Monitoring team created in response to perceived growth in Russian web presence

The government is setting up a special team to curb the influence of foreign propaganda in the Czech Republic. The move comes in response to perceptions that Russia is making increased use of websites and social networks to get its message across to ordinary Czechs.
The Czech Ministry of the Interior is planning the establishment of a 30-member team to monitor foreign propaganda, Czech Television reported on Wednesday.

The group will be tasked with curbing the influence of Russia and other states in the media and on social networks in the Czech Republic.

Jan Šír is an academic at the Department of Russian and East European Studies at Charles University’s Institute of International Relations. He says Russian propaganda has been increasingly palpable since the country’s invasion of Crimea.

“Since 2014 many so-called alternative websites have emerged in the Czech Republic which spread pro-Kremlin messages, narratives and disinformation.”

Some of these sites, such as Sputnik News, are openly funded by Moscow. Tens of others, which can superficially resemble regular news sites, have murkier ownership structures.

Jan Šír, photo: Czech Television
But why, if it really is happening, is Moscow paying such attention to this country? Jan Šír again.

“The Czech Republic is a matter of interest for Russia as a member of the EU and NATO, because they take decisions on the basis of consensus – and if there is no consensus, there will be no response to Russia’s actions.”

Interior Minister Milan Chovanec outlined the government’s plans to combat foreign propaganda to Czech TV.

“It’s necessary to react to it and to at least map it and be aware of where it is headed. Our ambition is to create a team of 30 people to coordinate this activity. We don’t wish to take work away from the Secret Information Service or other services – we want the team to be supervisors.”

Jan Šír welcomes the move, which he points out is part of a broader government security initiative.

“Setting up this team is the result of the National Security Audit, which has been in place since the end of 2015.

Photo: Giorgio Comai, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“It focuses on several issues relating to national security, including these so-called non-traditional, hybrid threats, where propaganda is a very strong component.

“The mere fact that the Czech Republic is going to establish such a team, and the fact that further measures are stemming from this audit – including legislative changes, organisational changes, etc. – indicates that the Czech Republic is taking this seriously.”