From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love

UPDATE (30.07.2016 @ 16:00): Love FM’s “News from Russia” just announced that it would stop publishing the “news” due to what it said was “pressure” (read: transparency) and “lack of free speech” (read: free speech) in Finland.

A radio station in Finland with murky ownership and an unclear management structure is broadcasting pro-Kremlin propaganda, apparently produced by Finns based in Russian-occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The radio station, Love FM, carries mostly harmless pop music, intermixed with short “News from Russia” that repeat common tropes of Kremlin propaganda: Crimea is part of Russia, Ukraine is violating human rights, and Russia is fighting “terrorists” in Syria. The first to direct attention to the propaganda station was a user on Maanpuolustus.net, a Finnish online forum devoted to issues of national defence.

Love FM began broadcasting in the beginning of July 2016. The radio station is owned by a Finnish company of the same name, Love FM Oy, which was incorporated in early 2015. According to official records, the company’s board chairman is a US citizen, Trammell Brady Ford III, who appears to be a less-than-successful music professional. The other two board members are Anita Parri, a Russian-speaking project coordinator of a dance exchange programme, and Raimo Malila, a professional “startup mentor” and business consultant.

When contacted by Finland’s public broadcaster, YLE, Mr Ford was unable to provide clear answers to questions about the radio station’s ownership and the source of its funding. The company’s license application was submitted by a person who said he was only acting on behalf of other people. The application stated that funding came from the “sale of a house” and “two flats.” The person Mr Ford indicated as the radio station’s statutory editor-in-chief denied his role. Ms Parri was under the impression that the company’s operations had been wound down.

Mr Ford’s online profile is patchy, and he seems to be using multiple variations of his name: Trammell Ford, Tram Ford, Tram Brady, and others. He has styled himself as a rap singer and “fashionista” by the name of 7Sins. His other activities seem to have included, among other things, renting a holiday home, managing a spamming operation, and running websites promoting polygamy. In his interview with YLE, Mr Ford implied that he was a supporter of the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, and advised Finns to love Russia.

Love FM has been recruiting a film crew and actresses for what it says is a “TV prank show.” Elsewhere, a “Love Media Corporation” with the same website as that of Love FM is soliciting money to launch a national TV network. The company’s fundraising efforts have raised questions as to the actual source of the money. Mr Ford was unwilling to disclose the source of the funding, insisting that “everyone I know speaks Finnish without an accent.” Mediamonitori reported that the radio station launched its operations without any publicity, which is peculiar for a business that is supposed to run on advertising revenue.

At closer look, however, it seems obvious that Love FM has very much to do with Russia indeed. Apparently, its propaganda “news” are being read by Jaana-Marika Kurtti, who works for the pro-Moscow information war outlet, DONi News, which is based in Russian-occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The manager of DONi News, long-term anti-Western campaigner Janus Putkonen, promotes the radio station on his Facebook page. Love FM’s latest edition of “News from Russia” mentioned a week-long illegal trip of a group of Finnish “tourists” organised by Mr Putkonen and Ms Kurtti to the occupied territories.

Love FM transmits from the same antenna tower as another local radio station, Järviradio. In 2014, Järviradio expressed interest in selling airtime to Russia’s state-run propaganda house, Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today). Järviradio’s board chairman, former long-time MP Raimo Vistbacka, said the Russians wanted to carry their “news” in Finnish on the channel. However, Moscow dropped the project due to opposition from the Finnish authorities. Commenting on the controversy regarding Love FM, the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority pointed out that it had no authority to assess the programming content of radio stations.

The fact that authorities in an EU member state have issued a license to a radio station that carries Moscow’s war propaganda is a scandal. The situation puts a whole new slant on “soft power”: Legislation in Finland is too soft to protect our society from Russia’s insidious influence operations. Latvia and Lithuania have legislation that prohibits the broadcasting of war propaganda, and regulatory authorities there have often suspended the transmission of Russia’s propaganda channels for repeated violations and lies. Maybe it is time we rethink our concept of mental defence and elect decision makers who would act accordingly?

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