Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Iranian, Chinese and Russian Overt Media on Coronavirus
Iranian, Chinese and Russian Overt Media on Coronavirus

Iranian, Chinese and Russian Overt Media on Coronavirus

Post by Rachel Chernaskey

March 9, 2020

As the coronavirus has spread throughout the world, so too has the disinformation and misinformation surrounding the epidemic. Iran, China and Russia have attempted to influence the discourse about coronavirus through their respective state-sponsored media outlets since the start of the outbreak, albeit through varying frames and narratives.

One narrative all three countries highlight is the notion that the United States is weaponizing the crisis for political gain and thus worsening its spread globally. While all three countries’ state-sponsored outlets pushed explicitly anti-U.S. sentiments, Iran and Russia appeared to push far more conspiratorial content than China. In the disinformation ecosystem, each country’s state-sponsored media played off the others to promote shared preferred narratives.

All three countries’ state-sponsored media outlets also published related social media content. For example, Iran’s PressTV posted a video blaming U.S. sanctions for Iran’s struggle to fight coronavirus on Twitter, Russia’s RT asked Twitterwho isn’t going to be surprised if it ever gets revealed that #coronavirus is a bioweapon?,” Sputnik News posted on Facebook criticizing the U.S. health-care system and China’s Global Times’s Twitter account criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for “using the #COVID19 to stigmatize China and Wuhan” after Pompeo referred to coronavirus as “Wuhan virus.”   

Here are some of the other distinct narratives one can observe in each country’s state-sponsored media. 


Iran’s PressTV has pushed some of the most outlandish conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, including theories that the virus is a bioweapon, the U.S. and/or Israel have “exploited the global coronavirus epidemic to create and spread a deadlier strain of the virus” to use as a bioweapon against Iran, and the Trump administration “unleashed” the virus for leverage against China and that “reports suggest that there are components of the virus that are related to HIV” indicating the virus might be a man-made weapon. These theories go hand-in-hand with PressTV’s typical propaganda narratives, which are regularly anti-U.S. and anti-Israel.

PressTV also pushes the theme that Iran and China are superior to the U.S. in battling the coronavirus, both logistically and morally. PressTV heralds Iran’s response to the coronavirus in spite of U.S. sanctions in stories, while criticizing the U.S.’s management capabilities in others. Other narratives suggest the U.S. is lacking in its response:


While Iranian state media appears to act as a larger content creator of coronavirus disinformation, Russian state-sponsored media amplifies these Iranian conspiracy theories, including the IRGC’s suggestions that the virus is a U.S. bioweapon

Other narratives promoted on Russia’s RT and Sputnik News include: 


China publishes the most content related to the coronavirus, but strikes a distinctly different tone than Iranian and Russian state media. Coronavirus content narratives pushed by the Chinese state-run media include: