BASEES Annual Conference 2022

Sputnik International’s Covid coverage: audience reaction

Fri8  Apr02:20pm(20 mins)


Lucy Birge


Sputnik, the younger and more inflammatory of Russia’s two international broadcasting outlets, was founded in 2014. Its global English language channel, Sputnik International, adopts a loosely libertarian editorial stance that allows it to project Western states and their institutions as corrupt and curtailing the choices and freedoms of individual citizens. The coronavirus pandemic has led to hitherto unprecedented legislation placing stringent restrictions on civil liberties as well as pressures on states to harness science and technology in developing tools to combat the virus. The paper will ask: how has Sputnik International reacted and adapted to a protracted major international crisis? How has it attempted to mobilise emergent libertarian debates surrounding the role and jurisdiction of the state? Examining Sputnik International's social media content, I will evaluate the outlet’s success in garnering audience reaction at two critical junctures of the pandemic: the introduction of strict lockdowns during its “disruptive” phase (March-April 2020); and the pandemic’s second phase, when the public health measures used to contain it had already become run-of-the-mill reality (February 2021). Although the pandemic offers Russia’s international broadcasting operation an opportunity to advance libertarian tropes, the Russian state has been no less reliant on the public trust and compliance that are required to contain the virus than its Western counterparts.