Wednesday, March 5, 2014

RT is bleeding... anchors

A couple of days ago, RT America's "Breaking the Set" host, Abby Martin, made a big splash by openly criticizing Russia (and her own employer) for what's happening in Ukraine:

Martin took a wise risk, and putting RT's management on the spot, essentially prevented her immediate dismissal. Instead, RT's Editor in Chief said, the network suggested that she be sent to Crimea, to see the situation on the ground for herself. Martin has since declined the request, and it is yet unclear whether (or how long) she will stay with the network.

Today, Liz Wahl followed suit. She went a step further, however, stating that she would resign upon the end of the program. See it for yourself:

According to her interviews with The Daily Beast and the CNN, Wahl had been disappointed with RT for a long time, now. But, apparently inspired by Martin's daring step, she decided to jump in, too, and make use of the opportunity.

In a statement to CNN on Wahl's resignation, RT said:
"[...] Ms. Martin spoke in the context of her own talk show, to the viewers who have been tuning in for years to hear her opinions on current events, the opinions that most media did not care about until two days ago. For years Ms. Martin has been speaking out against US military intervention only to be ignored by the mainstream news outlets - but with that one comment, branded as an act of defiance, she became an overnight sensation. It is a tempting example to follow.
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.

This is happening because RT - despite being in the business of public diplomacy, that is international and cross-cultural communication - chooses to stay in its own informational universe (call it a "balloon", if you will), just like many in the Russian government do these days. They choose to ignore the effect their extreme slant tends to have, particularly with audiences who are not predisposed to their perspective in the first place. 

In its early days, most of RT's reporters and anchors were Russian, who inherently shared their benefactors' perspectives (and accents). This, then, made RT's initial foundation much stronger, because that contingent did belong (and many still do) to the information space which RT's management inhabits. It was also the reason why there were no such high-profile "defections" during the 2008 war with Georgia.

Later on, though, when the network expanded and launched its dedicated American channel -- RT America -- most of their anchors and reporters seemed to be American (perhaps, many were descendants of Soviet or Eastern European immigrants, but still brought up and educated here, in the US). By doing so, RT seemed to be hoping to get closer to the more capricious American viewer. Yet, even if the accents and the names changed, the content and the tone did not really follow suit, essentially making very little difference (if any) in terms of bridging the gap between the two "informational spheres".

This also meant that these American reporters did have much more potential independence, even if their further career opportunities might have been limited (where would they go -- PressTV? HuffPost Live doesn't seem to be hiring anymore...). Now, having had enough and seeing an opportunity to leave with dignity (but also in the limelight -- you know, to get that next OK-paid job), they seem to be taking their chance. 

It was just a matter of time, with RT America. It would be very interesting to see if more reporters and/or anchors quit RT these days and how the management will handle that. Perhaps it is even more interesting to watch for changes -- if any -- in RT's overall editorial policy or tone after this hullabaloo.

On a related note, the new "Rossiya Segodnya" -- the more centralized reincarnation of Russia's international broadcasting (except for RT, which is supposed to keep its independence... as far we know), is still to be formally launched. There isn't much information or any details about the organization yet, but one thing we can be sure of: it will be much more nationalistic, aggressive, and unified in its message. I wonder if RT will then follow suit, or will it try and distance itself from Rossiya Segodnya in the West, even if a little... (and yes, believe it or not, it could be even worse).

I guess we'll find out fairly soon... 


  1. Did you get my previous comment?

  2. Hi Aramazd, I'm afraid it didn't go through. Could you repost?