Inside RT’s world of alternative news

On 5 March 2014, Liz Wahl, an American news host, quit her job live on air, telling her RT audience why she could not legitimise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea (Image: Youtube).

On 5 March 2014, Liz Wahl, an American news host, quit her job live on air, telling her RT audience why she could not legitimise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea (Image: Youtube). 

Analysis & Opinion

When you switch on the TV in your home or hotel room, you might watch a channel that promises to provide alternative news. This channel will tell you that in the West, microchips are implanted under the skin of office workers to make them more submissive and passive. You will be surprised by alternative polls which reveal that a substantial number of Europeans consider Crimea a part of Russia, and that Sweden wants to leave the EU. This is perhaps the only TV channel which will tell you that the French President apparently regrets the sanctions imposed on Russia and that Germany’s Foreign Minister has apparently praised Russia for its “constructive role in resolving the crises in Ukraine and Syria“. Only here you will hear that the Swedish authorities have told the country’s municipalities to prepare for war and that the EU is committing a form of genocide against Russian citizens living in Crimea.

You will always encounter an alternative narrative about Ukraine, for example that that Turkish instructors operate training camps for foreign mercenaries in the country. According to this channel, the official Dutch report concerning the downing of flight MH17 was based on false facts and rigged by Ukraine to blame Russia. You will be told, too, that Russian ground forces have not operated in Syria and that Russia’s primary mission there is to fight Daesh, not to support Assad. According to this channel, the EU and its Member States never did anything to help civilians in Aleppo; indeed, all other media, which the channel consistently labels “main stream”, have been lying to you about Syria. The Russian President’s spokesperson has access to an open microphone on this channel when he feels the need to dismiss criticism of Russia’s policy and actions in Syria as “Russophobia”. The channel also makes itself available when Russian authorities wish to spread biased reporting and disinformation about the Presidential election campaign in France, as described here and here. And you will quickly realise that it is not only the news that is alternative, but many of the commentators invited in the role of experts, who, it turns out, are marginal, or seldom have the qualifications you would expect from an expert.

The stories outlined above have all been reported over the past year and a half in different issues of the Disinformation Review. The media outlet in question is Russia Today, or RT as it now calls itself. RT is generously funded by the Russian state (around 300 million USD annually) and its ambitions are high: It wants to “question more”, as one of its slogans says, and become a global leader among those who feel in opposition to “the main stream”. As the Russian authorities’ most expensive international prestige project, it uses sensationalist clickbait in a way which is not very different from its sister organisation, Sputnik. Obviously, the reason why RT and Sputnik prioritise tabloid style journalism is to be able to report successful viewership numbers. On Youtube for example, RT also boosts its outreach to very high numbers by systematically buying up rights to potentially viral footage of babies and pets, humoristic incidents from real life and catastrophic accidents, as Alexey Kovalev demonstrates in his analysis published by Bellingcat. The Daily Beast has in its reporting shown in detail how RT misrepresents its ratings. RT’s overall success remains modest, but it does enjoy some popularity among audiences which, as a study has shown, besides the clickbait headlines appreciates RT for being “honest about lying“.

But it is not just the spread of pro-Kremlin disinformation and artificial boosting of its own success that characterises RT. On a number of occasions, its fundamental journalistic standards have been subject to serious criticism by the communications regulator in the UK, Ofcom. With regards to a broadcast in March 2014 titled “The Truthseeker: Media ‘Staged’ Syria Chem Attack“, Ofcom criticised RT for its “materially misleading” factual content and “unfair treatment of individuals and organisations” (Bulletin 288). Similarly, as a result of a July 2014 broadcast titled “The Truthseeker: Genocide of Eastern Ukraine“, which focused on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including allegations that the Ukrainian Government and its supporters had a policy of genocide against the Russian-speaking population there, Ofcom found that RT had been in breach of the rule that “due impartiality must be preserved on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy”. (Bulletin 288). These are just a two of more than a dozen cases when Ofcom has warned RT over its failure to comply with fundamental, internationally acknowledged rules of professional journalism.

In order to look credible against such a problematic background, RT is in dire need of one particular kind of labour force, namely talking heads which are not Russian, but who can appear on the screen relaying the pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative. RT prefers to use international journalists, and only rarely their Russian colleagues, as hosts and reporters. Their role is to speak in English, French and other foreign languages without an accent, and they are attracted to work for a good package as well as for a media organisation known for its hi-tech production standards. On two occasions, however, international news presenters working for RT have quit their jobs during live broadcasts. Watch this video to see Liz Wahl, an American news host, telling her audience live on air why she could not legitimise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. And this video, showing another RT anchor, Abby Martin, suddenly criticizing Russia for its occupation of Crimea. People with no previous experience of Russian state media, who perhaps tune in to RT in hotel rooms and via cable packages, can always use their remote control to escape. It takes more courage to do so from within.

On 5 March 2014, Liz Wahl, an American news host, quit her job live on air, telling her RT audience why she could not legitimise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea (Image: Youtube).

On 5 March 2014, Liz Wahl, an American news host, quit her job live on air, telling her RT audience why she could not legitimise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea (Image: Youtube).


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  • Randolph Carter

    And all this time, I thought Ukrainians were really from Vulcan and could put a Russian soldier to sleep with a neck pinch. I know MH17 was secretly teleported to the Bermuda triangle and vanished into another dimension; aliens scattered wreckage from other planes to confuse us. Putin is a Terminator sent back in time by Skynet to kill the leader of the Resistance. Ukrainians are trying to infiltrate the Russian Ministry of Silly Walks and have allied themselves with the Borg. I hate thinking on my own; it makes the chip in my head hurt.

    Is my tinfoil hat on right?

    • Alex George

      Why are you just repeating standard RT stuff? ;o)

    • Mick Servian


  • Eolone

    Sounds like Fox New. Just take a news release like this (today’s: “100 Days of Disruption” by born yesterday Cody Derespina):

    “President Trump has brought that “wrecking ball” to Washington – tearing up the usual script for early presidencies by installing controversial outsiders in top posts,”

    Fake, ofc. Reagan and W. both brought in their wreckers into their administration. Among many, Reagan had Interior Department Secretary James Watts, who was forced to resign. W. had Michael Brown of FEMA. Read “The Wrecking Crew”, by Thomas Frank. Bringing incompetent administrators into Republican administrations is done on purpose. Trump has continued this.

    • Y K

      “Sounds like Fox New” (sic)

      It’s not even close.

      • Eolone

        It’s a lot closer than you think. Kleptomaniacs here, known as Republican leaders, want to destroy the laws that are in their way while giving little to, or even taking away from, the rest of the citizenry. Destroying the laws does not bother them. They do not see it as a liability to being reelected. They just run as outsiders, even though they might control the government. They also push right-wing agenda that cost them nothing, but keeps their base intact, like abortion and gun control issues. It was possibly in the 1960’s that someone noted that conservative business leaders hide behind small business to help big business and pilfer the country. We just saw that tactic a few days ago when Trump’s financial advisers were discussing their tax plan. They want to get rid of the estate tax for the benefit of the farmers and small businessmen, they say. There was no mention of the wealthiest families who have the most to gain from this. This would create a permanent oligarchy.

      • Eolone

        Russian voted Putin the liar of the year in 2015. That goes to show how much they believe in his propaganda. In contrast, in the US, Republicans are more subtle and more believable to their base. It’s the aim that is most important.

  • Alex George

    This is a great collection of whacko RT “news” stories. A reminder of how weird RT is, and not to be taken seriously as news media.

    Thanks for the entertainment!

    • Scradje

      Evil more like; it’s a troll station that accurately reflects the degenerates and throwbacks it trolls for.

      • Andrew Chmile

        and “Alex George” up-voted you! :)

        Along with his clone — “MichaelA” :)

        I “communicate” with them as well :)
        They understand! :)

        • MichaelA

          You don’t communicate with anyone
          You are a waste of space
          You can’t even count – seven people have upvoted scradje

    • Mick Servian

      When you have to pik out opeds without context to ridicule you have a problem.
      Many European Parliament members visited Crimea and were supportive. Not that outlandish
      No we are not told Russian ground forces don’t operate in Syria. It’s obvious in the articles that it supports Assad as well.
      Another thing. Is Larry King marginal? Maybe that German mp chick? On all the time.
      A former mifiver?
      But its ok cause its Ukraine

  • zorbatheturk

    The only ” qualification ” an ” expert ” on RT has is a willingness to tell lies for money.

  • Y K

    Russia Today is basically in the same category as Press TV, just with more money. The most effective way to combat it is by making sure that anybody choosing to shill for them is barred from any mainstream media position for life. Leave the wackos and the greedy opportunists among themselves.

    • Scradje

      Great idea! No more Giorgi G’Allah-Weih, CorbLenin, Farage, Max Keiser, Assange etc.

  • Dirk Smith

    Red Roof Inns carries RT in some of their hotels.