All the (un)usual suspects. What is up to? By William Bowles

12 February, 2010

Full page ads in the London Independent? Though the word ‘Russia’ is nowhere to be seen, instead it’s What we used to know as Russia Today is engaged in a no doubt expensive marketing and advertizing campaign here in the UK. But is a far cry from its crude beginnings four years ago as a mouthpiece for the Russian state. The question is, what kind of animal is it now? Hiro, Dahr Jamail, Danny Schecter, Amy Goodman, Noam Chomsky, Norman Solomon… the list goes on. It’s a veritable roll call of the left and leftish of ‘new’ and ‘old’ media. All have appeared in long, independently produced videos on RT tackling issues like Falujah, Afghanistan and Iran. See for example, Dilip Hiro in ‘End of the American Superpower’.

The same and similar people are also appearing on short news pieces as analysts and commentators.

Many of the productions take a decidedly anti-US government/anti- big business position and pro the ‘Third World’. It’s the kind of stuff you’d normally see on The Real News Network or Youtube. (See CBC News and reporter William Dunbar’s protest departure over RT’s Georgia coverage.)

I’ll tell you though that it’s a weird feeling to be watching these guys on digital Freeview (it’s also on Sky, Murdoch, eat your heart out), a couple of whom I’ve known for years, tearing into USUK policies. And you could see it on their faces as they spoke: this is mainstream TV! I tried and failed to find out what the viewing figures are now but I suspect very few people know of its existence, yet. I now watch it almost every night simply because I get to see a very different point of view, but as with all TV, it ain’t all good, there’s the usual ‘human interest’ stories, it’s just that the good stuff is very good by television standards.

“The Arabic channel of RT was created by the guys from Al Jazeera. There are still a lot of them working in RT.” — Roman Tomberg, Strategic Culture Foundation

And it comes across a bit Al-Jazeerish which comes as no surprise as some of the same people are involved according to Roman Tomberg who works at another relatively new Russian venture, The Strategic Culture Foundation. SCF to the best of my knowledge seems to best represent the post-Soviet left in Russia, but with its roots much more firmly planted in what we used to call the Third World. Which in itself I think heralds a return as it were to the roots of the Bolshevik Revolution, where the early gaze was not toward the West but the East. We’re so Euro-centric that we forget that the bulk of Russia is in Asia, not Europe.

So what’s the deal here? Clearly it has the backing of Putin and his posse, or perhaps a faction? Or maybe it suits their purpose to have Noam Chomsky and Norman Solomon and Amy Goodman and Dahr Jamail and… all on the same show?

“The audience [for RT] is people who have business in Russia or a strong interest in Russia: “Mainly the audience we are trying to get is the type of audience which is not usually satisfied in the normal type of stories” — ‘RT editor-in-chief wants to make Western image of Russia ‘closer to reality’’ Margarita Simonyan,

The above quote was taken from a piece written in September of 2009, and according to Simonyan,

“As a broadcaster, RT enjoys editorial freedom – a point Simonyan is very clear on. This, she says, is because RT is ‘funded by the state budget, which is not even decided by the government, it is decided by the state Duma’.”

One thing is clear, that for whatever reasons, is deliberately targeting a left/progressive and questioning Western audience. Do they see something that we don’t?


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