Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Coincidence or Copy?: Similarities Between Russian and Iranian News
Coincidence or Copy?: Similarities Between Russian and Iranian News

Coincidence or Copy?: Similarities Between Russian and Iranian News

February 4, 2020

Post by Weston Wendt

As the U.S. presidential election nears, foreign state media outlets have taken the opportunity to further their respective political interests. FIE 2020 has analyzed content from outlets that have been very active in publishing stories on all aspects of U.S. politics, including Russia’s RT and Sputnik News and Iran’s PressTV.

After analyzing thousands of stories from these and other news outlets, similarities became apparent, particularly between the Russian news outlets and Iran’s PressTV. In a broad sense, Russian and Iranian outlets share similar views on hot-button U.S. issues like trade, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), denuclearization and U.S. relations with China, among others. Both outlets paint the Trump administration’s foreign policy efforts as generally inept. More specifically, a trend emerged from our data analysis showing content published on both countries’ outlets that was shockingly similar and, in some cases, a direct repost.

Here are a few examples of similar stories catalogued by our project in December 2019:

  • In November, in the wake of escalating tensions between the U.S. and the Taliban, RT published a story titled “Taliban says ‘way too early’ to speak of resuming talks with US after Trump’s statement.” That same day, the Iranian news outlet PressTV published a story with nearly the exact same title: “Taliban says ‘way too early’ to speak of negotiations with US.” Furthermore, both stories use the same quote from Trump, citing the president as expecting the Iranians to be open to negotiation and portraying him as presumptuous in this assumption. 
  • In early December, RT, Sputnik and PressTV all covered the state of denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea. All three stories quoted a North Korean ambassador saying “denuclearization is off the table” in their headlines. More broadly, the stories portray the state of affairs similarly, depicting both Kim Jong-un and Trump as hawkish. The three stories also seem to suggest that Trump is too confident in his approach of addressing the issue. 
  • The outlets also share views on U.S.-China relations. RT, Sputnik and PressTV all published highly similar stories on the UN’s plan to loan at least $1 billion in low-interest loans to China. In the outlets’ respective stories, the title highlighted Trump’s outrage at the proposed plan. Furthermore, each story clearly depicted Trump as out-of-touch by noting that the proposed plan was actually a drastic decrease from past funding.  

The reasoning behind these similarities is twofold. First, since the two nations both wish to sow division within the U.S. electorate and further many shared foreign policy goals, sharing content seems to work in both countries’ favor. Second, the Iranian state-sponsored media outlet appears to have far less production bandwidth than those of the Kremlin. PressTV also periodically reposts stories from U.S. media outlets, whereas the Kremlin frequently self-sources its content. Given these indicators, it seems logical to surmise the Iranians are copying Russian outlets’ content. 

As November approaches, we should expect to see further cooperation between Russian and Iranian outlets and the amplification of each others’ content seeing as these allies in Syria share overlapping interests with regard to the U.S., the Middle East and East Asia.