The Russian, Chinese, and Iranian networks monitored on Hamilton showed little topical overlap last week, save for the ever-present coverage of the coronavirus.
Russian state-backed media and government officials pushed back on the U.K. Russia report, claiming that it lacked evidence and contained nothing significant. RT also reacted to Labour leader Keir Starmer’s call for RT’s U.K. broadcast license to be reviewed following the Russia report’s publication, returning to its typical claims that doing so would amount to censorship and is an example of Russophobia. RT also returned to two favorite topics last week: Jeffrey Epstein and the White Helmets. RT linked the attack on Federal Judge Esther Salas’ family to her assignment on a case against Deutsche Bank related, in part, to Jeffrey Epstein. In latest effort to fan the conspiratorial flames surrounding the death of Epstein, RT at times misleadingly implied a close connection between Salas and Epstein, almost exclusively linking her to the Deutsche Bank case. At least 34 tweets mentioned the White Helmets—the Syrian civil defense organization that has consistently been targeted by Russian media and diplomats. Many of those tweets characterized them as “swindlers” and accused them of collaborating with terrorists, in some instances citing a recent report in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant that alleged one of the movement’s founders stole $50,000 destined for Syria via Mayday Rescue Foundation. In a tweet from the official MFA account, there was a screenshot of a July 17 RT article on this subject, which cut off all parts of it showing RT (or any) branding, seeming to imply that the screenshot was of the De Volkskrant article instead.
Unsurprisingly, China’s information network last week focused on the tit-for-tat closures of Chinese and U.S. consulates in Houston and Chengdu, respectively. #Chengdu was the ninth most-used hashtag by government and diplomatic accounts, and four out of the ten most-shared stories on Facebook were about the Houston closure (62 state media stories mentioned Houston). State media and diplomatic accounts also trumpeted China’s launch of Mars probe Tianwen-1, which is seen as the first step towards Mars exploration. #Mars was the fifth most-used hashtag by government and diplomatic accounts, and almost 100 Mars-related stories and videos were posted by state media. Xinjiang was also a prominent topic, with the Chinese government returning to its two main talking points: “reeducation” is necessary to combat terrorism in the province, and western reports of concentration camps are fake news and part of anti-Chinese propaganda.
Major themes in Iranian state-backed outlets and accounts last week included ongoing attacks against the United States over the killing of Maj. Gen. Soleimani, interwoven with commentary comparing (unfavorably) the U.S. role in Iraq and Syria with Iran’s. Foreign Minister Zarif specifically criticized the United States over an encounter between an Iranian airliner and American fighter aircraft in Syrian airspace, referring to the United States as “outlaws.” There was also substantial coverage of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks about growing tension with China, with Iran as usual framing itself as a key leader of opposition to the United States globally.