Bold journalistic experiment with Russian TV propaganda channel left a bitter taste in mouth

Audrius Lelkaitis ir Mantas Adomėnas
DELFI montažas

The border is crossed by masked men in camouflage uniforms, the first wall of the border gives up without a fight. This is how Ala Davidova, a reporter of the Kremlin-controlled channel NTV, begins her report form of Lithuania. It’s like a scene from a film with dramatic music, she’s running in the forest, like she’s being chased and tells the incredible story of the exercises that took place in April in Šalčininkai.

Journalist Audrius Lelkaitis and even Parliament member Mantas Adomėnas got involved in this report with false facts. How and why?

Last week NTV channel crew came to Lithuania and had filmed segment on 11th of April several areas of Lithuania: the border, Šalčininkai and Vilnius, where unannounced exercises of the Ministry of Internal Affairs took place.

The exercise received criticism from the public, media and political levels and were evaluated critically, especially for the unsuccessful operations carried out by Lithuanian officers in Šalčininkai.

This alleged “green people” managed to cross the border undetected, take over the police station, disarm officers and take them hostage, while their colleagues, who tried to carry out a chaotic and uncoordinated rescue operation were “defeated”. At the same time, local residents and city government were angry about the unannounced and even offensive scenario of the exercise.

It was like a goldmine for Kremlin propaganda to show a situation in the small and divided Lithuania.

So it is not surprising that the Kremlin-controlled NTV crew did everything they could to show the lack of preparedness and divide of “militaristic Lithuania”: as if the Government is determined to aggressively and the “regular people” are the ones who suffer.

The officer showed the door to the provocateurs

The segment that lasted for about 4 minutes begins with the journalist telling a story about exercises that scared and confused local people, all the while energetically running through the forest. However, she is lying from the start when the group that crossed the border, “successfully took over the first border control point”.

In fact, uniformed “green people” not only were noticed but also defeated successfully by the State Border Guard Service officers on the 11th of April 11th, they not only defended themselves but also neutralised the threat. The operation in Vilnius ended in a similar manner. But only in Šalčininkai the armed men, who were wearing sports clothing, successfully took over the police headquarters.

In the segment the NTV “journalist” smartly used video footage, which shows not only officers of the Ministry of the Interior, subordinate institutions but also military officers, who were not part of the exercise. However, the information that was used was from last year’s military exercise.

NTV journalist A. Davidova continued the story continues in Šalčininkai police headquarters and tried to interview a police officer. Why didn’t they fire? Did you know about the exercise?

“No comment, goodbye” – politely told the officer in Lithuanian, showing A. Davidova to the door. She received more similar answers. The guests from Russia got angry, that she only got a brief “no comment” also from the residents of Šalčininkai, and the mayor, who criticized the exercise, and Lithuanian politicians as well.

“The officials and politicians who refuse to speak left me with a good impression. This shows that these Kremlin channels are not seen as the media. And rightfully so because it is a tool of state propaganda.

In this case, they tried to use our internal problems and tensions because the news is broadcasted not only in Russia but also for Russian-speaking audience in Lithuania” said Nerijus Maliukevičius, a professor at Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Politics, who analyses information wars.

They called a Lithuanian journalist a sell-out

The only exception was Member of Parliament and Conservative Mantas Adomėnas.

“The more NATO allies there are, the safer Lithuania is and if the US troops were stationed here are not on rotation but continuously, the security level would be higher” M. Adomėnas is quoted in the segment. How did he end up there, if everyone else refused to talk with the Kremlin’s media? According to M. Adomėnas, he was deceived, because these journalists “caught” him through another person in Lithuania.

“Last Thursday a journalist Audrius Lelkaitis started looking for me: he called the Parliament office, asked for assistants, asked if I could be interviewed about the deployment of US troops in Lithuania. I didn’t have time, it’s not really my topic but he was persistent. He will come wherever it is best for me to meet.

For what program? “I’m here to shoot a segment and sell to the first buyer.” This is where I should have heard alarm bells, but life is on the fast track! – but I didn’t. I agreed to talk on camera” the MP told his story on Facebook after the segment had aired on NTV.

He confirmed to DELFI that A. Lelkaitis contacted his office and he agreed to talk. He talked for about 10 minutes, and the film crew didn’t make him suspicious because the guests from Russia didn’t say a word.

“The operator had Caucasian features but the chamber was not marked. The questions seemed aggressive and primitive: about the deployment of US military, on the failed exercise of the Ministry of Interior, threat to Lithuania.

But I had no doubts because they talked in Lithuanian, didn’t say that they were with NTV, which was his duty and he failed at it but why should I believe that they’re working for someone else? What is the worst, is that I thought that he was sent by Janutienė (a controversial Lithuanian journalist, to put it mildly) .

Journalists are asking for interview every day and politicians aren’t able to check all of them” said M. Adomėnas and called A. Lelkaitis a sell-out.

“Audrius Lelkaitis which “agency” needs the information. He should tell why he aided in the defamation of Lithuania” M. Adomėnas expressed his anger on Facebook and encouraged his followers to unfriend the journalist.

M. Adomėnas is guilty or was he deceived?

At the same time, A. Lelkaitis gave a version of events and the motives to cooperate with NTV. Freelance journalist called his post “Lessons from the other side.”

“Russian media has travelled to Lithuania and will continue to do so. It’s about what they are doing once they’re here. When I received a call from the NTV producer I was curious as to how they work” wrote A. Lelkaitis.

He was surprised at the small payment for the so-called “fixer”, who is a local that helps foreign journalists to arrange transport, finds the locations, and people. However, he based his decision on curiosity and not money.

“Some argue in the comments that I sold out for 30 silver coins, I can say that the money wasn’t an argument because the information is more important to journalists and politicians” said A. Lelkaitis. He said that he was called by the NTV producer. He also admitted that the Russian media has reached out not for the first time.

“They tried to contact me more than a decade ago but I was not interested at that time. I’s different now because I wanted to learn how much information they can gather in Lithuania, how they work in “hostile territory.”

I of course suspected what they were preparing because I would if I didn’t but it was completely different to see from the inside how they work and behave, how they solve the issues “A. Lelkaitis explained his motives.

He assured that all the politicians, political scientists and other experts that he talked to refused to be interviewed when they found out that the client is NTV. Some even tried to teach A. Lelkaitis emphasizing that is working with Kremlin’s propaganda channel.

“The reporter was desperate. She explained that they are working through production companies in Ukraine and asked them to mediate and take interviews. (…) I called to the office of a PM Mantas Adomėnas. I stated that the interview would be sold all over the world.

To my surprise, a face to face interview was quickly set up with M. Adomėnas himself and we set a time and place since we were already late. M. Adomėnas was in a hurry and didn’t ask where the information would be used.

During the interview he defended the prestige of Lithuanian Armed Forces, and stressed that he gives full supports to a permanent deployment of US troops in Lithuania. I think that attempts to do a similar interview will happen and they have to clarify where it will be used” wrote A. Lelkaitis.

This MP answered that he’s not convinced by the journalist’s excuses.

“I didn’t say anything wrong with about Lithuania. It’s bad that the journalist agreed to cooperate with them when he knew it was NTV. If he had written about his motivation right after NTV left, then it’s another matter but when he did it after being accused of being a sell-out then it seems like a poor excuse” said M. Adomėnas.

Were confused after receiving answers form Lithuanians

However, A. Lelkaitis did not back down and assured that if not him, then someone else in Lithuania would have helped.

“I have the impression that we can’t stop them because they go like tanks and don’t have any boundaries” said the journalist.

A. Lelkaitis drew attention with his statements to the fact that Russian journalists chose cheap guesthouses and tried to be economic.

“Television doesn’t waste money. The drunk manager of the guest house lets us into the smelly rooms. While we’re traveling to Šalčininkai in the morning, they are hurriedly looking for people to interview. Ministers, politicians, political scientists refuse to talk as soon as they find out its NTV (or say that they’re “too busy”). Rasa Juknevičienė told me to tell them that NTV is propaganda television. I did. I must say that the correspondents react sensitively to this. I can see that they’re embarrassed” A. Lelkaitis described his first day with NTV.

According to him, people in Šalčininkai market spoke nicely about NTV, they said that it’s the only channel that they watch. People said that they want peace and not war.

“We are going to the police station, which was captured by the “insurgents” during the exercise. The correspondent with the camera their way to the officer and want to talk to the chief. She is startled that e deputy refuses to speak in Russian.

The story is filmed a dozen times before the building. Only after several takes, when everything has been filmed, a man dressed in civilian clothes asks not to interfere with work.

Also, the reporter did run to a police car, yanked the door open and tried to talk with an officer but he refused to speak… he was on his way to lunch. A soldier, who asked not to show his face or reveal his name, agreed to talk but said that military affairs are the decisions of his superiors.

Then we were going to storm the municipality, even though the secretary of the mayor on the phone said that the mayor and his deputy have no time to talk because their agenda is full. We went to the third floor with a turned on camera. A woman, who is passing by, helpfully opens a coded door. A young family comes into the mayor’s office. The correspondent forces her way into the office. The family is protesting.

Secretary asks to wait in the reception. However, the secretary doesn’t speak in Russian, which disturbs the journalists. The mayor refuses to talk, he does it politely despite the reporter’s reluctance to leave. The operator is still filming in the doorway. Finally, we the municipality but the attempt to talk to the mayor is recorded” A. Lelkaitis wrote about the aggressive actions of NTV.

All of this was shown in the NTV report but was edited. Meanwhile, after receiving demands from Moscow, creative team began to behave more dramatically.

“They are filming very interestingly: the girl forces her way through the bushes and is screaming. (…) It seems that they are going to Lithuania to film episodes according to a pre-prepared scheme. They don’t find the reality interested, and it’s forced into a box (which makes the work so much harder). I state that there are ticks in Lithuanian. This reporter ruin her mood for a long time” wrote A. Lelkaitis.

From the segment it’s clear that all they wanted to show was that Lithuanian meat and milk enterprises particularly were deeply affected by the loss of export products to Russia. And even though A. Lelkaitis said that no one agreed to cooperate with the Russian “journalists” and refused to allow filming, they managed to find a local farmer.

Vladimiras Šiškovskis, who said that he lives by the border, boasted that he’s a communist, for whom it’s not profitable to grow cows and he doesn’t export milk because “it’s not profitable”.

NTV’s segment links this issue with the growing defence budget of “militaristic” Lithuanian, which is apparently not used to strengthen the military power, because NTV reminded the story of “golden spoons” and illustrated it with the criticism of President Dalia Grybauskaitė for the Ministry of National Defence. What is interesting is that after a short segment about D. Grybauskaitė and her words, the view suddenly changes into a mooing cow of V. Šiškovskis.

According to A. Lelkaitis, the “reporter” was convinced that the ban on food products to Russia was introduced by the West and not vice versa, even though boycotts of Western goods, including dairy products were the Russian response to the western sanctions for the aggression of Kremlin in Ukraine.

A. Lelkaitis said that Russian “journalists” were disappointed about Lithuanian food and even the former MP Zigmas Vaišvila, who supports Kremlin’s propaganda. They went to his home and listened to him, however, they didn’t like his slow mannerism.

“The conclusion is simple: they need active people, who talk in short sentences” summed up A. Lelkaitis. And indeed – without the farmer from the border, the only person who openly laughed at the actions of Lithuanian security services operations was Anatolijus Ivanovas: who has Russian nationality and is the manager of “Baltnews” project that is supported by the Kremlin’s money.

Other interviewees: a former veteran of World War II in the 16th Lithuanian Division, or residents of Marijampolė, who surprisingly weren’t against NATO, or a Lithuanian soldier that doesn’t speak Russian did not fit into the segment. However, the distorted information about Lithuania was still aired.

Is it better to respond or ignore?

“I think it’s best to arrest them because they are afraid to wasting time, their time is limited, they save money, so if you’re arrested to check the documents, you lose precious time. And they feel the pressure and afraid to lose their job” said A. Lelkaitis.

He emphasised to DELFI that he doesn’t feel like a victim, because he wanted to show the situation: how NTV works, what the Russian journalists are scared of and to propose possible solutions.

You weren’t just an observer, you took part and organized it, right?

It was the only way, if you’re with them, then you can’t argue.

What do you think about the reactions, which were caused by your involvement?

I was a little annoyed that people didn’t want to hear out both sides before attacking and calling me bad names. I understand them but their reactions don’t reflect reality, which is much more complicated.

I directly felt it but wasn’t surprised. M. Adomėnas and I would have reacted the same but two things are important: the issue is raised into the open and people talk about it, I gave all the facts in my post. I’m sure that that crews have travelled and will continue to do so. And the knowledge of the process is more important than my persona. I feel bad, no one would feel good in this situation but my conscience is calm and I know what I’m doing.

But don’t you think that because of this, as you call it, experiment and a modest amount of money, you lost more than got back?

Every experience has a cost. I ask myself whether there are more similar possibilities. I think that I saw important things and made them public. The overall picture is not as black and white because people who have read my post received interesting information to make informative decisions.

Would you do this again knowing what the consequences are?

It is impossible, absurd. I would not want to experience the wrath of people, I understand why they feel like this but they don’t know the whole situation. I also think that no one from Russian TV will call me ever again. Why? Because I told how they designed the situation and I think that the Russian Embassy read my post carefully reads and translate it into Russian.

Why didn’t you share your motives before?

One of the main motives was to see how they work. I did that. Is that enough to clear my reputation? I’m not sure that it will convince everyone but I know what and how I did things. Things like that happen only once.

Don’t you feel used?

Overall I expected what could happen but I couldn’t know what they would do 100 percent, it’s still a question who used who.

What do you think about the argument that if no one would cooperate with the Kremlin television then they wouldn’t come here?

I have a different argument: they are shoved into a corner and have nobody to talk to and then result to finding fake ones. It is in this case, I have a question: are we acting wisely? Maybe we should have a person who would present our position on the behalf of Lithuania?

We can’t control them but we can minimize the damage. It’s better to regulate the processes instead of ignoring them. They come here, and politicians, political analysts and everyone else ignores them. They’re affected by this and feel pressure from their editors but what still manage to do something and we lose control of the content, we can’t express our opinion, we don’t perform our duty. I understand that what they do here is not journalism but the result is still bad, so my question is this: wouldn’t it be better to control the process?

M. Adomėnas agreed with this and thinks it can be useful.

“But it’s naïve to think that he played a role and proved some truth. I did this in that case without knowing what this will be used for. A. Lelkaitis attempts to hide behind the insights are foolish” said M. Adomėnas.

N. Maliukevičius: A. M. Lelkaitis manipulated Adomėnas

At the time N. Maliukevičius disagreed with the opinion of A. Lelkaitis because legitimizes the actions that are presented as journalism.

“Absolutely not. “Battered boy” is even a genre of Russian TV, where they invite experts, politicians from abroad, who kind of represent an alternative view, but it serves the required narrative, a discussion seems to be going on, not a monologue, other side is involved and then aggressive propaganda operations are beginning to be seen as journalism.

They needed to demonstrate live an alternative face, you don’t even need to hear what they say, we see an official, mayor who refuses to speak, but they are showed and there’s an illusion of dialogue” said N. Maliukevičius.

In his opinion, A. Lelkaitis manipulated M. Adomėnas and probably sacrificed his own reputation. Meanwhile, the Kremlin succeeded in achieving its goal partially because they used our domestic problems, the exercise and scenarios, according to this a “view” was created and broadcasted, a person, who agreed to cooperate and assist in creating the segment, was found, because they didn’t manage to find anything.

“On the other hand, there are positive messages from our side too: many refused to talk, and it showed the opinion of experts, journalists community towards Kremlin channels.

About Vaidas Saldziunas 37 Articles
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