RT (an initialism for its former name "Russia Today") is a Russian-based international cable and satellite television channel that is owned by ANO TV-Novosti. The channel, which is headquartered in Moscow, presents round-the-clock news bulletins, documentaries, talk shows and debates, as well as sports news and cultural programs on Russia aimed at the overseas news market.
RT operates as a multilingual service with channels in three languages; the original English language channel was launched in 2005. The Arabic language Rusiya Al-Yaum was launched in 2007, while its Spanish language channel RT Actualidad was launched in 2009. Since 2010, RT America, which focuses on the United States, has been based in Washington, D.C.
RT has been accused of providing disinformation and commentary favorable to Russian foreign policy. The U.S. Department of State, Ukrainian journalists, English news reporters, former Russian officials, and former RT reporters have accused RT of being a propaganda outlet for the Russian government. The network states that RT offers a Russian perspective on global events.
The creation of Russia Today was a part of a larger public relations effort by the Russian government that was intended to improve the image of Russia abroad. RT was conceived by former media minister Mikhail Lesin, and Russian president Vladimir Putin's press spokesperson Aleksei Gromov. At the time of RT's founding, RIA Novosti director Svetlana Mironyuk stated: "Unfortunately, at the level of mass consciousness in the West, Russia is associated with three words: communism, snow and poverty," and added "we would like to present a more complete picture of life in our country." It is registered as an autonomous nonprofit organization funded by the federal budget of Russia through the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation.
In 2005, RIA Novosti helped establish ANO TV-Novosti (or "Autonomous Non-profit Organization TV-News") to serve as the parent organization for the planned channel. ANO TV-Novosti appointed Sergey Frolov as its CEO position; Frolov stated regarding the channel's development: "A main problem in the beginning was that in our country we've never broadcast English-language television. When it began Russia Today had a certain lack of personnel: it seems hard to find qualified journalists, political scientists, economists, analysts, with good English skills in Moscow."
The channel was launched as Russia Today on December 10, 2005. At its launch, the channel employed 300 journalists, including approximately 70 from outside Russia. Russia Today appointed Margarita Simonyan as its editor-in-chief, who recruited foreign journalists as presenters and consultants. Simonyan stated that the channel's intent was to have a "professional format" akin to the BBC and Euronews that would "reflect Russia's opinion of the world" and present a "more balanced picture" of Russia.
Simonyan, who was only 25-years-old at the time of her hiring by the channel, was a former Kremlin pool reporter and had worked in journalism since she was 18. She told The New York Times that after the fall of the Soviet Union, many new young journalists were hired, resulting in a much younger pool of staffers than other news organizations. Journalist Danny Schechter (who has appeared as a guest on RT) has stated that having been part of the launch staff at CNN, he saw RT as another "channel of young people who are inexperienced, but very enthusiastic about what they are doing." Shortly after the channel was launched, James Painter wrote that Russia Today and similar news channels such as France 24 and TeleSUR saw themselves as "counter-hegemonic", offering a differing vision and news content from that of Western media like CNN and the BBC.
Development and expansion
RT launched several new channels in ensuing years: the Arabic language channel Rusiya Al-Yaum in 2007, the Spanish language channel RT Actualidad in 2009, RT America – which focuses on the United States – in 2010, and the RT Documentary channel in 2011.
In August 2007, Russia Today became the first television channel to report live from the North Pole (with the report lasting five minutes and 41 seconds). An RT crew participated in the Arktika 2007 Russian polar expedition, led by Artur Chilingarov on the Akademik Fyodorov icebreaker. On December 31, 2007, RT's broadcasts of New Year's Eve celebrations in Moscow and Saint Petersburg were broadcast in the hours prior to the New Year's Eve event at New York City's Times Square.
RT drew particular attention worldwide for its coverage of the 2008 South Ossetia war. RT named Georgia as the aggressor against the separatist governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were protected by Russian troops. RT saw this as the incident that showcased its newsgathering abilities to the world. Margarita Simonyan stated, "we were the only ones among the English-language media who were giving the other side of the story – the South Ossetian side of the story."
In 2009, Russia Today rebranded itself to simply the "RT" initials. Simonyan denied that the name change was an attempt to hide its Russian origins, stating the corporate logo was changed to attract more viewers and commenting, "who is interested in watching news from Russia all day long?"
In early 2010, RT unveiled a highly controversial advertising campaign called "Question More," which was created for the channel by Britain-based McCann Erickson. One of the advertisements featured as part of the campaign showed President of the United States Barack Obama "morphing" into Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and asked: "Who poses the greatest nuclear threat?" The ad was banned in American airports. Another showed a Western soldier "merging" into a Taliban fighter and asks: "Is terror only inflicted by terrorists?" One of RT's 2010 billboard advertisements won the British Awards for National Newspaper Advertising "Ad of the Month".
RT is one of several international channels that have challenged the United States media, which previously dominated global news coverage. In 2010 Walter Isaacson, Chairman of the U.S. Government's Broadcasting Board of Governors (which runs Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia), called for more money to invested into the programs because, "We can't allow ourselves to be out-communicated by our enemies," mentioning specifically Russia Today, Iran's Press TV and China's China Central Television (CCTV) in the next sentence. He later explained he actually was referring to "enemies" in Afghanistan, not the nations he mentioned. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the United States was "losing the information war" abroad to foreign channels like Russia Today, Al Jazeera and China Central Television and that they are supplanting the Voice of America.
In early 2012, shortly after his appointment as the United States Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul challenged Margarita Simonyan on Twitter, regarding allegations from RT that he sent Alexei Navalny to study at Yale University. RT discovered that McFaul was referring to a comment in an article by political scientist Igor Panarin, which RT had specified were the views of the author. Ambassador McFaul then accepted an interview by Sophie Shevardnadze on RT on this and other issues and reasserted that the Obama administration wanted a "reset" in relations with Russia.
In 2012, Pew Research found RT to be the most popular news channel on YouTube, with Fox News Channel coming in second.
On April 17, 2012, RT debuted World Tomorrow, a news interview program hosted by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The first guest on the program was Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The interview made global headlines as Nasrallah rarely gives interviews to Western media. Commentators described this as a "coup" or a "scoop". WikiLeaks described the show as "a series of in-depth conversations with key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world." It stated that the show is "independently produced and Assange has control"; WikiLeaks offers a "Broadcasters license, only".
Anticipating criticism such as "There's Julian Assange, enemy combatant, traitor, getting into bed with the Kremlin and interviewing terrible radicals from around the world.," Assange said that RT would allow his guests to discuss things that they "could not say on a mainstream TV network." Assange admitted that if Wikileaks had published Russian data, his relationship with RT might not have been so comfortable. In August of that year, RT suffered a denial of service attack for several days by a group calling itself "Antileaks". It was speculated that the group was protesting Assange and/or Russia's jailing of members of the activist music group Pussy Riot.
On October 23, 2012, RT, along with Al Jazeera and C-SPAN, broadcast the Free and Equal Elections Foundation third-party debate among four third-party candidates for President of the United States. On November 5, RT broadcast the two candidates that were voted winners of that debate, Libertarian Party candidate Governor Gary Johnson and the Green Party of the United States candidate Jill Stein from RT's Washington, D.C. studio.
In November 2012, Israeli Defense Force bombs severely damaged RT's offices in Gaza City, wounding four journalists, during Operation Pillar of Defense. The office was right next to that of the Israeli target, Al-Aqsa TV, a television station that was affiliated with the terrorist group Hamas.
In May 2013, RT announced that former CNN host Larry King would host a new talk show on RT. King said in an advertisement on RT: "I would rather ask questions to people in positions of power, instead of speaking on their behalf." As part of the deal, King would also bring his Hulu series "Larry King Now" to RT. Margarita Simonyan said in a statement, "Whether a president or an activist or a rock star was sitting across from him, Larry King never shied away from asking the tough questions, which makes him a terrific fit for our network". On June 13, 2013 RT aired a preview telecast of King's new Thursday evening program Politicking, with the episode discussing Edward Snowden's leaking of the PRISM surveillance program.
Vladimir Putin visited the new Russia Today broadcasting centre in June 2013 and stated "When we designed this project back in 2005 we intended introducing another strong player on the international scene, a player that wouldn’t just provide an unbiased coverage of the events in Russia but also try, let me stress, I mean – try to break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams.... We wanted to bring an absolutely independent news channel to the news arena. Certainly the channel is funded by the government, so it cannot help but reflect the Russian government's official position on the events in our country and in the rest of the world one way or another. But I’d like to underline again that we never intended this channel, RT, as any kind of apologetics for the Russian political line, whether domestic or foreign."
On July 12, 2014, during his visit to Argentina, Putin announced that Actualidad RT will broadcast on free-to-air in the South American country, making it the first foreign television channel to be broadcast free-to-air there.
State-owned RIA Novosti news agency, which founded RT in 2005, is one of the largest in Russia. Its chairperson is Svetlana Mironyuk, who has modernised the agency since her appointment in 2003. RIA Novosti has stated it helped establish RT, but is "neither a sponsor nor a backer of Russia Today." Mikhail Seslavinsky, in charge of the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation asserted in 2005 that "Russia Today will come as an independent company".
In 2007, RT established offices in the same building as RIA Novosti, after the Russian Union of Journalists was forced to vacate them. In 2012 Anna Kachkayeva, Dean of Media Communications at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, stated that they "share the same roof" because the two organizations are located in the same building, but regarding "funding, editorial policy, management and staff, they are two independent organisations whose daily operations are not interconnected in any way." In 2008, Simonyan noted that more than 50 young RT journalists had gone on to take positions in large Western media outlets. By 2010, RT had grown to a staff of 2,000.
In June 2011, RT responded to the criticisms that it is "state-run" by noting the official mission statements and funding of other well-known "state-run" television networks like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), France 24, Germany's Deutsche Welle and the United States's Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which operates and provides funding for PBS and NPR). Margarita Simonyan told a reporter that the Kremlin would not dictate content and "Censorship by government in this country is prohibited by the constitution." She explained her job was "to bring the western image of Russia closer to what Russia really is." In 2012, when foreign media were commenting on RT sponsoring the Julian Assange programme World Tomorrow, RIA Novosti asserted that "It is the co-founder of the Autonomous Non-Profit Organisation (ANO) TV Novosti, launched in December 2005 as Russia Today (RT). Under Russian law, as an autonomous non-profit organisation, RT is fully independent of its founders. Its top management body is the Supervisory Council (Board of Directors). RIA Novosti does not have any representatives on the RT Supervisory Council or any other RT management bodies, and hence does not influence the network's editorial policy, or its financial and economic operation, directly or indirectly".
In December 2012 on the eve of RT's seventh anniversary of broadcast, RT moved its production studios and headquarters to a new state-of-the-art eight-story, 28,000 square metres (300,000 sq ft) facility in Moscow, which houses six studios. The move also marked RT's upgrade of all of its English-language news programming to high-definition.
In 2013, a presidential decree issued by Vladimir Putin dissolved RIA Novosti and subsumed it into a new information agency called Rossiya Segodnya (directly translated as Russia Today). According to a report on the RT website, the new news agency is "in no way related" to the news channel RT despite the similarity to RT's original name. However on December 31, 2013, Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the RT news channel, was also appointed as editor-in-chief of the new news agency while maintaining her duties for the television network.
RT cooperates with a number of media sources in Russia and abroad, including private media like Izvestia, Kommersant, Trud, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Vedomosti, Argumenty i Fakty and the non-Russian Association for International Broadcasting, Huffington Post and News.com.au.
When it was established in 2005, ANO TV-Novosti invested $30 million in start-up costs to establish RT, with a budget of $30 million for its first year of operation. About half of the network's budget came from the state and the other half from banks and companies friendly to the government. Its annual budget increased from approximately $80 million in 2007 to $380 million in 2011, but was reduced to $300 million in 2012.Putin has prohibited funding for Russia Today from being reduced as of October 30, 2012.
According to RT, the network's feed is carried by 22 satellites and over 230 operators, which provides a distribution reach to about 644 million households in more than 100 countries. The channel also claims that RT America is available to 85 million households throughout the United States.
In addition to its main English language channel RT International and RT America, RT also runs Arabic language channel Rusiya Al-Yaum, Spanish-language channel Actualidad RT, as well as the documentary channel RTDoc. RT maintains 21 bureaus in 16 countries, including those in Washington, D.C., New York City, London, England; Paris, France; Delhi, India; Cairo, Egypt; Baghdad, Iraq; and Kiev, Ukraine. It employs over 2,000 media professionals worldwide.
|RT News||The flagship news channel of the RT network, it covers international and regional news from a Russian perspective. It also includes commentary and documentary programs. Based in Moscow with a presence in Washington, New York, London, Paris, Delhi, Cairo, Baghdad, Kiev and other cities.||English||2005||rt.com|
|Rusiya Al-Yaum||Based in Moscow and broadcast 24/7. Programmes include news, feature programming and documentaries.||Arabic||2007||arabic.rt.com|
|RT Actualidad||Based in Moscow with bureaus in Miami, Los Angeles, Havana and Buenos Aires. Covers headline news, politics, sports and broadcast specials.||Spanish||2009||actualidad.rt.com|
|RT America||Covers the Americas from an international and Russian perspective. Based in RT's Washington, D.C. bureau, it includes programs hosted by American journalists. The channel maintains a separate schedule of programs each weekday from 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time, and simulcasts RT International at all other times.||English||2010||rt.com/usa|
|RT Documentary||A 24-hour documentary channel. The bulk of its programming consists of RT-produced documentaries related to Russia.||English, Russian||2011||rtd.rt.com, rtdru.rt.com|
The RT website offers a live stream available online for viewing on computers and mobile devices. It provides many of its newscasts and featured shows via YouTube. RT is transmitted on 22 satellites, covering much of Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Australasia on a variety of carriers listed at its website. In September 2012, RT signed a contract with Israeli-based RRSat to distribute high definition feeds of the channel in the United States, Latin America and Asia. In October 2012, RT's Rusiya Al-Yaum and Russia Today joined the high definition network Al Yah Satellite Communications ("YahLive').
In 2011, RT was the second most-watched foreign news channel in the United States (after BBC World News), and the number one foreign network in five major U.S. urban areas in 2012. In 2013, RT became the first television news channel in history to reach 1 billion views on YouTube. According to the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board between approximately 2.5 million Britons watched RT during the third quarter of 2012, making it the third most-watched rolling news channel in Britain, behind BBC News and Sky News (not including Sky Sports News). However RT was soon overtaken by Al Jazeera English, and viewing figures had dropped to about 2.1 million by the end of 2013.
Latin America is the second most significant area of influence for internet RT (rt.com). In 2013, RT ascended to the ranks of the 100 most watched websites in seven Latin American countries.
The English language RT International and RT America channel carry similar programming, with the latter channel focusing more on news from the United States. RT Arabic and Actualidad RT in Spanish feature their own news presenters, as well as translated versions of RT's English programming.
Marcin Maczka writes that RT's ample financing has allowed RT to attract experienced journalists and use the latest technology. RT anchors and correspondents tend to concentrate on controversial world issues such as the financial instability and fiscal crises, financial and banking scandals, corporate impact on the global economy, and demonstrations of protesters. News from Russia is of secondary importance and such reports emphasize Russian modernisation and economic achievements, as well as Russian culture and natural landscapes, while downplaying Russia's social problems or corruption. RT's current feature programs include (with presenters parenthesised):
- Breaking the Set (Abby Martin)
- CrossTalk and On the Money (Peter Lavelle)
- SophieCo (Sophie Shevardnadze)
- Keiser Report (Max Keiser with Stacy Herbert)
- Larry King Now (Larry King)
- Politicking (Larry King)
- Prime Time Russia News
- Spotlight (Al Gurnov)
- Technology Update (Brandon Rice)
- The Big Picture (Thom Hartmann)
- The Truthseeker (Daniel Bushell)
- Why You Should Care (Tim Kirby)
- Worlds Apart (Oksana Boyko)
- Venture Capital (Katie Pilbeam)
- Boom Bust (Erin Ade)
- Sputnik (George Galloway)
- Going Underground (Afshin Rattansi)
- Redacted Tonight (Lee Camp)
- The Resident (Lori Harfenist)
Current on-air staffNews anchors and presenters Correspondents Business presenters
- Erin Ade
- Stacy Herbert
- Max Keiser
- Madina Kochenova
- Katie Pilbeam
- Martyn Andrews - entertainment, cookery and travel (formerly of Wayfarer/Moscow Out/Venice of the North)
- James Brown - Discovering Russia (formerly news presenter and host of Close-Up Russia)
- Michael Kravchenko
- Kate Partridge
- Richard Van Poortvliet
Notable former on-air staff
- Neave Barker
- Jason de la Peña
- Dmitry Glukhovsky
- Adam Kokesh - host of Adam vs. the Man
- Lauren Lyster - host of Capital Account
- Alyona Minkovski - host of The Alyona Show
- Maryam Nemazee
- Karen Roberts
- Cenk Uygur
- Liz Wahl - Washington, D.C. bureau
According to Jesse Zwick, RT persuades "legitimate experts and journalists" to appear as guests by allowing them to speak at length on issues ignored by larger news outlets. It frequently interviews progressive and libertarian academics, intellectuals and writers from organisations like The Nation, Reason magazine, Human Events, Center for American Progress and the Cato Institute who are critical of United States foreign and civil liberties policies. RT also features little known commentators, including anarchists, anti-globalists and left-wing activists. Journalist Danny Schechter holds that a primary reason for RT's success in the United States is that RT is "a force for diversity" which gives voice to people "who rarely get heard in current mainstream US media."
Notable guests have included think tank intellectuals like Jared Bernstein,John Feffer and Lawrence Korb; journalists and writers Jacob Sullum, Pepe Escobar, and Brian Doherty, and heads of state, including Venezuela's Rafael Correa, and Syria's Bashar al-Assad.
In 2008, Heidi Brown wrote in Forbes that "the Kremlin is using charm, good photography and a healthy dose of sex appeal to appeal to a diverse, skeptical audience. The result is entertaining – and ineffably Russian." She added that Russia Today has managed to "get foreigners to at least consider the Russian viewpoint – however eccentric it may be..." In 2012, Tracy Quan wrote that RT is "a far more interesting network than some care to admit." Mark Adomanis, who has appeared on RT, wrote "I generally find RT as a station to be tabloidy, a bit over-hyped, and basically harmless."
The Alyona Show, hosted by Alyona Minkovski, ran from 2009 to 2012 (when Minkovsky left RT to join the Huffington Post). Daily Beast writer Tracy Quan described The Alyona Show as "one of RT's most popular vehicles".The New Republic columnist Jesse Zwick wrote that one journalist told him that Minkovski is "probably the best interviewer on cable news." Benjamin R. Freed wrote in the avant-garde culture magazine SOMA that "The Alyona Show does political talk with razor-sharp wit."David Weigel called the show "an in-house attempt at a newsy cult hit" and noted that "her meatiest segments were about government spying, and the Federal Reserve, and America's undeclared wars". Minkovski had complained about being characterized as if she was "Putin's girl in Washington" or as being "anti-American". After Minkovski argued that Glenn Beck was "not on the side of America. And the fact that my channel is more honest with the American people is something you should be ashamed of.", Columbia Journalism Review writer Julia Ioffe asked "since when does Russia Today defend the policies of any American president? Or the informational needs of the American public, for that matter?"
From April to August 2011, RT ran a half-hour primetime show Adam vs. the Man, hosted by former Iraq War Marine veteran and high profile anti-war activist Adam Kokesh. David Weigel writes that Kokesh defended RT's "propaganda" function, saying "We're putting out the truth that no one else wants to say. I mean, if you want to put it in the worst possible abstract, it's the Russian government, which is a competing protection racket against the other governments of the world, going against the United States and calling them on their bullshit."Accuracy in Media criticized Kokesh's appearance on RT, writing RT uses Americans like Kokesh to make propaganda points.
Reviewing Julian Assange's show World Tomorrow, The Independent noted that Assange, who was under house arrest, was "largely deferential" in asking some questions of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who himself was in hiding. However, he also asked tough questions such as why Nasrallah had not supported Arab revolts against Syrian leaders, when he had supported them in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, and other countries.The New York Times journalist Allesandra Stanley wrote that "practically speaking, Mr. Assange is in bed with the Kremlin, but on Tuesday's show he didn't put out" and that he "behaved surprisingly like a standard network interviewer." Douglas Lucas in Salon wrote that the RT deal "may just be a profitable way for him to get a gigantic retweet." Glenn Greenwald, who has been a guest on RT, wrote that RT presenting the Julian Assange show led to "a predictable wave of snide, smug attacks from American media figures". Mark Adomanis rebuts some of the "fevered denunciations" against RT and Julian Assange in an article in Forbes. A Moscow Times writer noted that RT has received "considerable" criticism in general.
Since its foundation in 2005, RT has been widely accused as being a mouthpiece of the Kremlin. In an interview with U.S government-owned external broadcaster Voice of America, the Russian-Israeli blogger Anton Nosik (ru) said the creation of Russia Today "smacks of Soviet-style propaganda campaigns." Pascal Bonnamour, the head of the European department of Reporters Without Borders, called the newly announced network "another step of the state to control information." In 2009, Luke Harding (then the Moscow-based, Russia correspondent of The Guardian) described Russia Today's advertising campaign in the United Kingdom as an "ambitious attempt to create a new post-Soviet global propaganda empire." An article in the Christian Science Monitor wrote that Russia Today reported on the good job Putin was doing in the world and next to nothing on things like the conflict in Chechnya or the murder of government critics.
In 2010, The Independent reported that RT journalists had revealed that coverage of sensitive issues in Russia is allowed, but direct criticism of Vladimir Putin or then-President Dmitry Medvedev is not. Masha Karp wrote in Standpoint magazine that contemporary Russian issues "such as the suppression of free speech and peaceful demonstrations, or the economic inefficiency and corrupt judiciary, are either ignored or their significance played down". In 2008, Stephen Heyman wrote in The New York Times that in RT's Russia, "corruption is not quite a scourge but a symptom of a developing economy." Speaking after the launch of RT America, Garry Kasparov said "Russia Today is an extension of the methods and approach of the state-controlled media inside Russia, applied in a bid to influence the American cable audience".
The New Republic writer James Kirchick accused the network of "often virulent anti-Americanism, worshipful portrayal of Russian leaders."Ed Lucas wrote in The Economist (quoted in Al Jazeera English) that the core of RT was "anti-Westernism." Julia Ioffe wrote "Often, it seemed that Russia Today was just a way to stick it to the U.S. from behind the façade of legitimate newsgathering." Shaun Walker wrote in The Independent that RT "has made a name for itself as a strident critic of US policy." Allesandra Stanley wrote in The New York Times that RT is "like the Voice of America, only with more money and a zesty anti-American slant."David Weigel writes that RT goes further than merely creating distrust of the United States government, to saying, in effect: "You can trust the Russians more than you can trust those bastards."
Russian studies professor Stephen F. Cohen stated in 2012 that RT does a lot of stories that "reflect badly" on the United States and that they are "particularly aggrieved by American sermonizing abroad." Citing that RT compares stories about Russia allowing mass protests of the 2011–2012 Russian election protests with those of U.S. authorities nationwide arresting members of the Occupy movement. Cohen states that despite the pro-Kremlin slant, "any intelligent viewer can sort this out. I doubt that many idiots find their way to RT."
John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus says he appears on RT as well as the U.S.-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, commenting "You're going to find blind spots in the coverage for any news organization." American journalist Glenn Greenwald listed the corporate and government owners of prominent Western media like NBC, BBC, Voice of America, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Politico and The Washington Post and asked why it was "an intrinsic violation of journalistic integrity to work for a media outlet owned by the Russian government." He also wrote that the real cause of American media hostility toward RT is that "the reporting it does reflects poorly on the U.S. Government, the ultimate sin in the eyes of our 'adversarial' press corps."
An 2013 article in Der Spiegel noted that RT is the most successful foreign broadcaster in many American cities and that RT "uses a chaotic mixture of conspiracy theories and crude propaganda", referring to a program which linked the Boston Marathon bombings to a U.S. government conspiracy.
RT has been accused of being anti-Israel by Jewish and Israeli sources. The main claims are that its reporting is unbalanced. Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman made a complaint to Putin at their official meeting in 2012. RT has made Manuel Ochsenreiter, a neo-Nazi, its primary on-air spokesman for the German point of view.
In Russia, former KGB officer Konstantin Preobrazhensky criticized RT as "a part of the Russian industry of misinformation and manipulation".Andrey Illarionov, former advisor to Vladimir Putin, has labeled the channel as "the best Russian propaganda machine targeted at the outside world". Media analyst Vasily Gatov wrote in a 2014 Moscow Times article that sharp ethic and reporting skills are not required for RT employees. On the other hand, prominent Russian officials such as Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov are strong advocates of RT.
In response to critics, Sergey Frolov, CEO of RT's parent organization ANO TV-Novosti, stated that their "responsibility is not to be someone's lawyer or prosecutor. It is too stupid to hold information, because then you have to repeat it from others. We do our best to respond swiftly and impartially. Present the facts and not speculate or theorize. Actually, the problem is very simple: If we start to filter news or silent something - people will switch to CNN or BBC."
Linas Antanas Linkevičius, Lithuania's Minister of Foreign Affairs, posted on Twitter on March 9, 2014 amid the Crimean crisis, "Russia Today propaganda machine is no less destructive than military marching in Crimea".
United States Secretary of State John Kerry referred to Russia Today as a state-sponsored "propaganda bullhorn" and he continued by saying, "Russia Today network has deployed to promote president Putin's fantasy about what is playing out on the ground. They almost spend full time devoted to this effort, to propagandize, and to distort what is happening or not happening in Ukraine." Russia Today responded that they wanted "an official response from the U.S. Department of State substantiating Mr. Kerry's claims."Richard Stengel from the U.S. Department of State responded. Stengel stated in his response, "RT is a distortion machine, not a news organization," but he supports RT's right to broadcast in the United States.
Sara Firth, a former RT anchor who quit over MH17 coverage, said she had editorial independence during her time there, except for disagreements over RT's coverage of the Syrian conflict.
Choice of guests
In 2010 journalist and blogger Julia Ioffe described RT as being "provocative just for the sake of being provocative" in its choice of guests and issue topics, featuring a Russian historian who predicted that the United States would soon be dissolved, showing speeches by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, reporting on homelessness in America, and interviewing the chairman of the New Black Panther Party. She wrote that in attempting to offer "an alternate point of view, it is forced to talk to marginal, offensive, and often irrelevant figures".The Economist magazine noted that RT's programming, while sometimes interesting and unobjectionable, and sometimes "hard-edged", also presents "wild conspiracy theories" that can be regarded as "kooky". A 2010 Southern Poverty Law Center report alleged that RT extensively covered the "birther" and the "New World Order" conspiracy theories and interviewed militia organizer Jim Stachowiak and white nationalist Jared Taylor. An Al Jazeera English article stated that RT has a penchant "for off-beat stories and conspiracy theories."
Margarita Simonyan has said that "we don't give airtime to public figures who you call extremist any more than CNN and other channels give airtime to people who many in Russia consider extremists". She also criticized Western media reports blaming Vladimir Putin for the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia that killed 293 people. She told Nikolaus von Twickel of The Moscow Times that RT started to grow once it became provocative and that controversy was vital to the channel. She said that RT's task was not to polish Moscow's reputation.
Responses to RT's news coverage
Carson Scott, a business presenter who left the network in 2007, suggested that he'd been involved in countless heated debates with his editor and claimed that "You are understandably walking a very fine line of being full and frank and biting the hand that feeds". However Peter Lavelle (who is still with the network) countered "No one is telling me what to say," while admitting "Part of our mission is public relations".
During the 2008 South Ossetia War Russia Today correspondent William Dunbar resigned because he was not allowed to report on Russian airstrikes on civilian targets and stated "any issue where there is a Kremlin line, RT is sure to toe it."Human Rights Watch said that the RT claim of 2,000 South Ossetian casualties was exaggerated. Shaun Walker, the Moscow correspondent for The Independent claimed that Russia Today had "instructed reporters not to report from Georgian villages within South Ossetia that had been ethnically cleansed.", also suggesting that "RT blasted "GENOCIDE" across its screens for most of the war’s duration". Julia Ioffe wrote that an RT journalist whose reporting deviated from "the Kremlin line that Georgians were slaughtering unarmed Ossetians" was reprimanded. According to Variety, sources at RT confirmed that Dunbar had resigned but rejected allegations of bias. One senior RT journalist told the magazine, "the Russian coverage I have seen has been much better than much of the Western coverage... When you look at the Western media, there is a lot of genuflection towards the powers that be. Russian news coverage is largely pro-Russia, but that is to be expected."
In June 2011, RT broadcast a programme called "War on RT?", in which it highlighted that Glenn Beck (then with Fox News), had called it "the Pravda of today" and NPR had warned RT viewers against thinking it was a normal news network. According to Oliver Bullough, RT responded, "not by saying it was unbiased, but by insisting that everyone else, too, was biased. The programme’s host suggested that, in sum, objectivity is a myth and it is better to be honest about that than to hide behind specious claims of presenting the truth."
In September 2012, United Kingdom broadcast regulator Ofcom found that two Libyan dispatches broadcast by Lizzie Phelan on RT in August 2011 were in breach of its code on accuracy and impartiality. One stated that Libyan rebels had little popular support and another criticized Western media as lying about the NATO operations. It held that broadcasters should note that "when items in their news programmes criticise the policies and actions of individuals, organisations, governments or states, they must not only be presented with due impartiality but also reported with due accuracy." The following November, RT was again found in breach of impartiality rules in relation to its coverage of the Syrian conflict – particularly involving a news bulletin that was broadcast on July 12, 2012 that featured an interview with the Editor of Pan-African News Wire, Abayomi Azikiwe who was supportive of the Syrian Government position, followed by a report criticizing a boycott of Syrian television and film production by certain Arab countries.
According to The Independent, RT covered all the protests that started in December 2011 and lead up to the March 2012 Russian presidential election. However, Margarita Simonyan tweeted that protesters should "burn in hell" and RT accused opposition leader Alexei Navalny of having strong and even bigoted Russian nationalist views.
After a May 2012 protest broke into violence between police and protesters, Simonyan tweeted "You were warned that all your starry-eyed idealism would end in fanatical carnage." RT blamed the clashes on "a number of radical protesters." Navalny, who exposed massive corruption and theft in Kremlin-connected companies, frequently has been covered in a negative fashion on RT, including coverage of the search of his home and office during an investigation of the May clashes. Putin chose RT for his first televised interview after the election and stated that new laws against non-governmental organizations, street rally disorders or defamation only had to do with "crime and legal procedure, not politics."
In 2012 Jesse Zwick in The New Republic criticized RT, alleging it held that "civilian casualties in Syria are minimal, foreign intervention would be disastrous, and any humanitarian appeals from Western nations are a thin veil for a NATO-backed move to isolate Iran, China, and Russia." He wrote that RT wants to "make the United States look out of line for lecturing Russia." Zwick also noted that Stephen F. Cohen has criticized western coverage of the Syrian conflict, saying he was suspicious of CNN coverage and that "It seems to be the flip side of RT. It's too black and white, too virtuous and simple. Each side sounds like one hand clapping."
Zwick also wrote that RT provided a "disproportionate amount of time" to covering libertarian Republican Ron Paul during his 2012 presidential campaign. Paul also has been interviewed on RT. Writing after her 2014 on-air resignation, Liz Wahl suggested the reason for this "wasn't his message of freedom and liberty but his non-interventionist stance and consistent criticism of U.S. foreign policy. His message fit RT's narrative that the United States is a huge bully." In a June 2011 broadcast of Adam vs. the Man, host Adam Kokesh endorsed support and fundraising for Paul, leading to a complaint to the Federal Election Commission charging a political contribution had been made by a foreign corporation. Kokesh denied his cancellation in August was related to the complaint, but claimed it did involve Paul's aide Jesse Benton.
An August 2013 news story concerning unverified reports of the killing of 450 Kurdish civilians near the Turkey-Syria border again breached UK broadcast regulator Ofcom's rules. This complaint centred on mobile phone footage of three men being apparently being burnt alive. That December, Ofcom again found RT in breach of its standards in relation to the impartiality of a documentary entitled "Syrian Diary" broadcast the previous March.
On March 4, 2014, Breaking The Set host Abby Martin, speaking directly to her viewing audience during the show's closing statement, said that even though she works for RT, she is against Russia's intervention in Ukraine. She said that "what Russia did is wrong", as she is against intervention by any nation into other countries' affairs. Later, Martin asserted that RT still supports her despite her differences of opinion with the Russian government. RTs press office suggested that Martin would be sent to Crimea and responded to accusations of propaganda, stating "the charges of propaganda tend to pop up every time a news outlet, particularly RT, dares to show the side of events that does not fit the mainstream narrative, regardless of the realities on the ground. This happened in Georgia, this is happening in Ukraine". Glenn Greenwald claimed that American media elites love to mock Russian media, especially RT, as being a source of shameless pro-Putin propaganda, where free expression is strictly barred. Agreeing the "network has a strong pro-Russian bias", he suggested that Martin's action "remarkably demonstrated what "journalistic independence" means".
On March 5, 2014, RT Washington, D.C. bureau anchor Liz Wahl resigned on air, blaming RT for propaganda. She explained later "that she felt challenged being the daughter of a U.S. military veteran and being the partner of a physician who works at a U.S. military base, and that is why, personally, she cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin". Wahl claimed that what "broke" her was that RT censored a question from her interview with Ron Paul about "Russia's intervention in Ukraine". Paul later asserted that he was not censored in any way and that his message was delivered in full and to his satisfaction. James Kirchick quickly published the exclusive story, explaining that he had periodically been in contact with Wahl over the previous six months. In response, RT released a statement: "When a journalist disagrees with the editorial position of his or her organization, the usual course of action is to address those grievances with the editor, and, if they cannot be resolved, to quit like a professional. But when someone makes a big public show of a personal decision, it is nothing more than a self-promotional stunt. We wish Liz the best of luck on her chosen path". A later report claimed links between Kirchick and "neoconservative think-tank Foreign Policy Initiative", suggesting the event was part of "an ongoing Cold War revival campaign"
In a March 2014 Politico article, Wahl stated “For about two and a half years. I’d looked the other way as the network smeared America for the sake of making the Kremlin look better by comparison, while it sugarcoated atrocities by one brutal dictator after another.”
When asked about a clip of her interviewing a guest on RT by Brian Stelter, host of CNN's Reliable Sources, Wahl responded,
|“||They get these extreme voices on that have this kind of hostile toward the West viewpoints towards the world, very extremist. These are the people that they have on. And when I was on the anchor desk, they would instruct you to egg on these guests and try to get them, you know, rallied up, to really fire off their anti-American talking points. Listen, I'm all about exposing government corruption. I'm all about being critical of the government. But this is different. This is promoting the foreign policy of somebody that has just invaded a country, has invaded the country and is then lying about it, is using the media as a tool to fulfill his foreign policy interests. And RT is part of Putin's propaganda network and it's very, very troubling in the wake of what is going on in Ukraine today||”|
New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof commented on CNN's Piers Morgan Live about Wahl's and Martin's initial actions, "admire their outspokenness but, you know, at the end of the day, RT is a Russian propaganda arm, and I don't think its going to matter very much to the geopolitical consequences here."
Former RT Moscow anchor Stacy Bivens, and other former RT journalists speaking under anonymity according to BuzzFeed, claimed they regretted working for the network, citing their dislike of the network's use of propaganda. Bivens, for example, was explicitly asked to go to Germany and procure a story proving that "Germany is a failed state". When she rejected, other reporters were sent instead.
Steve Bloomfield, the foreign editor of Monocle wrote that RT's "coverage of Ukraine could not have been kinder to Moscow if Vladimir Putin had chosen the running order himself. While Putin kept up the pretence that there were no Russian troops in Crimea, so too did RT. The storming of government buildings across eastern Ukraine has been portrayed as the understandable actions of peace-loving protesters who fear "chaos" in Kiev".
In March 2014, a group of Ukraininan journalists started a website StopFake.org dedicated to debunking propaganda and false news published by Russian media, including RT, for example using footage from past military conflicts in Georgia, South Ossetia or Syria and presenting them as current footage from Ukraine.
After the July 2014 crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, RT rushed to blame others for the plane's shoot-down in Ukraine amid accusations by Ukrainian fighters of Russian involvement in the crash. Sara Firth resigned as an RT correspondent over the coverage of the downed flight MH17. Shortly before resigning, she wrote, "RT style guide Rule 1: It is ALWAYS * Ukraine’s fault (* add name as applicable)." She later noted that there is "bias" against Russia and stated "I have always said it’s better to have RT than to not have that perspective, but actually with a story like this and the way they misreport it, it’s quite dangerous, I don’t want to be party to it."
- September 2006 – The 10th "Golden Tambourine" International Festival for Television programs and films awarded RT's documentary People of the Bering Strait in the Ethnography and Travel category
- June 2007 – The 11th "Save and Preserve" International Environmental Television Festival awarded its Grand Prix to RT's Meeting with Nature series.
- September 2007 – Eurasian Academy of Television and Radio awarded RT with the Prize for Professional Skillfulness
- November 2007 – RT's report on the anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe received a special prize from the international 2007 AIB Media Excellence Awards
- April 2008 – RT's daily studio show Entertainment Today hosted by Martyn Andrews and Anya Fedorova receives a special diploma from the board of the Russian Entertainment Awards
- September 2008 – Russia's most prestigious broadcasting award TEFI to Kevin Owen in Best News Anchor category
- November 2008 – Special Jury Award in the Best Creative Feature category for a Russian Glamour feature story at Media Excellence Awards in London
- January 2009 – Silver World Medal from the New York Festivals, for Best News Documentary "A city of desolate mothers"
- August 2010 – First nomination for an International Emmy Award in News category for its coverage of president Barack Obama's trip to Russia.
- November 2011 – Martyn Andrews and the weekly "Moscow Out" arts and entertainment show awarded the "ShereMedia Award" for Best Lifestyle Program
- August 2012 – Second nomination for an International Emmy Award for its coverage of the international Occupy Wall Street movement.
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Notes1.^ Stephen Heyman, estimated that more than $100 million had been spent on the station as of May, 2008.
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