Russia Today (RT): The rise and fall of Putin’s Fox

“Of course, January will come, then February and March, 2022 will end and surely the media will continue to read that the invasion is imminent.” In a video, Inna Afinogenova made fun in this way on December 1 of those who warned of Vladimir Putin’s intentions to subdue Ukraine by arms. Afinogenova is the deputy director of the Spanish version of RT and surely the best-known face in the Spanish-speaking countries of that international information network. funded by the Russian state. A few days ago, this project, in whose birth Putin was personally involved, has been erased from the network and from the airwaves in the EU and elsewhere, which understand that its message in favor of Russian theses is unacceptable in times of war. .

When the invasion of Ukraine was consummated, Afinogenova explained -in the impeccable Spanish that she had already worn to follow every step of Carles Puigdemont during the ‘procés’ or, above all, to cheer certain political movements in Latin America– I did not expect or wish for it. Shortly after the start of the fighting, the journalist stated that she was “frankly despondent”, with the desire that she suffer “as few people as possible”, and that her “mental health” is “deteriorated”. . “It’s been a week and it seems like it’s been years. I don’t remember well how these days have been, a slowly creeping black cloud… it vanishes with the help of some pill and then it gets bigger,” she wrote then her.

But Afinogenova immediately seemed to recover and used her personal channel on Telegram, where she has almost 100,000 subscribers, to launch other types of messages. Like lamenting that “the wave of xenophobia that is going to be unleashed in the world is not going to be even half normal”, or giving advice to circumvent the impossibility that the RT videos – acronyms that are an acronym for Russia Today – are seen now in Europe.

Despite the laments of its star journalist in Spanish, with almost 350,000 followers on Twitter, reviewing the history of RT, one would say that the conflict is part of its essence. The channel was born in 2005 with the aim of “breaking the monopoly of Anglo-Saxon global information flows”, in the words of Putin himself. The Russian president also said then that it was necessary to fight against the message of the foreign television stations installed in the country, which “They only know how to talk about crisis and collapse”. The journalist Margarita Simonian, signed to launch the platform, took channels like CNN or the BBC as a model, although in recent years she is more reminiscent of the populist and agitational style of Fox.

At first, and under the name of Russia Today, the station mainly sought to reverse the global vision – which they intuited was negative – about the Russian people by broadcasting news from that country. But three years later there was a change of brand and strategy: the platform became RT and, instead of praising Russia, it would look critically at the rest of the world. That is to say: there would be less news from Russia and more about issues in other countries that are usually left out of the media agendas.

At the time that shift was taking place, in the mid-2000s, so-called “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia or Kyrgyzstan caused the fall in those countries of pro-Russian governments. Moscow then denounced that US organizations had played a role in the uprisings.

Accusations of interference

Since then, RT’s accusations of meddling in the political life of Western countries have been constant. But fighting what most governments identify as Russian government propaganda – paid for directly by the state – is much more difficult than fighting the bots and trolls that flood Twitter. For example: ‘Ahí les va’, the space presented by Afinogenova, is formally modern and impeccable. And, when RT is reproached for its obvious partiality, it only has to resort to the adage that the plurality of points of view enriches the viewer. Or, in any case, appeal to the freedom of expression that Western countries boast.

Even so, international controversies have been frequent. The envoy of a Catalan media outlet still remembers the “impressive display” of RT in Scotland during the campaign leading up to the independence referendum 2014. Later, RT and Sputnik -the little brother, more modern and flashy, and also banned these days in several countries- gave as much space as possible to pro-Brexit politicians like Nigel Farage before the referendum that led to the UK leaving the EU. Also in 2016, a report by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US National Security Agency denounced that there was Russian intervention in the elections that brought Donald Trump to the presidency.

Macron rebels

A year later, Emmanuel Macron strongly pointed to RT and Sputnik. He also did it during a joint press conference with Putin. Asked about the veto of those media that he had applied during the campaign that took him to the Elysée, the French president stated: “Russia Today and Sputnik spread falsehoods about me and my campaign, so I considered that they should not be in my headquarters. It is serious that foreign media have interfered by spreading falsehoods. they did not behave like press organs, but lying propaganda. Neither more nor less.” Macron’s rival in the elections, the far-right Marine Le Pen, had backed Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula to Russia a few years ago.

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‘The New York Times’ summarized the “Russia’s information war against the West” in which RT is the main battering ram stating that the channel “helps promote nationalist, extreme left or extreme right views that put pressure on the political center”. There is hardly any ideological preference, the important thing is to move the board. After the American and French elections, also Google or Twitter decided to try to put a stop to the “fake news” of the Russian platform. In January 2022, a report from the United States Government he highlighted RT’s role as a “critical element in Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem”.

Until a few days ago, RT broadcasts reached almost all parts of the world in five languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, French and German. But it seems that the war on the airwaves now seems too subtle to Putin, or that its effects do not come with the immediacy that he would like, and he has decided to resort to the weapons of a lifetime. In the Ukraine, those of the army; in Russia, prison for 15 years for those who spread “false information” about the war. Amid the stampede of the international media, Putin decides what information is true and what is false for his country.

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