Russia Today’s online media presence has grown drastically since its onset on YouTube in 2007. In lieu of this success, the Times subtly portrays RT’s popularity as a growing threat. So, what is Russia today (RT)? And How does it differ from American news media? In an effort to illuminate the distinction and explain their nature of this propaganda, I will examine various media sources in America along with RT in their depiction of political elections.
Russia Today has no illusions that it reports unbiased media. The site itself claims to deliver a “Russian viewpoint on major global events”. The site has even dedicated publications to emphasize defense to claims that RT is a form of “Russian Propaganda”, which it has been named by many, including The Washington Post. At its inception, RT was created to offer a positive image of Russia in other countries. Although based on their exaggeration of reach as self-proclaimed to be on the “top-5 list of most watched international TV news channels in the US”, with unsubstantiated evidence, it is hard to say exactly how influential the channel has been, even when the site has the advantage of international appeal through its offering of material in multiple languages. The site is state-funded, and thus is inherently biased, promoting certain interests behind its many articles and videos, even when a calculated few of which are not political in nature.
American news coverage, on the other hand, is mixed in its bias. Largely, the swing of coverage may be attributed to ownership, as independently funded publications may be under pressures such as fear of losing stock value or sales to stay afloat. News sensationalism and Entertainment News, as well as the “outrage industry” of news reporting also result as pressure to maintain viewership and profit. Public or semi-public ownership has less pressure to sensationalize, while it also is more regulated. Ultimately, based on the first amendment, the news media in the United States can have the function of reproaching corruption and muckraking, which allows for criticism of the regime. Meanwhile in Russia, such criticism is not just discouraged, but outright punished.
I will refer to state-funded media sources in the United States as comparisons to RT based on the political nature of their biases. In the States, public broadcasting sources including PBS, NPR, or WNYC are non-for-profit and privately owned, but do have some government funding and provide insight into the effects of media ownership and structure on coverage of political leaders.
Headlines of WNYC’s “Everything You Need to Know About the 2016 Election” offer stories on both Democratic and Republican national conventions. However, there are many articles that express a discontentment with the presidential win. The news report “Gloria Steinem: Donald Trump Is Not My President”, a particularly striking example of the denouncement of the national leader, a headline that could never be published on RT, is permitted in public broadcasting in the United States on the basis of free speech.
RT’s coverage of the 2012 election universally portrays Aleksey Navalny as corrupt opposition to the heroically-represented Vladimir Putin, with headlines such as “Two-thirds of Russians want Putin to remain president after 2018”, “Support for Putin in Russia hits new high – poll”, and many articles detailing the business of Navalny as slander, and criticizing his organization of a protest, deeming him inappropriately trying to “‘peddle his narrative’ of repressed freedom of expression in Russia”. There is an overwhelmingly clear prejudice towards those who currently maintain political power (namely, Putin).
Bearing in mind that the aforementioned US news sources are partially government funded, it remains evident that beyond simply ownership of the media, regime type more prominently dictates the material published in the coverage in both elections. While Russia is a semi-presidential federation, according to an article on the Human Rights Watch website, there is “shrinking space for free expression”, as the “parliament passed new restrictive laws… [to] keep dissenters in check”. Private, or semi-private ownership allows news sources in the United States liberal or conservative bias, whereas government ownership of RT in Russia is strictly pro-Putin.
But as for RT’s influence in the United States, its propaganda on YouTube is not the problem so much as are uneducated consumers. In protesting censorship, I hold that while RT’s gaining traction in American media sites may be concerning, it is up to us, the consumers, to think critically about the material with which we are presented.
Photo from kremlin.ru