Why is the Czech Republic still discriminating against Roma children?

Why is the Czech Republic still discriminating against Roma children?

This week marks ten years since the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Czech Republic was discriminating against Roma children in the education system.

A decade later, things aren’t much better. The 2007 rulingD.H. and Others v Czech Republic – stated that the Czech education system was funneling Roma children into substandard schools and was incorrectly classifying many Roma children with mild mental disabilities.

But today, even though Roma children make up less than 4 percent of all elementary school children in the Czech Republic, they make up more than 30 percent of all Czech children diagnosed with mild mental disabilities. That figure’s barely changed over the last four years.

While the country’s tried to enact some reforms to the education system – for example, the proportion of Roma students attending separate ‘practical’ schools has declined – segregation is still an issue. This year Czech ombudsman Anna Sabatova said that “[over] a quarter of Roma children are still being educated in very ethnically homogeneous schools” and that in some communities “there is a continuing practice of educating the Roma outside…or separately from non-Roma children within the same elementary school.”

It’s why, in 2014, the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic, accusing the country of breaching EU racial equality directives.

Speaking at a conference this week hosted by the Open Society Justice Initiative and Open Society Fund Prague, one Roma community organizer described how she and her fellow activists travelled around to nine different cities and towns across the country, speaking with some 1,500 Roma about what they thought of the country’s education system.

“These people didn’t perceive any change for the better,” Magdalena Karvayova told the conference. Worse, said Karvayova, the Roma she talked to were “extremely distrustful” of everyone, from governments to bureaucrats to even NGOs.

“You should have thrown them to the hyenas!”

It’s easy to understand why Roma in the Czech Republic feel this way when you hear what their leaders and fellow citizens have to say about them.

President Milos Zeman recently said that “90 per cent of ‘unadaptable’ people in the Czech Republic are Roma,” using a phrase in Czech – nepřizpůsobivý – that, according to independent Czech internet daily Britské listy, is a “frequently used euphemism to replace racist abuse directed systematically against the Roma.”

One far-right politician, a secretary of the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) that got almost 11 per cent of the vote last month – and is now the fourth-largest party in the Czech parliament – reportedly said in a restaurant in the Czech parliament that “Jews, gays and Roma should be gassed.”

“He demanded that all homosexuals, Roma, and Jews should be shot immediately after they have been born,” one MP reported him as saying.

After three young Roma boys made international headlines in March when they snuck into a zoo in the city of Jihlava and stoned a flamingo to death, some Czech social media users didn’t hold back on what they thought of Roma.

“Bastards! I would do the same to them!” said one person.

“You should have thrown them to the hyenas,” another user said. Others said the young boys, being Roma, had “inborn genetic deficiencies,” with “intelligence lower than that of the dead flamingo.”

It’s no surprise to learn that Czechs, in general, aren’t particularly sympathetic towards Roma. In a poll earlier this year 43 per cent of Czechs indicated they were “very unsympathetic” towards Roma, while only 4 per cent described themselves as “very” or “somewhat sympathetic.”

“It’s a trend that’s been getting worse and worse”

There are at least some steps in the right direction. Over the past decade more and more Roma children have been attending mainstream schools instead of special, ‘practical’ schools. Reforms to make the system more inclusive began in September 2016, aimed at increasing participation of children with special needs (including children from deprived backgrounds) in mainstream education.

Still, it’s not enough, Czech ombudsman Anna Sabatova said at the conference. The new problem, she said, is segregation within many mainstream schools, where Roma children are still educated separately from non-Roma students.

“It’s a trend that’s been getting worse and worse,” Sabatova said, adding that the government needs to understand more about why these schools have opted for de facto “separate but equal” segregation.

This is what worries David Benar, Czech Deputy Minister for Human Rights. Himself Roma, Benar worries that the country is moving closer and closer to a system of “separate but equal” segregation of Roma within mainstream schools. And Roma like him won’t stand for it.

“Roma people are not in a good mood.”

(Photo credit: Wikipedia commons/Anglos)

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Why isn’t Andrej Babis in Evropské hodnoty/European Values’ crosshairs?

Why isn’t Andrej Babis in Evropské hodnoty/European Values’ crosshairs?

The Czech Republic’s most active think-tank has barely criticized, let alone mentioned their future Prime Minister Andrej Babis – a man who isn’t exactly a shining example of western liberal democracy in action.

Remember, Babis is someone who’s:

  • The second-richest man in the country, with his Agrofert conglomerate having its hands in everything from fertilizers and farm equipment, to two of the largest Czech newspapers and its most popular radio station.
  • Been accused of having been a Communist-era Czechoslovak secret police agent (though an appellate court in Slovakia “affirmed Mr. Babis was not an agent of the secret police”).
  • Been caught on tape earlier this year coordinating coverage of his political opponents with a journalist at one of the purportedly independent newspapers he owns.
  • Accused of numerous conflicts of interest, and now someone who’s had his parliamentary immunity stripped over fraud allegations.
  • Been recently described to me as “Trump, Berlusconi and Orban all in one.”
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Babis’ paper: “Accept the Euro, fast!” Non-Babis paper: “Juncker: I don’t dictate anything to Czechia” (from https://twitter.com/FilipZajicek/status/908226594979958784)

Let’s also not forget some of the Russia-related allegations that have been thrown at Babis.

  • He’s called EU and US sanctions on Russia “nonsense” and said they’re against the country’s economic interests – a line I’ve personally heard from some Kremlin-friendly figures across Europe.
  • He’s dodged questions on whether Putin bore the blame for annexing Crimea, and has said NATO “cannot stay on this idea that Russia is the biggest problem.”
  • Under his watch the Czech finance ministry (more accurately, the Czech Export Guarantee Agency (EGAP)), underwrote a loan guarantee to PhosAgro, a Russian company co-owned by Putin pal Vladimir Litvinenko.
  • In 2007 Babis’ Agrofert tried to negotiate a gas deal with the Czech subsidiary of Gazprom instead of its then-current German supplier.

These aren’t necessarily super-Kremlin smoking guns, but I’d think a group of people who are dedicated to ferreting out Kremlin interference in their country and beyond would at least be asking a few questions about the guy who’s about to run the show.

Sure, Babis is intimidating and is the kind of guy who likes to go after people who talk shit about him – I mean, look at all the corrections Foreign Policy had to add under this 2015 article when Babis went full Babis on them.

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Full Babis.

I get why you’d want to be in his good side, but European Values isn’t exactly afraid to go after some other Czech and European political figures with less-than-subtle language: the German SPD and Sigmar Gabriel (Social Democrats), who want to “please the Kremlin;” the Czech Communists, guilty of “treason” for their broken record anti-NATO stance; and, least of all, Czech president (“rezident”) Milos Zeman, the “Kremlin’s Trojan horse.”

With elections/Babis’ coronation just over a month away I’m surprised European Values doesn’t have anything critical to say about Babis – or, really, anything about him at all.

“Study: [Czech/Slovak] conspiracy sites sell millions in ads annually” – my thoughts

“Study: [Czech/Slovak] conspiracy sites sell millions in ads annually” – my thoughts

This afternoon the Nadace Open Society Foundations (OSF) released a study (Czech only right now – Google Translate is your friend) outlining how 122 Czech and Slovak disinformation websites, by their analysis, make anywhere from €920,000 to €1.24 million a year in advertising revenue.

For background, I’ve touched on the world on Czech disinformation here (a better breakdown from 2015 on both Czech and Slovak disinformation is here). This is an interesting analysis that confirms what a lot of us already know – that some disinformation websites can make decent money from ads.

But before it breaks further in English, I’ve got a few observations and thoughts.

1) The ad revenue is ridiculously concentrated among the big players

According to Nadace OSF’s analysis the total ad revenue per month of all these sites combined is 3,357,393 Czech crowns (~€128,700).

But take a look at how much the five biggest sites take up – and, particularly the first. the popular Breitbart-esque Parlamentní listy (figures from report, calculations mine):

Website Estimated monthly income (CZK) % of all disinfo websites
Parlamentnilisty.cz 1,505,542 44.8%
Expres.cz 788,532 23.5%
Eurozrej.cz 534,972 15.9%
hlavnespravy.sk 142,633 4.2%
Ac24.com 98,098 2.9%
Total, Top 5 3,069,777 91.4%
Total, All sites 3,357,393

I think it’d be more effective to point out how much ad revenue a few specific Czech and Slovak disinformation websites take in, rather than lump them all together to get a higher dollar/Euro value. Also, not all these websites have the same reach and, it has to be noted, some of them even have ad revenue – Slovakia’s Slobodný vysielac (Free Transmitter) and Zem a Vek (Earth and Time, though that translation’s always sounded wonky to me) among them.

But another website in that list threw me…

2) Why is Expres.cz included?

I’m not asking this in a snarky way – I’ve always considered it more likely a sleazy Daily-Mail-esque tabloid than a disinformation website like the others here. I see the inclusion of Expres.cz was sourced from http://www.konspiratori.sk, who I assume have a good argument for including them here. (Not sarcasm – I really assume they do.)

3) Careful with the scary, sexy-sounding higher figure

OK, this is a relatively minor data wonk quibble, but the report gave an estimated range of how much ad revenue these sites can pull in over the course of a year – from €900K to €1.2m. The range is there for a reason – it could be that high.

If you’re tweeting about this I think it’s important to state that this €1.2m is the high end of the estimate.

4) Advertising boycotts won’t make these sites go away

Presumably the point of this study is to try and build pressure to get advertisers to pull their ads from disinformation websites (i.e., like Breitbart’s advertisers fleeing in droves). I think this is a worthwhile endeavour, but anyone promoting this in CZ/SK and beyond should recognize that:

a) some of the websites, like PL, seem like they have enough financial resources behind them that a dent in ad revenue won’t cripple them much at all.

b) some of these websites (i.e., most of the smaller ones) are so low-grade and piecemeal they either don’t have any ad revenue or don’t need it, since some of them are literally a guy or two in a basement somewhere doing this stuff on the side.

c) some sites, like the aforementioned Slobodný vysielac and Zem a Vek don’t have any ad revenue at all, so obviously they couldn’t care less about an ad boycott.

Want to promote an ad boycott of disinformation websites? Go ahead, but don’t expect to choke these websites out. At best, expect it (and aim) to raise awareness of why people shouldn’t bother with these kinds of websites (e.g., “hey, if [insert company X] thinks it’s wrong to advertise on PL maybe there’s a good reason why”) and use it as a tool to talk even more about disinformation and the “fake news” phenomenon.

My $0.02/Kč0.44

some random stats on Muslims in Canada, Czech Republic and Slovakia

some random stats on Muslims in Canada, Czech Republic and Slovakia

Because I am without a doubt the coolest kid on my block in Prague (and didn’t particularly feel like writing some dumbass numbered THREAD on Twitter), I spent a few minutes on Saturday night trolling through Canadian census data on Muslim populations in census metropolitan areas (CMAs: basically cities + suburbs and/or commuter areas), seeing how big or small they are compared to the population(s) of Muslims in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. (FWIW, all part of prepping a piece on Islamophobia in Slovakia and the general theme of Islamophobia really being trendy in places with barely any Muslims).

Background: there’s between 10-20,000 Muslims in the Czech Republic – a country of 10.6 million people, so at best 0.2% of the population – and around 5,000 next door in Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million (i.e., not even 0.1%). On the other hand, Canada’s got more than a million Muslims, making up more than 3% of the population.

Using the 2011 National Household Survey data (the most recent where religion is broken down by CMA), I estimated just how different some cities/CMAs in Canada are from both the Czech Republic and Slovakia:

  • Saskatoon: Around 295,000 people – the 17th largest CMA in Canada – with around 5,600 Muslims (~1.9%), more than the entire country of Slovakia.
  • Halifax: Around 400,000 people – the 13th largest CMA in Canada – with around 7,500 Muslims (~1.9%), also more than the entire country of Slovakia.
  • Winnipeg: Around 778,000 people with around 11,200 Muslims, as much as some of the low estimates of the Czech Republic and twice as many as Slovakia.
  • Edmonton (the entire CMA including us assholes from Sherwood Park, not just the city): 1.3 million people, with around 46,000 Muslims (3.5%-4% of the population).
    • In other words, my hometown has almost twice as many Muslims as the Czech Republic and Slovakia combined.
    • Even Fort McMurray (“Wood Buffalo,” technically) has around 3,400 Muslims in a population of around 73,000 and, unlike Slovakia, has a mosque.
DSC02555
Something Fort Mac has that the entire country of Slovakia doesn’t – a mosque (taken by me, November 2015)

Even tiny Lac La Biche, AB, population 8,300, has a mosque thanks to a longstanding Lebanese community there. It also has a community of Russian Old Believers outside of town. #TheMoreYouKnow.

Recent Czech survey data + elections = a disinformation site’s dream

Recent Czech survey data + elections = a disinformation site’s dream

The most recent round of Eurobarometer stats just came out, and they’re bad news for pretty much anyone in Czech politics right now.

Only 18% of Czechs trust their government right now, a decline of 10% from autumn 2016 – by far the sharpest decline in the EU – and only Greeks, Italians and Spaniards distrust their government as much as Czechs do.

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Oy.

Still, this isn’t nearly as ugly as the table for the question on trust in parliament…

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Double oy.

Nobody in the EU distrusts their country’s parliament more than Czechs do right now, all thanks to the Czech government’s farcical three-part comedy act/political crisis over the past few months (yeah I linked to a Wikipedia article I don’t care).

This level of (dis)trust shows up in recent Czech Public Opinion Research Centre (CVVM) survey data too – their numbers also show that trust in President Miloš Zeman , the government (“Vláda”) and the Chamber of Deputies (“Poslanecká sněmovna,” the lower house of the Czech parliament) has completely tanked.

may 2017
“Table 1a: Population’s confidence in constitutional institutions (%) – comparison over time”

Worse, look at the way Czech satisfaction with the current political situation has driven right off the cliff after a slow recovery from 2013’s scandals.

political cvvm
“Graph 4: Satisfaction with the current political situation from 2011-2017 (Satisfaction Index 0-100)”

And, as if you needed another graph to show how bad it is, look at the drop for both president and government here (the blue and red lines, respectively).

cvvm trends
“Graph 3: Confidence in institutions 2011-2017 (confidence index)”

Numbers like this should be worrisome for a country at any time, but remember the Czechs are going to the polls in just under four months to elect a new parliament – and at the polls again not long after to vote for president.

If I were, say, part of a government of an unnamed country’s efforts to interfere and meddle in other countries’ elections, I’d be all over the Czech Republic this summer.

…to that end, another set of numbers I’ve had kicking around for a few weeks from two previous Eurobarometer surveys (both autumn 2016) show just how said unnamed country’s efforts could actually work.

One, Czechs seem to trust social media more than most other Europeans. While it’s still a minority (40% disagreeing that “information on political affairs from online social networks cannot be trusted,” which is a mouthful of a double negative but yeah), it’s also more than any other EU country.

cz

Eurobarometer’s data is free to download for losers like me, so I took a look in more detail at who exactly in the Czech Republic thinks information on politics from social media can be trusted (to the extent the data can tell me – the sample size is ~1,000, so it can’t be parsed all that much, and Eurobarometer IMO doesn’t have the best questions about education level and essentially not much useful on income or a proxy for income).

As shouldn’t be any surprise, it’s the young: 60% of Czechs aged 15 to 24 disagreed that “information on political affairs from online social networks cannot be trusted” compared to 48% of those 25 to 39, 44% of those 40 to 54 and 27% of those 55 and older. Also interesting are the “don’t knows” – only 5% of 15 to 24 year olds compared to 19% of those 40 to 54 and 39% of those 55 and older.

The same trends show up in different questions about social media – in this one below, for example, Czechs are among the most likely in the EU to think social media is reliable.

social media

Interestingly, 49% of those 15 to 24 years old, 50% of those 25 to 39 and 46% of those 40 to 54 think social media is reliable – in other words, a similar if not identical proportion – but only 31% of those 55+ think social media’s reliable.

One of these Eurobarometer surveys, coincidentally, happened to ask people their attitudes about various countries, including Russia (my mention of Russia is, of course, purely hypothetical and definitely, definitely not related to the “unnamed country” above).

Run what Czechs think about social media (i.e., the agree/disagree question on whether it’s reliable) against what they think of Russia and the results are pretty interesting – Czechs who think social media is reliable also tend to be more positive towards Russia.

   Total “positive” towards Russia   Total “negative” towards Russia
 Social media reliable?  49% 49% 
 Social media unreliable?  35% 64% 

Caveat, though. This question about being positive/negative towards Russia isn’t necessarily a proxy for what they think about the Kremlin or, for that matter, anyone else in the world. It doesn’t necessarily mean the respondent is some sort of zombie “radicalized by Russian propaganda” or even necessarily positive towards the Kremlin or Russia’s foreign policy, etc. Also, some respondents may well have interpreted the question as being positive/negative towards Russian people in general. Still, it’s interesting that the data falls out this way – and falls out this way across many other EU countries – and merits a hell of a lot more study than it’s getting.

There’s a ton more numbers I haven’t mentioned here (e.g., Czechs get more news from websites and trust the Internet more than most other Europeans) that, in all, paint a potentially very ugly picture – a population that increasingly distrusts its politicians and tends to trust social media and the web more than most other people. It’s a disinformation site’s dream.

Surveying some surveys: Czechs & refugees, immigrants and Islam

Surveying some surveys: Czechs & refugees, immigrants and Islam

I’ve been spurred on by what I guess we can call some, um, “colourful” comments on Coda Story’s recent animation of my January story on Islamophobia in the Czech Republic to take a look at some recent public opinion data.

“Unsympathetic” towards Arabs

The Czech Public Opinion Research Centre (CVVM) asked a few questions in their March 2017 survey of ~1,000 Czechs about attitudes towards people from different nationalities/ethnic groups, including Arabs (who I think we can agree in most Czech minds means “Muslims”). They’re right at the bottom.

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The numbers for Arabs look even worse over time….

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Mean scores 1-5, where 1 is “very sympathetic” and 5 is “very unsympathetic.”

No other group has seen anything like this; as the CVVM’s summary report points out, the percentage of those saying they’re “very unsympathetic” (i.e., 5 on the 5-point scale) towards Arabs has gone up by 18 percentage points since 2014. Fortunately (?) that increase seems to have flatlined since 2016.

There’s also a few demographic differences of note in the CVVM’s summary report: 41% of those who declared a good standard of living said they were “very unsympathetic” towards Arabs compared to 55% who declared a poor standard of living; 36% of those with a higher level of education said they were “very unsympathetic” compared to 47% who had an apprenticeship. Still, it’s clear that a lack of sympathy towards Arabs is pretty strong among all parts of the Czech population.

Unfortunately the raw data set isn’t yet publicly available for me to screw around with so I took a look at the raw data from last year’s survey (March 2016) to see if there were any other differences of note that might (or might not) be seen in the 2017 data. There weren’t many:

  • Men had a slightly more negative score on average than women (4.26 compared to 4.15), and more likely to say they were “very unsympathetic” towards Arabs (49% compared to 44%)[both p< 0.1, which means it’s barely worth mentioning IMO but I’ve still done it so deal with it.]
  • Czechs aged 15-29 (41%) were less likely than those 45-59 (50%) or 60+ (50%) to say they were “very unsympathetic” towards Arabs [p< 0.05]

Fear of immigrants

CVVM also released some analysis yesterday from the March 2017 survey on attitudes towards foreigners in general – 64% of Czechs feel that newly-arrived immigrants are a problem for the Czech Republic as a whole. This figure’s shot up since last year, but had dipped from 2015 after a slow rise from 2011.

graf 2

CVVM also asked a few specific questions about the impact people think immigrants have on their country, and the results over time here have seen a drastic change. The belief that immigrants contribute to unemployment has dropped by 12% since 2016 (not that surprising in a country with low unemployment) and, as you can see below, the belief that immigrants are a threat to the Czech way of life has increased.

image (47)

A reason for those “Refugees not welcome” stickers I’ve seen

The most recent round of the Eurobarometer surveys (November 2016) asked a question of ~1,000 Czechs whether they think their country should help refugees. Czechs were the second most likely, behind Bulgaria, of any EU country to say their country shouldn’t help refugees (23% agree versus 72% disagree; EU average 66% agree versus 28% disagree).

Here, as with the CVVM surveys, there’s a few demographic breakdowns of note that I analyzed using the raw data:

  • Czechs who finished full-time education between the ages of 16 and 19 were less likely to agree the Czech Republic should help refugees (20%) compared to those who finished full-time education at 20 years old or older (31%)[p<0.01]
  • Czechs in rural areas (18%) were less likely than those in towns and suburbs (24%) and cities (28%) to agree the Czech Republic should help refugees [p<0.05]

Again, despite these differences, Czechs across all social divides tend not to think their country should help refugees…

Czech and Islam by the numbers, Parts 1 and 2

Last fall I analyzed European Social Survey (ESS) data from 2014 on Czech attitudes towards Muslims living in their country. Part 1, and Part 2.

If you’ve been following along nothing here will surprise you. Who doesn’t want any Muslims to come live in the Czech Republic (i.e., who’s less likely to want them)? Those who:

  • Feel unsafe after dark
  • Have the least contact with different races or ethnic groups
  • Feel the government treats new immigrants better than them
  • Distrust social/political institutions
  • Feel they have less ability to influence politics and have a say

Conversely, Czechs who had friends of different races and/or ethnic groups were more likely to be supportive of Muslims coming and living in the country.

On “First the journalists, then tanks and bombs”

On “First the journalists, then tanks and bombs”

OK, I’d seen this article and graph kicking around Twitter for a day or two before I finally looked at it, and I’m both glad and not glad I did.

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This impressive-looking graph. You’ve seen it, right?

For anyone who hasn’t already seen it or (like I had) has given it only a cursory weekend glance,  the graph is based on an analysis done by Semantic Visions, “a risk assessment company based in Prague” who “conduct…big data (meaning non-structured, large data requiring serious calculations) analyses with the aid of open source intelligence, on the foundation of which they try to identify trends or risk factors.” They also use a “private Open Source Intelligence system, which is unique in its category and enables solutions to a new class of tasks to include geo-political analyses based on Big Data from the Internet.”

OK, cool.

The gist in this case: Semantic Visions had algorithms read hundreds of thousands of online sources, including 22,000 Russian ones,  searching for different trends.

OK…though as someone who chose to suffer through a media content analysis as a thesis for some reason I have a number of methodology-related questions I don’t want to harp too much on (e.g., how is the algorithm actually designed to determine positive/negative stories vis-à-vis a human? how were the online sources chosen? etc.). A little transparency here would go a long way, proprietary nature of the algorithms notwithstanding.

What gets me is the conclusion they’ve drawn based on the data they’ve gathered and present here in this article.

The article says “the number of Russian articles with a negative tone on Ukraine [from February 2012] started to show a gradual and trend-like increase – while no similar trend can be found in English-language media.”

Yes, your data does show that. Got no problem there.

But it’s this (my emphasis in bold):

“Therefore, based on hundreds of millions of articles the possibility that the actual events in Ukraine could themselves be the reason for the increasing combativeness of Russian-language articles can be excluded. Moreover, the strongly pro-Russian President Yanukovych was still in government at the time and the similarly Eastern-oriented Party of Regions was in power. The explanation is something else: the Putin administration was consciously preparing for military intervention and the Kremlin’s information war against Ukraine started two years before the annexation of Crimea to turn Russian public opinion against Ukrainians…”

How can someone possibly draw that conclusion based solely on the numbers presented here?? Are you privy to other data or pieces of analyses that aren’t public? Because, based on the data that’s presented here, I see absolutely no justification for the conclusion that the Kremlin “was consciously preparing for military intervention.”

Consider:

  • A big part of the explanation for any apparent increase in negative coverage would be the EU Association Agreement being initialed in March 2012, right?
  • Why start the analysis at June 2011? I’d want to see the tone of coverage compared to the last bit of Yushchenko’s presidency through the beginning of Yanukovych’s – maybe the increase over 2012-2013 isn’t so much an increase as a return to “normal” negative coverage of Ukraine.
  • (OK, I lied about no more methodology questions) What about positive stories? Were negative stories about Ukraine taking up a greater share of overall coverage, or did the overall number of articles itself increase? Not being transparent on methodological nerdish issues like this really, really doesn’t help, guys.

Please – no more divining of Kremlinological intentions from incomplete, unclear sets of numbers.