News Front, a news website registered in the Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula annexed by the Russian Federation, has been blacklisted by Moldova’s security service SIS for the duration of the emergency period. The measure followed the publication of a fake news titled “Romania tried to `blow up` Moldova with fake coronavirus”.
RISE Moldova has learned that the website is operated by a young politician from the Crimea who runs it in association with a former Russian Government official.
The man is the chief of the Crimea division of the Rodina Party, a pro-Kremlin party in Russia, and an activist who in 2014 stormed the Trade Unions House in Simferopol along with men in camouflage and hood masks. His name has been blacklisted by the last two presidents of Ukraine.
REAL EVENTS BEHIND FAKE NEWS
17 March 2020. The Moldovan Parliament declares an emergency state across the entire country for the period 17 March – 15 May 2020. A number of restrictions get enforced in order to counteract the spread of COVID-19.
19 March 2020. Following the spirit of this decision, SIS asks permission to block 52 fake news websites. It said in a press release, „SIS observes that the alarming situation internationally and domestically around the COVID–19 infection has been a topic of news that alter the content of information in the public space with the purpose to generate panic, tensions, or social conflicts; such news is disseminated massively within the global web network by anonymous websites.” Details, HERE
20 March 2020. News Front, a Crimean website, citing the SIS press release posts a false story in English in the Europe menu: “Romania tried to blow up Moldova with false coronavirus”. Details, HERE
The story starts with an assumption that there have been attempts to destabilize Moldova with fake news about the COVID-19 infection via 52 websites. Then the writer – who is anonymous – cites the SIS press release, and in the end it underlines: “It is noteworthy that all the resources that disseminated fake information were Romanian-speaking.”
24 March 2020. SIS asked the National Agency for Regulations in Electronic Communications and Information Technology to block News Front, arguing that it spreads false news about COVID-19.
Currently, except for the Russian-language version, News Front may yet be visited from certain IP addresses in Moldova.
A visitor typing en.news-front.info may learn that News Front describes itself as a news agency that runs news in ten languages including Russian, German, English, Bulgarian, Georgian, French, and Spanish. Most stories have pictures of political leaders from various continents and armed military in conflict regions.
The front page hosts links to the organization’s social media pages, a part of which were deleted or blocked lately.
In April 2020 Facebook announced that following an internal review it had deleted News Front’s main page as well as its regional pages over coordinated, non-authentic behavior in the region. Details, HERE
One month later Youtube too deleted News Front’s channel with more than its 450,000 subscribers, citing the violation of Youtube’s terms and conditions. Twitter acted pretty much the same way and for the same reasons.
However not all social media platforms cut News Front off their users. VK.com and OK.ru, which are controlled by Russia, accept without restrictions News Front’s content.
THE FRONT’S MEN
News Front’s website went live in November 2014 and is managed by a man named Konstantin Knyrik. It is property of the Russian firm OOO МедиаГрупп Ньюс Фронт (MediaGroup News Front Ltd, as translated from Russian), which is co-owned by two men: half of its equity capital is held by Konstantin Knyrik, a native of Bakhchisaray city in the Crimea, and half is held by Mikhail Sinelin, a Russian national who had worked in the secretariat of the Russian Government.
Konstantin Knyrik, 31, has been a pro-Moscow activist in the Crimea since his being a teenager. In 2014 Knyrik was spotted by video cameras in a group of men in camouflage and mask hoods who stormed the Trade Unions House in Simferopol. The building had hosted the Journalist Investigations Center office. Mr. Knyrik later received a medal “For the return of the Crimea.”
In 2017, Mr. Knyrik was promoted to the head of the Crimean division of the Rodina [Fatherland] Party. Details, HERE
Former deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin was one of the founders and leaders of this pro-Kremlin political party.
In the same 2017, former president Petro Poroshenko declared Mr. Knyrik personae non-grata for three years in connection with his riot and anti-Ukrainian activities, denying the activist his property rights. Details, HERE
On 14 May 2020, the new president of Ukraine, Volodimir Zelensky, kept Mr. Knyrik in the black list along with another 376 persons, most of whom are Ukrainian citizens residing in the Crimea or Russian citizens. The ban is effective until 2022. Details, HERE
THE CRIMEAN MAN
– Reporter: Do you have any comments on SIS’ decision to block the website of News Front?
– Konstantin Knyrik: It’s hard to comment on such decisions, because you can’t really make high profile declarations about the freedom of expression and block media resources at the same time. I suppose that certain Moldovan officials have borrowed the concept about freedom of expression from Europe, the place where any dissidence is prohibited as a matter of fact and where people employed in official media organizations would not cast their own points of view in public.
– Reporter: Do you know the reason for which SIS has blocked News Front’s website?
– Konstantin Knyrik: No, I don’t. What I know is that the pandemic or some kind of opinion about the COVID played a role for someone. However, you may use the pandemic to ban any inconvenient media, without providing any sort of explanations.
– Reporter: Why a part of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube have blocked News Front’s accounts while others such as Odnoklassniki and VKontakte have not disturbed you?
– Konstantin Knyrik: In this particular case the answer is very simple. The networks which have deleted our accounts are undemocratic. They represent tools of the information war, they are strictly censored and are controlled by Western intelligence services. We’ve been banned because the West’s deceiving propaganda is not capable of competing with truth. When one side runs out of arguments for a consistent public debate and starts losing the information war, then it turns to blockade; prohibiting an opponent is the simplest way to go on lying, without offering an alternative to the public. By the way, the freedom of expression is respected in the Russian social media platforms and media space. Unlike the Western counterparts, even the national television in Russia shows contradicting points of view.
– Reporter: What is the daily online audience of News Front? How many readers or subscribers does it have?
– Konstantin Knyrik: You will find the answer by collecting the data you need from open sources. When someone blocks or deletes our social media accounts, without bothering to submit a motivated claim – and this happens in social media platforms that are controlled by Western intelligence services – shows a fear towards the amplitude of our information activity, and those figures are overwhelming for now.
– Reporter: What are the sources of funding for News Front?
– Konstantin Knyrik: News Front is an information agency that exists thanks to volunteers’ efforts. At News Front, most journalists, streamers, and reporters are volunteers who share the motives to defend the truth and ideals or their own. For the war correspondents from the Lughansk and Donbas people’s republics their motherland is Donbas and their cover the true events in there. It’s important for them for the world to know this truth. Many volunteers translate out texts in other languages for free, as they don’t like the negligence of Europe’s official media.
A majority of our employees are volunteers and therefore the operational costs of our agency are quite modest in comparison with the expenses of our opponents. For this reason the revenues from advertising and contributions from our readers, plus donations from a handful of business people – and mine too – are just enough to cover our work. You will find details about our revenues and ad contracts, as well as MediaGroup News Front’s financial reports in open sources. You will learn that the money comes from myself, from an entrepreneur named Fedin, from the firm Intent OOO, and ad suppliers such as Yandex.
In Russia the operations of legal entities are pretty transparent and yet we are not obliged to hold ourselves accountable to anyone but the competent authorities and tax agency. If you are keen to see some information of this kind, I am available to provide certain documents upon request.
– Reporter: From the information I have, I know that you and Mikhail Sinelin share the ownership of MediaGroup News Front Ltd. How can we assess the independence and impartiality of News Front given that Mr. Sinelin had worked several years in the Russian Government?
– Konstantin Knyrik: When Mikhail Sinelin teamed up in this enterprise he’d been for already seven years outside the Government. For this reason your question seems pretty stupid from the perspective of independence and impartiality of our agency. For example, our staff TV anchor and my friend Sergey Veselovsky used to be a police officer in his previous career, but this fact would not harm in any way the impartiality of News Front. Also, our Donetsk office chief Ekaterina Katina used to be a professional model and our senior reporter Yulia Vityazeva had worked as a photographer. Our work has attracted more than 100 volunteers from various parts of the world. These men and women used to work as specialists in other trades, but this fact would not sway our editorial policy in any way.
– Reporter: Would you describe yourself as a journalist or a politician?
– Konstantin Knyrik: From my point of view you can be both. In my opinion there’s no contradiction between acting as a journalist and as a politician at the same time. Once my political goal of turning back the Crimea to Russia has been achieved, I will focus on journalism and business alone. By the way, journalism for me is more like a hobby and I am paying for it from my own pocket and possibilities in order to reach out everyone willing to read and hear the truths.
Fact-checking: Dumitru STOIANOV