Differentiated visibilities: RT Arabic’s narration of Russia’s role in the Syrian war

Dajani, Deena; Gillespie, Marie and Crilley, Rhys (2019). Differentiated visibilities: RT Arabic’s narration of Russia’s role in the Syrian war. Media, War & Conflict (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1750635219889075

Abstract

This article focuses on the social media content of RT Arabic – formerly Russia Today – the Russian state-funded international news media organization. It presents results of a qualitative analysis of social media posts in order to assess whether and how RT Arabic constructs a strategic narrative of its involvement in the war in Syria. It also contributes to conceptualizations of how state-sponsored strategic narratives operate in practice and can be mobilized as a soft power resource. Our key finding is that, while Russia’s military presence is rendered almost invisible on RT Arabic, its role as a political and diplomatic actor is highly visible. Although Syrian civilians feature as the most prominent actors, they do so mostly as helpless victims and passive witnesses. Syria is represented as a non-sovereign, dysfunctional state, vulnerable to incursion by foreign forces that are vying for power and control in the region. In RT’s representation of the conflict, Russia is portrayed as coming to the aid of Syrians and Syria, as a benign presence promoting the establishment of good governance and skilfully managing the complex diplomatic relations surrounding the conflict. Rather than using straightforward propagandistic or hard-line ideological narratives, RT Arabic creates its own style of persuasive soft power on social media. This style is characterized by the differentiated visibilities afforded to Russia’s military, diplomatic and political roles. Deftly balancing exposure and concealment, RT Arabic performs a legitimating function – rendering Russia’s presence and power in a positive light.

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