Since its launch in 2005, Russia Today (now just RT), has challenged the supremacy of the BBC, ITN & Sky, given a voice to many who would not get a look in on mainstream news networks, provided extensive coverage of anti-austerity movements in the West and provided an alternative view of US and UK foreign and domestic policy. It is also one of the few news sources which allows for a Palestinian perspective on the Middle East conflict. This has led many to say it represents a welcome balance to the mainstream purveyors of news. And they may have a point. But those who say it somehow represents a higher standard of journalism or that it is some kind of progressive force are deluding themselves.
The Cold War Continuum
RT may not have been around in its present form for long but the concept dates back to a resolution of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party in 1942. The US had proved excellent at broadcasting propaganda across the world and the Russians wanted in on the Cold War action. RT’s parent company, “RIA Novosti” is the direct descendent of the old Soviet Information Bureau. Despite the channel being devised by the Kremlin and funded by the Russian federal budget it is hilariously claimed that neither RIA Novosti nor the Russian government control the editorial line (despite it’s editors holding its weekly meetings in the, erm, Kremlin.)
Perhaps one of the most curious aspects of Russia Today is that it broadcasts very little if anything about Russia, today or any other day. I would love to know more about what’s going on in Russia and the surrounding area but RT never seems that bothered. The last Russian elections saw mass protests erupt after allegations of fraud by Putin and his cronies. RT bumped the story in favour of wall to wall coverage of a few hippies in a square protesting against the new world order. I can’t remember which square or what nationality of hippies but it doesn’t matter. The fact was only a cursory glance was being given to the mass protests on the Kremlin’s doorstep. On the day of the 2012 US Presidential elections, RT, without a hint of irony, broadcast a piece about electoral fraud in the US and questioned their electoral system. And that leads neatly to their next major flaw.
Propaganda Wars and Flaws
Far from being a counterbalance to a US-centric world view RT does nothing but drone on about America. At first it can be refreshing to hear the constant pieces about how rubbish America is but eventually you get bored of yet more news from across the Atlantic. This fascination has accelerated since March 2012 when US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, delivered a PR victory to them by going to congress to beg for cash to help America win the “information war.” This was lauded by the Russians as proof that they were severely pissing the Americans off. This weekend we have had the problems in Egypt (and how the US will respond), what Venezuela/US relations will look like post-Chavez, how the US is interfering in Syria, how the US economy is failing. By far the highlight of proceedings and crowning jewel of RT is Max Keiser, whose Keiser Report offers rare incite and foaming rage at the evil bastards who run everything…(but mostly those in the US of course).
Keiser’s inclusion on RT fits nicely with their bizarre line which appears to still hark back to the Cold War. On the one side we have the US, the UK, Europe and Israel offering capitalism whilst on the other we have Russia, China, Latin America and the Middle Eastern states offering an alternative based on social democracy, progress and general loveliness. Except of course that’s bollocks. The new Latin American social(ist?) democratic states certainly offer an alternative model which should be rightly applauded. China has also lifted millions out of poverty albeit in a dubious manner. Putin’s policies offer neither democratic socialism nor tightly controlled state policies which reduce poverty. How Russia’s brutal gangster capitalism and elite controlled state fits into all this is a mystery. By presenting this view of the world, RT are making clear who their target audience is.
In line with its policy of supporting anyone or anything which happens to be anti-American, RT has thrown it’s weight behind the Kremlin’s view that Bashar Al Assad and Colonel Gaddafi were lovely men who the US didn’t like because they were smelly. It would be really useful to have had a more insightful view on the Libyan or the Syrian conflict. Instead we are offered guff, albeit of a different flavour to that being trumped by FOX, Sky or the BBC.
RT have also given insanely disproportionate coverage to that great exercise in the power of sitting on your arse that was the Occupy Movement. They fawn over Anonymous and have even given significant space to cowardy custard creep, Julian Assange. They probably reckon this makes their target audience liberals or the left. In reality, this assortment of jumbled nonsense is more likely to attract conspiracy theorists, illuminutties, Zeitgeisters and members of the David Icke Brigade. RT is beloved on web forums where these people point out that it definitely is the only unbiased news source. It is lauded on many corners of the web as being the only news channel taking it straight to the Yankee imperialist, new world order, lizard, international capitalist, crab people. Why the Russian state news would somehow be more left wing than British state news is never fully explained. Of course the main argument made by regular viewers isn’t that RT is unbiased, just that it offers a balance.
No news is unbiased, nor need it be. You do not expect to turn on the BBC following a terrorist attack to see Huw Edwards sharing a joke with a member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as he celebrates a great victory over the infidels on the six o’clock news. The BBC ruled long ago that they didn’t have to give “equal coverage” on issues of science where one side was in a clear minority and/or talking pish. This mentality is extended to pretty much everything else although it is not so explicitly stated. The question is always where the line is drawn. Corporate, commercial and state interests all weigh heavily. The BBC is still being punished for its much-exaggerated (i.e. non-existent) impudence over the war in Iraq. It’s unlikely the next time Russia goes on a rampage in Georgia or Chechnya that RT will be giving wall to wall coverage of domestic opposition. I would not take much time to contest that RT offers a balance to other news, if not a balanced view.
Man in Cupboard thinks America is wrong
My most fundamental problem though, is that RT is just really, really shit. Having abandoned the expensive idea of proper investigative journalism, the majority of it’s pieces feature agency copy read over old library pictures. The pictures are rarely properly signposted leading the viewers to believe they have any relevance to the story. Every single female reporter is young and buxom. Every single male is at least a decade older and distinctly more thirsty looking. Everyone speaks in an American accent. They sometimes have great guests. They mostly follow their agency copy with the opinings of questionable academics sitting in cupboards on Skype. The reporter asks a leading question and the stunted audio returns an affirmative response (albeit one out of synch with the grainy picture.) The viewer is mostly just staring at the “experts” massive beards, the selection of books that surround them and wondering how many pizza boxes are hidden just off camera. The array of interchangeable men sitting in their bedrooms denouncing global capitalism never ceases. Frontline reporting this is not.
So while RT is sometimes good for a laugh it is certainly not the shining beacon of journalism and alternative information it’s made out to be by some. Shockingly a state with one of the worst records on journalistic freedom in the world is not actually spending money on decent journalism. It’s easy (and often correct) to bash the BBC, it does still spend money on domestic and foreign correspondents, undercover investigations etc. Another news source can surely only be a good thing and it would be amazing to have a genuinely left wing, radical television news programme. But if you’re pretending it’s already occurring over on Channel 85 thanks to Vladimir Putin you should probably stay off the Russian Standard (like you’re not on the Glens already).