Interview: Sputnik journalist replies to fake news accusations

In this so-called "post-truth" political era, Sputnik News gets a lot of heat for its connection to the Russian government (which owns its parent company, Rossiya Segodnya), and running stories deemed questionable. As they discussed quality journalism and fake news at the UNESCO Difference Day in Brussels, ECPMF's Jane Whyatt caught up with Sputnik France reporter Edouard Chanot to get his take on the matter.

ECPMF: What is the political direction of your editorial coverage?

There is of course an editorial line. It's a Russian public media created two and a half years ago. I don't speak Russian yet. I am starting, but it's very slow.

Chanot 900X600 Sputnik France journalist Edouard Chanot debated fake news during the UNESCO Difference Day in Brussels on 3 May - also World Press Freedom Day. (Photo: ECPMF)

How are you coping with the tension and pressure in your work?

Emmanuel Macron's accusation [and ban] against us was the peak of the campaign against Russian media. I signed up for it. I knew it would happen. We know it will not decline in the next five to ten years. We are being criticised but at the same time we are becoming more and more popular. People who don't like us, our critics, come to read us.

Does the publcity, do the attacks help you to gain readers?

Our audience almost tripled in one year. We have 300,000 fans on Facebook. We are ahead of well known magazines like Marianne. We have a young and very fast growing audience.

How is the editorial line of Sputnik France defined?

So we present the Russian point of view on many issues, mostly on international issues. But as a French journalist I am totally free on what I have to say on French politics, and that's why I'm very happy to be a journalist at Sputnik.

Aline Robert of EURACTIV accuses Sputnik of publishing fake news saying that there are one million populists ready to form a militia against illegal immigrants in Eastern Europe. What do you say about that?

That was not Sputnik information, but Sputnik reported it in other media. So I will definitely have another look at it. But Sputnik does not publish pure fake news.

What has the atmosphere been like in Paris during the election campaign?

There is obviously a lot of excitement. Emmanuel Macron pretty much acted like he had already won. He [was] pretty much the favourite in the polls and they are pretty much right. There is a lot of excitement - anger, also. We [had] seen terrible protests [in recent days] from the radical left, supporters of Mélenchon. The radical left has been an orphan in this second round.

What form did the protests take?

There is now this famous piture of a policeman in the streets of Paris, burnt because he received a Molotov cocktail, so it is getting very violent. The radical left party [had] refused to submit; they call themselves the ones who do not submit, the rebels. They held a meeting and only 35% of them [wanted] to vote for Emmanuel Macron, and that is a big thing because that means the Republican Front against the National Front is not working any longer, or at least not like it did in 1992 when Jean-Marie Le Pen was running for president.

What about the Fillon scandal?

Sputnik was more balanced than most mainstream media in France, who are in favour of the three main candidates. Within our staff... this is something no one knows, or no one wants to know about Sputnik France... is that we have journalists from the radical left, from the so-called sovereign right and from the centre. My editor in chief is a centre-right-centre-left person, so it's very balanced. We did our best to be neutral. About the Fillon scandal we didn't have the info, as Mediaprt and others had, so we didn't have much against Fillon.

With Macron it's different, because he specifically attacked us twice, so that caused more editorial opposition against him; but that's honestly because he started it. He mentioned us twice for being mere figures of propaganda.

There is this whole climate against Russian media, but it's surprising because we did not ever pubilsh any fake news or so-called fake news against [Macron]. But he still attacked us. So after that we published a few things about him, but not that much."

How are journalists regarded in France?

It is the same problem across the west. Jorunalists and politicians are the two most hated classes of people in society. It's well deserved. Journalism needs to change. It lacks ideological pluralism. In France, journalists come from the same school live in the same cities, trained in the same way. They write the same things. That needs to change. At Sputnik some of us come from J-schools, some from the left, from the right, all sections.

What about fake news?

It's tiring. You find these fake news popping up, and most of the time it's just obviously fake. [But] first we should not panic about it. I am more worried about some answers that are being proposed to combat it. Like for example, Le Monde becoming judge and jury on what is fake, giving ratings in different colours (red, yellow or green) to different stories through Décodex. It’s an app, it appears on your web page, and depending on the website, you have a red, orange or green symbol. Sputnik gets orange. But that's OK – it's the same colour as our logo!