to look as respectable and reliable as CNN, the BBC, or France 24, and its tendency to spread rumours and outrage to serve the Kremlin’s international viewpoint. Their efforts to take a stand against the French government have made them a target within a regulated media ecosystem. Indeed, to keep its TV licence, RT France has to comply with this regulation and cannot cross the line.
The Higher Audio-Visual Council (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, CSA), which is responsible for regulating broadcasting in France, flagged RT France in 2018 for its coverage of the Syrian conflict. During a news report aired in April 2018, the channel stated that the chemical attack on Douma was not the responsibility of Bashar al-Assad’s regime but was in fact “staged” by a rebel group called Jaysh al-Islam. “The CSA observed that the oral translation of the remarks made by a Syrian witness did not correspond at all to what he expressed on the air”, said the Council.55 RT France defend itself by saying it was nothing more than a “technical error” that was later corrected. But, “the CSA finally noted that all the elements disseminated dealing with the situation in Syria showed a marked imbalance in the analysis, without, on such a sensitive subject, the different points of view having been exposed”.56 In 2020, RT France was once again reported to the CSA for a report that quoted the chief of the Russian Reconciliation Centre in Syria (considered one of the main spreaders of propaganda and conspiracy theories about the conflict) saying that Belgian and French intelligence services were attempting to stage a chemical attack to set a trap for Moscow and Damascus. The CSA investigation is not good news for RT France; in order to show itself as a victim, RT France said, “financial sanction, suspension of broadcasting or termination of our license: we are risking a lot in this procedure”.57
“They will be closely monitored during the election campaign. And they know that at the slightest error they will get caught and that they cannot do like RT America or RT en Español, which are a lot tougher”, says Colin Gérard.58
RT is facing such threats in other European countries as well, which are starting to take action. In the United Kingdom, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) – the British equivalent of the CSA – found that “the RT news channel [had broken] broadcasting rules by failing to preserve due impartiality in seven news and current affairs programs over a six-week period”. In July 2019, Ofcom fined the news channel £200,000 (€235,000).59 In August 2021, Luxembourg banned RT from broadcasting its German-language channel, halting its attempt to sidestep German media regulations, as RT Deutsch struggles to earn its license there.60 Under pressure, internet platforms are also starting to take harder measures. The RT Deutsch YouTube channel was closed just after the German election; the platform accused it of disseminating fake news about the pandemic.61 It is, of course, always a good occasion for the Kremlin to claim that liberal democracies are censoring free press, but there are also major setbacks for RT’s reputation.
And RT is very careful when it comes to its reputation. In France, the news channel tried to sue public figures for defamation several times.62 So far, most of those attempts ended in public embarrassment. In June 2020, RT France lost its cases against former government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux, and the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Griveaux accused RT France of “being a propaganda tool funded by a foreign state, Russia”, while Charlie Hebdo pushed as far as comparing RT to the Nazi propaganda newspaper Signal.63
In the meantime, RT France’s main anti-elite challenger in the French media ecosystem, CNews, is so outrageous that the Russian TV channel looks soft in comparison. CNews is also frequently reported to the CSA, but unlike the Russian news channel, Vincent Bolloré’s TV outlet can afford it. RT is not the “baddest guy in town” anymore, argues Maxime Audinet.64 “CNews filled the position RT France dreamed of and which they were never able to conquer fully because of their weak audience numbers on TV, in particular. Now CNews is the alternative media, and RT not so much”. However, malign influence by Russian elements on French democracy should not be dismissed so quickly. “If there are any foreign interference operations during the election campaign, it will be very interesting to see if there is a penetration into this new national ecosystem”.65
“It should be reminded that RT is only a part of a wider propaganda ecosystem set by Russia”, notes Roman Bornstein.66 “There is RT and Sputnik, but there are also hackers with ties to the Russian intelligence services, troll farms, bots, blogs and fake media”. And France is not very prepared to defend itself, Bornstein thinks. “Given the political tensions surrounding the management of the health crisis, one can indeed easily anticipate the damage that the disclosure of emails exchanged between senior political and medical officials during the COVID-19 crisis would do to an already particularly defiant French public opinion”.67
“If you add to this the extremist candidates, and their entourage who do not hesitate to relay proven false information, and to participate in the spreading of conspiracy theories to flatter the most radicalised fringes of their electorates, you obtain a French ecosystem very conducive to an interference operation for 2022”.68
1. Note from the editor: In Soviet times, the KGB’s Department D was responsible for spreading disinformation.
2. “Comptes rendus de la commission de la culture, de l’éducation et de la communication”, Sénat, 24 July (2019), http://www.senat.fr/compte-rendu-commissions/20190722/cult.html#par64; “Pour le sénateur Malhuret, les programmes de RT France seraient faits directement par le FSB”, RT France, 24 July (2019), https://francais.rt.com/france/64148-pour-senateur-malhuret-programmes-rt-france-faits-directement-fsb.
3. “Pour le sénateur Malhuret”.
4. Philippe Corcuff, “Chomsky et le ‘complot médiatique’ – Des simplifications actuelles de la critique sociale”, Le Club de Mediapart, 12 June (2009), https://blogs.mediapart.fr/philippe-corcuff/blog/120609/chomsky-et-le-complot-mediatique-des-simplifications-actuelles-de-la-critique-sociale.
5. “U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided”, Pew Research Centre, 24 January (2020) https://www.pewresearch.org/journalism/2020/01/24/u-s-media-polarization-and-the-2020-election-a-nation-divided/.
6. “Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016”, Pew Research Centre, 22 June (2016), https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2016/06/22/partisanship-and-political-animosity-in-2016/.
7. Richard Gunther, Paul A. Beck, Erick C. Nisbet, “Fake News May Have Contributed to Trump’s 2016 Victory”, Ohio State University, 8 March (2018) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4429952-Fake-News-May-Have-Contributed-to-Trump-s-2016.html.
8. “Exposure to Untrustworthy Websites in the 2016 US Election”, Nature Human Behaviour, 2 March (2020) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0833-x.
9. Robert S. Mueller, Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, 2019).
10. “IRA Again: Unlucky Thirteen”, Graphika, September (2020), https://public-assets.graphika.com/reports/graphika_report_ira_again_unlucky_thirteen.pdf.
1 . “Présidentielle américaine: le retour des trolls russes”, France 24, 2 September (2020), https://www.france24.com/fr/20200902-pr%C3%A9sidentielle-am%C3%A9ricaine-le-retour-de-la-machine-%C3%A0-propagande-russe.
2. Gabriela Baczynska, “Germany Is Main Target of Russian Disinformation, EU Says”, Reuters, 9 March (2021), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-russia-germany-idUSKBN2B11CX.
3. “Russia Sows Distrust on Social Media ahead of German Election”, Politico, 3 September (2021), https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-russia-social-media-distrust-election-vladimir-putin/.
4. Interview with Colin Gérard conducted by the author on 7 September 2021.
6. “Media Polarization ‘à la française’? Comparing the French and American Ecosystems”, Institut Montaigne, June (2019), https://www.institutmontaigne.org/publications/media-polarization-la-francaise.
8. “CNews, le ‘Fox News français’ qui surfe sur les mécontentements”, The New York Times, 14 September (2021), https://www.nytimes.com/fr/2021/09/14/world/europe/Cnews-Nedjar-Zemmour-Fox.html.
9. “CNews, première chaîne d’info devant BFMTV”, Le Figaro, 4 May (2021), https://www.lefigaro.fr/medias/cnews-passe-devant-le-leader-des-chaines-d-info-bfmtv-20210504.
20. “Rentrée télé: polémistes partout, journalisme nulle part?”, Libération, 25 August (2021), https://www.liberation.fr/economie/medias/rentree-tele-polemistes-partout-journalisme-nulle-part-20210825_XXVJWK4PEBEF7CDIQVNNK2X4HM/.
2 . Interview with Maxime Audinet conducted by the author on 6 September 2021.
22. Maxime Audinet, Russia Today (RT). Un média d’influence au service de l’État russe (Paris: Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, 2021).
23. Interview with Roman Bornstein conducted by the author on 3 September 2021.
24. Roman Bornstein, “Ingérence numérique, mode d’emploi: la Russie et la présidentielle américaine de 2016”, Fondation Jean Jaurès, 8 April (2018), https://www.jean-jaures.org/publication/ingerence-numerique-mode-demploi-la-russie-et-la-presidentielle-americaine-de-2016/.
25. Roman Bornstein, “RT, la chaîne russe qui bouscule les médias français”, Vanity Fair, 19 June (2019), https://www.vanityfair.fr/pouvoir/medias/story/rt-la-chaine-russe-qui-bouscule-la-tele-francaise/5918.
26. Interview with Roman Bornstein.
27. “Des infoxs à la guerre informationnelle”, France Culture, 16 June (2021), https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/esprit-de-justice/la-menace-des-fake-news-pour-la-democratie.
28. Interview with Maxime Audinet. See also Maxime Audinet, “Comment RT et Sputnik tissent la toile de Moscou à l’étranger”, La revue des médias, 19 June (2019), https://larevuedesmedias.ina.fr/comment-rt-et-sputnik-tissent-la-toile-de-moscou-letranger.
29. Xenia Fedorova, “Si nous amenons les autres chaînes…”, Twitter, 17 June (2021), https://twitter.com/xfedorova/status/1405500008837812226.
30. “Ex-French Economy Minister Macron Could Be ‘US Agent’ Lobbying Banks’ Interests”, Sputnik, 4 February (2017), https://sputniknews.com/20170204/macron-us-agent-dhuicq-1050340451.html.
31. Richard Ferrand, “Ne laissons pas la Russie déstabiliser la présidentielle en France!”, Le Monde, 14 February (2017), https://www.lemonde.fr/election-presidentielle-2017/article/2017/02/14/ne-laissons-pas-la-russie-destabiliser-la-presidentielle-en-france_5079213_4854003.html.
32. After Fillon’s victory in the 2016 centre-right primaries, Vladimir Putin congratulated him, describing him as a friend able to restore relationships between the two countries. During the presidential campaign, Fillon advocated for lifting of the sanctions against Russia, which he considered a reliable partner in solving the Syrian crisis, see Pour Vladimir Poutine, François Fillon est un ‘grand professionnel’”, L’Express, 23 November (2016), https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/politique/elections/pour-vladimir-poutine-francois-fillon-est-un-grand-professionnel_1853338.html. During the presidential campaign, in March 2017, Marine Le Pen was invited to the Kremlin to meet with Vladimir Putin. No other candidate met with the Russian president during that campaign. In 2014, the-then National Front (renamed National Rally in 2018) was granted a €9 million loan from a Russian bank believed to have ties to the Kremlin. Le Pen was advocating for anti-terrorist cooperation with Russia and for an end to the sanctions, as well as promising to recognise Crimea as a Russian territory. See “Marine Le Pen reçue par Vladimir Poutine au Kremlin”, France 24, 24 March (2017), https://www.france24.com/fr/20170324-France-russie-moscou-marine-le-pen-front-national-presidentielle-douma-vladimir-poutine.
33. “Non Express, Sputnik n’a toujours pas calomnié Macron, promis juré”, Sputnik France, 13 February (2017), https://fr.sputniknews.com/international/201702131030073887-richard-ferrand-sputnik-rt-accusations-infondees/.
34. Viktoriya Kotsur, Anna Khalitova, “Assanzh podol’yot masla v ogon’ predvybornoy kampanii Frantsii”, Izvestiya, 3 February (2017), https://iz.ru/news/661960.
35. “Assange: des révélations sur Macron dans les mails de Clinton”, Sputnik, 3 February (2017), https://fr.sputniknews.com/international/201702031029930563-wikileaks-revelationsmacron/; “Assange: WikiLeaks a trouvé des informations sur Macron dans des emails de Clinton”, RT, 3 February (2017), https://francais.rt.com/france/33403-wikileaks-macronclinton-email-assange.
36. “Les preuves de l’ingérence russe dans la campagne de Macron en 2017”, Le Monde, 6 December (2019), https://www.lemonde.fr/pixels/article/2019/12/06/macronleaks-des-hackeurs-d-etat-russes-ont-bien-vise-la-campagne-presidentielle-de-2017_6021987_4408996.html.
37. “Devant Poutine, Macron fustige RT et Sputnik, organes de ‘propagande’”, L’Express, 29 May (2017), https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/politique/macron-fustige-russia-today-et-sputnik-des-organes-de-propagande_1912727.html
38. Interview with Colin Gérard.
39. Interview with Maxime Audinet.
4 . “La chaîne RT surfe sur le mouvement des ‘gilets jaunes’”, Le Monde, 5 January (2019), https://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2019/01/05/la-chaine-rt-surfe-sur-le-mouvement-des-gilets-jaunes_5405334_3234.html.
42. Interview with Roman Bornstein.
43. Interview with Maxime Audinet; Audrey Kucinskas, “Comment RT France a doublé son audience grâce aux gilets jaunes”, L’Express, 20 June (2019), https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/medias/comment-rt-france-a-double-son-audience-grace-aux-gilets-jaunes_2085188.html.
44. Thierry Mariani, “Déclaration d’intérêts”, Haute Autorité pour la Transparence de la Vie Publique, June (2019), https://www.hatvp.fr/livraison/dossiers/mariani-thierry-di9866-europe.pdf.
45. “Thierry Mariani démissionne du comité d’éthique de RT France pour… passer à l’antenne”, La Lettre A, 11 November (2018), https://www.lalettrea.fr/medias_groupes/2018/11/23/thierry-mariani-demissionne-du-comite-d-ethique-de-rt-france-pour-passer-a-l-antenne,108333734-blg.
46. “Régis Le Sommier rejoint RT France”, RT France, 16 August (2021), https://francais.rt.com/communiques-de-presse/regis-sommier-rejoint-rt-france.
47. Interview with Roman Bornstein.
48. “Qui est Etienne Chouard, chantre du référendum d’initiative citoyenne et coqueluche des ‘gilets jaunes’?”, France Info, 15 December (2018), https://www.francetvinfo.fr/economie/transports/gilets-jaunes/qui-est-etienne-chouard-chantre-du-referendum-d-initiative-citoyenne-et-coqueluche-des-gilets-jaunes_3097123.html.
49. “Soupçons après l’interview d’un gilet jaune sur Russia Today”, L’Express, 3 December (2018), https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/medias/soupcons-apres-l-interview-d-un-gilet-jaune-sur-russia-today_2051618.html.
50. “Quand une ‘gilet jaune’ souhaite que la France soit dirigée comme la Russie”, France Info, 28 February (2019), https://www.francetvinfo.fr/economie/transports/gilets-jaunes/quand-une-gilet-jaune-souhaite-que-la-france-soit-dirigee-comme-la-russie_3211199.html.
5 . “Les ‘gilets jaunes’ vus de Moscou: une ‘révolution de couleur’ fomentée par les Etats-Unis”, Le Monde, 3 December (2018), https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2018/12/03/les-gilets-jaunes-vus-de-moscou-une-revolution-de-couleur-fomentee-par-les-etats-unis_5392159_3210.html.
52. “Gilets jaunes: ‘Les tentatives d’influence russe, une goutte d’eau dans l’océan’”, France 24, 10 December (2018), https://www.france24.com/fr/20181210-gilets-jaunes-influence-russe-ingerence-twitter-facebook.
53. Interview with Colin Gérard.
54. On the possible impact of the anti-vaccine movement on the 2022 presidential elections in France, see Jérôme Florin, “Présidentielle 2022: Le Pen ‘embarrassée’ par le mouvement antivax, selon un sociologue”, RTL, 5 August (2021), https://www.rtl.fr/actu/politique/presidentielle-2022-le-pen-embarrassee-par-le-mouvement-antivax-selon-un-sociologue-7900059400.
55. “Manquements à l’honnêteté, à la rigueur de l’information et à la diversité des points de vue: mise en demeure de RT France”, Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, 28 June (2018), https://www.csa.fr/Proteger/Garantie-des-droits-et-libertes/La-deontologie-des-programmes/Manquements-a-l-honnetete-a-la-rigueur-de-l-information-et-a-la-diversite-des-points-de-vue-mise-en-demeure-de-RT-France.
56. “Le CSA recadre RT France qui plaide l’‘erreur technique’ sur la Syrie”, France 24, 28 June (2018) https://www.france24.com/fr/20180628-le-csa-recadre-rt-france-plaide-lerreur-technique-syrie.
57. “RT France sera-t-elle sanctionnée par le CSA pour… avoir fait son travail de journaliste?”, RT France, 25 February (2020), https://francais.rt.com/international/60516-pour-moscou-renseignements-francais-prepareraient-provocation-arme-chimique-syrie.
58. Interview with Colin Gérard.
59. “Ofcom fines RT £200,000”, Ofcom, 26 July (2019), https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/media/media-releases/2019/ofcom-fines-rt.
60. “Luxembourg Blocks Broadcast License for RT’s German Channel”, DW, 14 August (2021), https://www.dw.com/en/luxembourg-blocks-broadcast-license-for-rts-german-channel/a-58864018.
6 . “La Russie menace de bloquer YouTube après la suspension des chaînes allemandes de RT”, Le Monde, 29 September (2021) https://www.lemonde.fr/pixels/article/2021/09/29/moscou-menace-de-bloquer-youtube-pour-avoir-suspendu-rt-en-allemand_6096451_4408996.html.
62. Nicolas Tenzer, “‘Le régime russe tente d’appliquer dans les démocraties ses pratiques intimidantes’”, Le Monde, 17 September (2021), https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2021/09/17/le-regime-russe-tente-d-appliquer-dans-les-democraties-ses-pratiques-intimidantes_6094978_3232.html.
63. “RT France perd ses procès contre Benjamin Griveaux et Charlie Hebdo”, Capital, 13 June (2020), https://www.capital.fr/entreprises-marches/rt-france-perd-ses-proces-contre-benjamin-griveaux-et-charlie-hebdo-1372582.
64. Interview with Maxime Audinet.
66. Interview with Roman Bornstein.