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Censorship: Donbass Insider in the Crosshairs of Newsguard, an Agency Linked to the CIA, NATO and the White House

On 18 March 2022, I received a letter in my e-mail box from a certain Edward O’Reilly, an analyst for NewsGuard, a sort of international Decodex (which awards green or red stickers to news sites, i.e. justifies the censorship of such and such a site), linked to the CIA, NATO and the White House, concerning their analysis of the Donbass Insider site. After having sent them packing when they saw the obvious bias of this site, they insisted and sent me a week later a series of questions, which contradict each other, and written in such a way that one has the impression that the author is writing to a 10 year old girl. Since they are so keen to have me answer them, while giving themselves the right to publish only part of my answers in their analysis (as they indicate in their e-mail), I will do so publicly, so that all my readers can have the whole of the information, and not just the part that would suit NewsGuard.

NewsGuard, a site linked to the CIA, NATO and the White House.

Let’s start by analyzing who is behind NewsGuard, a site that claims to analyse and rate news sites according to nine criteria to determine whether or not they are reliable.

As with the French Decodex, there is a good old system of green or red dots, plus an orange one for satirical sites and a grey one for simple platforms that let anyone publish on them. One might think that such ratings are harmless, but this is not the case. For as we discover on their website, the aim of NewsGuard is to “give platforms and moderation teams the data and information to protect their users from online risks, and to control the spread of misinformation”.

Clearly, NewsGuard provides companies like Google, Facebook or Twitter with data to justify their censorship of bad media that misinform (or in fact that do not follow the Washington narrative, as we will see right away).

Indeed, when we look at the profile of the NewsGuard team, and especially of its advisory board, we immediately understand that there is a problem, a big problem even, in terms of impartiality and neutrality. Indeed, the NewsGuard advisory board includes :

– Don Baer, former White House communications director during the Clinton administration;

– Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education under the Obama administration;

– Retired General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, and former director of the National Security Agency (NSA);

– Elise Jordan, former pen of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice;

– Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Secretary General of NATO;

– Tom Ridge, former first Secretary of State for Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration;

– Gianni Riotta, editorial writer for La Stampa (you know the Italian newspaper that used a photo of the massacre of civilians in Donetsk by the Ukrainian army to illustrate an article on the situation in Kiev);

– Richard Stengel, former Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Obama administration;

– Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, whose presence on this strongly biased committee (to put it mildly) indicates that the famous encyclopaedia is not neutral.

Add to this the fact that the “analyst” writing to me, Edward O’Reilly, is a former member of the US Marine Corps, and that Newsguard regularly cites Bellingcat (whose links to the British Foreign Office’s secret programmes have been proven) as a reliable source, and it soon becomes clear that this site is just another showcase for the US intelligence services, led by the CIA, the White House and NATO, to impose the US narrative.

Why does this site decide to attack Donbass Insider only now (we have been in existence since 2018 I remind you)? Well, simply because with the brutal heating up of the conflict in Donbass, then the launch of the Russian special military operation in Ukraine, and following the violent censorship of international Russian media such as Sputnik or RT, our little website has seen its audience multiplied extremely significantly. Enough to attract the attention of NewsGuard. Clearly, Donbass Insider has reached a large enough audience to begin to panic Washington, and the site must be quickly discredited or even censored, to prevent its information from totally destroying the narrative about the situation in Ukraine.

When NewsGuard contradicts itself from one question to the next

So let’s move on to the questions Edward O’Reilly sent me, and the answers I have to give. I am publishing them here in the order in which they were sent to me, as you can see from the full screenshot of his e-mail, available here.

1. Your site does not indicate who owns it, which does not meet our criterion of providing information about the owner of the site. Can you explain this choice? Also, are you the owner of Donbass-Insider.com? If so, why not say so on the site?

Because if your criteria are justifiable for a news site working in a democratic country where there is peace, when you are working in a civil war zone (because that’s what the Donbass war is which has been going on since 2014), where one of the parties (Ukraine) spends its time imposing sanctions against any person or media giving information other than the official narrative, and where children and journalists can have their personal data published on a site of Ukrainian neo-Nazis (you know the ones that are not that dangerous according to NewsGuard) like Mirotvorets, so that they become a target, your criteria becomes a source of risk.

We are not going to put our team members in danger just to please you and tick the right box in your list of bogus criteria. I remind you that in Ukraine journalists like Oles Bouzina and Anatoli Chary have received death threats, and that Bouzina was murdered outside his home shortly after his personal data was published on Mirotvorets. People have been murdered or abducted in the DPR and LPR (Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics) by Ukrainian secret services (the same services you cite as a source later on). Do you really believe that the lives of our team members are worth less than your rating criteria? If you come to tell me that you don’t know about the existence of Mirotvorets, then how can you judge the veracity of information about Ukraine and the ongoing conflict if you don’t even know this simple fact?

I know very well what is behind your question about domain name ownership. You’re looking for someone to put on the sanctions list so you can do what you did with other news sites that had their .com domain names taken away. Save yourself the trouble, we’ve already anticipated this, censoring Donbass Insider won’t get you anything. Even when hackers working for the West (and therefore for your bosses) attacked our site, taking it down, our content continued to be available.

2. Your site also does not indicate who is responsible for the content (such as an editor-in-chief or a director of publication, for example), which does not meet our criterion in this respect. Do you have a comment on this? Are you responsible for the content of Donbass-Insider.com?

Because there is no editor-in-chief on our site, nor a director of publication. Each contributor is free to write his or her own articles without review or censorship.

3. We could not find any corrections published on your site. Have you corrected any articles, and if so, could you send me a recent example of a correction on the site? If not, can you explain why no corrections have been published recently?

Why are there no corrections on our site? Well, because unlike other media, we check the information as much as possible before publishing it, instead of quickly coming up with racy headlines or unsubstantiated rumors to create a buzz. Our articles are factual, sourced, and substantiated, which avoids the humiliating exercise of retraction or correction.

4. After analysis, we believe that your site does not meet our criterion of clearly distinguishing between news and opinion. Indeed, we have noticed that many news articles contain opinions. This is the case for the articles below.

a. The noose is tightening around the Ukrainian neo-Nazis entrenched in Mariupol, and the Western media is wallowing in abjection

b. Despite Russophobia in Ukraine, Russia continues to welcome Ukrainians with open arms

c. Ukraine goes into hysterics after Russia signs a gas supply contract with Hungary

After analysis you think… Well, we’re well on our way with that.. No details as to why these articles are opinions. Because in fact, if you look at the articles concerned, everything is sourced and based on facts. There is only one where I give my opinion at the very end, and that is my right. A journalist has the right to give his opinion, to comment on a piece of information, or to analyse a situation. A journalist is not just a copyist barely able to adapt Reuters or AFP dispatches.

Moreover, your demand to make a clear distinction between information and opinion is something that you brandish only when it suits you, and you sit on it at other times (we’ll come back to that later). Our readers know the difference between information and opinion. It’s nice that you care about them, but they are not mentally retarded or five-year-olds. They are adults and capable of reading and understanding what they read. They don’t need you to explain it to them. This mania for infantilising people by putting coloured stickers on sites like the school teacher in class is frankly revolting.

No, what bothers you is that I call a spade a spade. Abjection is a perfectly deserved term for the Western media denounced in the first article. I call Ukrainian neo-Nazis neo-Nazis and not nationalists, or whatever other euphemism. And Russophobia in Ukraine is more than proven (if you don’t see it, I think you need to change jobs).

The following question is very long and I will answer each sub-question individually.

5. We also believe that your site does not meet our criteria of not publishing false content, collecting and presenting information responsibly and not publishing misleading headlines. Indeed, we found many articles containing false information in their titles and texts:

a. For example, a March 2022 article entitled “Russia gets hold of documents on US biological laboratories in Ukraine” states that “for Kirillov, the haste with which Ukraine launched the destruction of all strains of pathogens in these US biological laboratories could indicate that they were working on strengthening the pathogenic properties of microbes there, which is a violation of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. This would also explain why the US has set up these laboratories in Ukraine, instead of conducting such research on its own territory: to avoid being held accountable for what is happening there! And the ultimate proof that these US biological laboratories in Ukraine are hiding something was provided by Victoria Nuland, the US Secretary of State, herself during a Senate hearing!”

However, while the US has provided assistance to Ukrainian laboratories since 2005, and has contributed to the construction and modernisation of Ukrainian laboratories, the laboratories themselves are managed and mainly funded by the Ukrainian government. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) clarified the terms of this agreement in a May 2020 press release, in which it stated that ‘there are no foreign biological laboratories in Ukraine’.

Moreover, there is no evidence that these laboratories were working on strengthening the pathogenic properties of microbes. An April 2020 statement on the website of the US Embassy in Ukraine said that the joint projects in Ukrainian laboratories were aimed at “strengthening and securing pathogens and toxins of security concern in Ukrainian government facilities”.

Also, when Victoria Nuland referred to these laboratories, she was referring to Ukrainian “diagnostic and biodefense” laboratories, not to biological weapons facilities.

Can you explain why you chose to publish this article on your website?

Why did you publish it? Because what you claim as facts are not facts. Your sources are simple statements from the SBU and the US embassy. That is to say, the Ukrainian secret services whose use of torture in a systemic way since the Maïdan is proven, and who were caught with both hands in the pot of false information concerning MH17… And the other source is the American government, that is to say, a government that did not hesitate for a second to lie before the UN (!!!) to justify its illegal war against Iraq by brandishing stories of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. Now that’s a reliable source…

For our part, we have published internal Ukrainian documents, not just statements, as evidence of US involvement in the work of the biological laboratories in Ukraine! Like these documents showing that in 2010, Viktor Yanukovych tried to regain control of these biological research laboratories, since contrary to what you claim, the management of what was happening in these laboratories was beyond the control of the Ukrainian authorities! And what was happening there was, I quote from an SBU report (since you seem to consider this source as reliable):

“… These actions of the US side are considered by national experts as the formation of their own database of pathogen strains that are stored at Ukrainian sites, their storage system, as well as the control and study by military doctors of the effectiveness of the use of particularly dangerous infection pathogens in specific regions of Ukraine to create or improve new types of selectively acting biological weapons (against a particular race, genotype, territory of birth or residence).”

More recent documents released by Russia show that these laboratories, based in Ukraine but funded and supervised by the US, were studying diseases that can be transmitted to humans by migratory birds or bats. And if these labs mentioned by Victoria Nuland were, as you claim, only “diagnostic and biodefense” labs, why worry that they might fall into Russian hands? If these labs were only doing what you say, then there is nothing dangerous there.

And just to rub salt in the wound of your arguments, the DailyMail (hardly a Kremlin-friendly media outlet) published an article stating, with sources (in this case, emails found in the famous laptop Joe Biden’s son left at the repair shop), that “Hunter Biden helped secure millions of dollars in funding for a US subcontractor in Ukraine specializing in researching deadly pathogens, according to laptop emails. Oops. I think you’re good to review the ratings of all the news sites that had reported on this, and swallow your certainties about what’s true or not.

b. In February 2022, Donbass Insider published a French translation of Vladimir Putin’s speech justifying his decision to recognize the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic. The speech was published in full, without comment or context in the news section of the site, and stated that “modern Ukraine was created entirely by Russia, or more precisely, by Bolshevik and communist Russia”. Putin also lamented that the communists had ‘given the republics the right to separate from the unified state without any conditions’ and added that ‘Ukraine has never had a stable tradition of a real state’.

Contrary to Putin’s claim that ‘the Bolsheviks invented Ukraine’ and that Ukraine ‘never had a stable tradition of a real state’, Ukraine fought for independence in 1918, a status that lasted only a few years. In 1921, the Russian Bolsheviks defeated the national government of Ukraine and established the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Ukraine spent the next 69 years as part of the Soviet Union.

As for the claim that a weakened Moscow “gave” Ukraine the right to become independent from the Soviet Union “without any conditions”, it was the Ukrainians who chose independence in a democratic referendum. In 1991, as the Soviet Union dissolved, 84% of eligible Ukrainian voters went to the polls and over 92% voted to leave the Soviet Union. Moscow even promised to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty on the condition that it gave up its nuclear weapons – a fact commemorated in 1994 in an agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum.

Can you explain why you chose to publish this speech on your website without commentary or context?

Why did you publish the translation of Vladimir Putin’s speech without commentary or context? Well, because it was to provide 100% pure information without any personal opinions, which should be fine with you since you criticized me in question 4 for mixing information and opinions. And when I provide an article that is pure information, in this case the complete translation into French of Vladimir Putin’s speech so that my readers can make up their own minds about the Russian President’s view of events by having the entire text in their own language, that doesn’t suit you either. You should know, guys, that either we are only allowed to provide pure and cold information, or we have to systematically make comments. But it can’t be both at the same time.

As for your arguments, Ukraine in its current borders is indeed a product of the USSR. The short-lived Ukrainian state that emerged after the 1917 revolution was not at all within the current borders of Ukraine, it was the USSR that gave it most of its territory. And three years of existence yes is not a “stable tradition of a real state”, don’t get me wrong.

Concerning the referendum held in Ukraine in 1991, this has nothing to do with the content of Vladimir Putin’s speech. He is talking about the Soviet constitution adopted in 1924, which allowed the republics the right to separate from the USSR unconditionally… You are mixing up everything.

Moreover, the nuclear weapons deployed in Ukraine did not belong to Ukraine, but to the USSR, as stated in the Lisbon Protocol, which predates the Budapest Memorandum (which was the result of Ukraine’s desire to monetise the application of what it had already signed in 1992). It was therefore normal for them to be sent back to Russia, which is the official successor state of the USSR. So this cannot be called a “condition”. Russia did not demand anything from independent Ukraine other than to return what belonged to it in order to comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

c. A June 2021 article entitled “Protassevich allegedly framed by his own side and handed over to Belarus to serve as a sacrificial victim” claims that the Belarusian authorities did not force the pilots of Ryanair flight 4978 to land in Minsk in order to detain Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich. The article says that “on May 23, 2021, at 12:25, while the Ryanair plane is still over the Volyn region of Ukraine, a first bomb threat e-mail arrives at Minsk airport” and that “after receiving the bomb threat e-mail, and despite its incongruities (such as the requests made) the airport authorities apply the international procedure foreseen in such cases and consider the threat to be real”.

In reality, the Ryanair plane was not diverted because of a bomb threat. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called the hijacking a “case of state-sponsored hijacking” and confirmed to Politico in May 2021 that the Belarusian target was Roman Protasevich.

Can you explain why you chose to publish this article on your website?

I chose to publish it because the facts stated in the article, such as proof that the Belarusian airport did receive bomb threat emails, and that the authorities did not know Protassevich was on board until his “friends” were screaming all over the internet that he was there, are worth more than the opinion of the Ryanair CEO!!! Are you serious when you say you assess whether my article is telling the truth or not, simply based on the opinion of the airline CEO? My article contains all the evidence to back up what I said, but for you O’Leary’s opinion is worth more than facts? Is that your criteria for evaluating the information published by the sites you analyse? Your evaluation “criteria” are truly appalling in their partiality.

More generally, would you comment on your editorial process?

Yes, we report facts and testimonies from the field, and our articles are sourced and substantiated. We consider facts to be more valuable than the opinion or unproven statement of some official or CEO approved by your site. We have done this since the beginning of Donbass Insider, and we will continue to do so.

Christelle Néant

The post Censorship: Donbass Insider in the Crosshairs of Newsguard, an Agency Linked to the CIA, NATO and the White House first appeared on Dissident Voice.