Media and Information


Media and Information

Authoritarian influencers leverage propaganda, disinformation, censorship, and sway over content delivery systems to undercut the integrity of the information space.



State dominance over political expression and communication is a fundamental component of authoritarian control. Increasingly, authoritarian leaders that restrict media freedom and manipulate discourse in domestic settings also seek to curate information flows abroad as a form of modern censorship.

Digital-era changes to the information ecosystem have allowed narratives crafted by authoritarian regimes to gain traction far beyond their countries’ borders. Social media and the internet have lowered barriers to entry, enabling new actors to operate as information gatekeepers. Independent media outlets, meanwhile, have become increasingly vulnerable to economic coercion as they struggle to sustain themselves in an unfriendly business environment.

Sharp Power Influence

Authoritarian influencers take advantage of this already challenging information environment to flood the international media market with often coordinated, state-sponsored content: 

  • State media outlets that lack accountable and transparent governance structures—like RT (Russia Today), Sputnik, Press TV, CGTN, and Xinhua, among others—privilege authoritarian narratives and sideline independent perspectives.
  • Content-sharing and coproduction agreements between state-backed and independent news outlets act as a conduit for insinuating regime-friendly content into local reporting.
  • Journalist trainings and exchanges organized by authoritarian powers emphasize the regimes’ achievements and educate foreign journalists on how to report from the official perspective.

Authoritarians also employ trolling, online harassment, and forms of digital disinformation at scale to silence political dissent, shape election outcomes, and undermine democratic institutions. New technologies developed by a thriving commercial sector that offers disinformation as a service are used to demoralize, distract, and divide publics.

Information is a weapon—and one that can be used against us. This is an uncomfortable truth for open, democratic societies. We like to think that our media ecosystem is self-sustaining.

Edward Lucas

Firming Up Democracy’s Soft Underbelly: Authoritarian Influence and Media Vulnerability

Democratic Responses

Civil society can counter authoritarian sharp power in the media and information space. Familiarity with how authoritarian powers influence the information circulating in print publications, radio broadcasts, television programs, and social media feeds is a crucial first step.

Norms and Standard Setting
  • Media outlets should enhance operational transparency by publishing details about commercial relationships, acknowledging partnerships and information sources, and implementing procedures for receiving public complaints about inaccurate information.
  • The media sector should resist authoritarian efforts to define the boundaries of free expression and association by affirming its commitment to democratic standards, like accountability and human rights, and letting these principles guide engagement with authoritarian actors.
Cross-Sector Collaboration
  • Social media platforms should identify more meaningful ways to work with researchers, journalists, and civil society organizations, for example, to identify emerging threats and problematic accounts tied to authoritarian actors. Platforms should ensure that content producers and independent voices critical of authoritarian influence have an avenue for appeal when encountering online harassment or other censorship efforts.
  • Democracy and rights-focused organizations should incorporate the specific challenges posed by authoritarian media influence into future initiatives, with coordination and support from funders.
Education and Awareness
  • Civil society can help address persistent political-literacy gaps about modern forms of authoritarian influence. Surge capacity for local civil society expertise will help address sharp power inroads in established and emerging democracies alike.
  • An understanding of authoritarian influence should be mainstreamed into nongovernmental work on media freedom, free expression, and internet freedom. A comprehensive mainstreaming strategy can build on existing initiatives and should include investigation and research, actions by media outlets, initiatives led by journalists’ unions and media owner associations, and civil society efforts. 

Media and Information

The reporting and analysis catalogued in the Portal illustrates how authoritarian powers influence the media sector and information space in every region of the world.

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Source: Jamestown Foundation

Publication Date: August 18, 2023

Geopolitical Surprise In The Caucasus: Georgia Declares A Strategic Partnership With China

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Eurasia, Georgia

Author: Beka Chedia

View Resource: Geopolitical Surprise In The Caucasus: Georgia Declares A Strategic Partnership With China

Georgia has forged a strategic partnership with China after years of closeness with Western partners. China’s increasing influence in Georgia, particularly through investment in key strategic infrastructure, threatens Georgian democracy and the potential for rapprochement with NATO.

Source: The Guardian

Publication Date: August 11, 2023

‘It’s Not a Fad’: the Truth Behind Saudi Arabia’s Dizzying Investment in Sport

Authoritarian Country: Saudi Arabia

Affected Region: North America, United States, Europe, United Kingdom, Global

Author: Paul MacInnes

View Resource: ‘It’s Not a Fad’: the Truth Behind Saudi Arabia’s Dizzying Investment in Sport

Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in sports to bolster the country’s international image while advancing domestic development goals. Activists and experts warn that the Saudi government is “sportswashing” to distract from recent human rights abuses.

Source: Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística

Publication Date: August 6, 2023

Rosatom, Russia’s Nuclear Agency, and its Information Strategy to Win Bids in Latin America

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Latin America and the Caribbean, Bolivia, Nicaragua

Author: Pablo Medina et. al.

View Resource: Rosatom, Russia’s Nuclear Agency, and its Information Strategy to Win Bids in Latin America

As Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, ramped up investment in Latin America, leaders signed agreements to strengthen their “digital communications strategies” and Russia-positive content has begun to appear in local media. Rosatom’s consultants have also intervened to sway local election results.

Source: New York Times

Publication Date: August 4, 2023

How a U.S. Tech Mogul Used Nonprofits to Sow Chinese Propaganda

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: United Kingdom, Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazil, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America, United States, Europe

Author: Mara Hvistendahl et. al.

View Resource: How a U.S. Tech Mogul Used Nonprofits to Sow Chinese Propaganda

An American donor with ties to Chinese state media has funneled money through nonprofit organizations to ultimately promote Chinese talking points within leftist activist groups, think tanks and media outlets worldwide.

Source: Euractiv

Publication Date: June 19, 2023

Almost 400 Websites Spread Russian Propaganda in Bulgaria

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Europe, Bulgaria

Author: Krassen Nikolov

View Resource: Almost 400 Websites Spread Russian Propaganda in Bulgaria

Bulgaria has seen a rapid growth in Russian propaganda over the past year, spreading disinformation and fake news through a network of growing mushroom sites, or websites created by malicious actors to project disinformation.

Source: Reuters

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

The Meat Magnate Who Pushed Putin’s Agenda in Germany

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Europe, Germany

Author: Tassilo Hummel, Polina Nikolskaya, Mari Saito, Maria Tsvetkova, Anton Zverev

View Resource: The Meat Magnate Who Pushed Putin’s Agenda in Germany

Ties between a German national soccer team and Russia’s state-owned gas company contributed to a blossoming relationship between the two countries. Foreign investment across Russian and German enterprises facilitated the spread of Russian influence and improved public opinion about Russia in Germany.


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Media and Information
Media and Information

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