Kremlin-Funded TV Claims Provocations ‘For YouTube Hits’

Screenshot from RT. Source:’s been nearly five years since the launch of Russia Today, now known as RT, an English-language news channel directly funded by the Kremlin and officially intended to present a Russian alternative to stations like CNN, the BBC, and Al Jazeera English. In that time, the channel has piqued interest for its bizarre headlines and provocational ad campaigns, including a series entitled “911 Reasons why 9/11 was (probably) an inside job” and an ad reading “Who poses the bigger nuclear threat?” with a picture of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad morphing into Barack Obama.

RT management insists that it provides a much-needed alternative viewpoint to narrow-minded Western journalism, but critics dismiss the channel as an obvious Kremlin propaganda machine. Aside from pieces that broadcast blatant lies about the Russian opposition, particularly United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov, the station’s website includes such features as the “Russian Women Guide,” which disturbingly fetishizes the trend of American men searching out Russian wives on the internet. In a section entitled “Feminism, Russian-style,” an RT commentator writes: “Russian women somehow achieved, without the angst and anger of the western women’s man-eating philosophy, a sense of freedom, independence and, I dare say, happiness that their bra-burning sisters sacrificed a long time ago on the great battlefield of the sexes.” This twisted piece of analysis whitewashes the reality of sexism in Russia, where, as a recent feature by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty pointed out, there is “domestic violence that’s so pervasive many see it as a normal part of everyday life, in a country where an old saying advises, ‘If he beats you, he loves you,'” and where at least 14,000 women die every year from domestic abuse.

A piece out this week by the Independent reveals much about the inner workings of this questionable enterprise:

Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a well-respected US organisation that tracks hate groups and extremists in the United States, published a report about Russia Today. The group did not label the channel itself extremist, but said it gives undue airtime to conspiracy theorists and extremists. “Its slickly packaged stories suggest that a legitimate debate is under way in the United States about who perpetrated the 11 September terrorist attacks, for instance, and about President Obama’s eligibility for high office.”

The top brass at the channel, including editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, have denied this. “We don’t talk about 9/11 any more than US media discusses who was behind the 1999 explosions in Moscow,” she told the authors of the SPLC report, referring to the apartment block bombings that were a catalyst for the second Chechen war. “Moreover, our own journalists have never claimed or even as much as hinted that the US government may have been behind the tragedy of 9/11.”

This is not strictly true, as the report’s authors point out; not only do captions such as “New Yorkers Continue to Fight for 9/11 Truth” appear on screen during stories about the attacks, but on the last anniversary, the channel’s website published a four-part series entitled, “911 Reasons why 9/11 was (probably) an inside job”. A video of a recent interview with a “9/11 Truther” on Youtube is entitled, “Two planes didn’t take twin towers down”.

One employee of the channel told The Independent, on condition of anonymity: “I have mixed feelings about whether the channel is actually trying to provoke dissent among Americans. That seems the only logical reason to have some of these guests on and to spend so much time talking about these topics.

And if it’s not for provocation, it’s simply for the money – not that those two things are mutually exclusive:

On the other hand, Denis Trunov [the head of RT America] has said multiple times that his only goal is to get YouTube hits and he will have anyone on who will get Youtube hits. He has even suggested having porn stars on to talk about topics like Afghanistan, in the hope of getting hits.”

The strategy is apparently working.

“We now have more than 150 million views on YouTube, which is much higher than that of Fox News, CNN, Sky News or Reuters YouTube channels,” says Ms Simonyan. “Just a couple of days ago, RT made it into YouTube’s All-Time Top 100 Most Viewed Partners list, replacing President Obama’s channel.”

The article goes on to detail the outright censorship and bias handed down to staff by RT management – a charge readers may particularly remember following the station’s coverage of the 2008 South Ossetia War.

Several journalists at the channel have told The Independent that while some coverage of problems in Russia and sensitive issues is allowed, any direct criticism or questioning of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev is strictly prohibited.

With the start of RT America, observers have started to question the coverage of topics other than Russia. Some of the more bizarre moments on RT can sometimes be put down to youthful inexperience (such as the newsreader who clearly skimread the autocue too fast and referred to “North Korean leader King John the Second”), but sometimes it seems something more sinister is at play. One anchor told The Independent that during an interview with a leading scientist working on Aids he was repeatedly pressured by producers to “ask difficult questions” about the “evidence” that HIV doesn’t cause Aids at all.

The article can be read in its entirety by clicking here.