Ukraine crisis: Could Russia Today turn you into a Putin propagandist?

The network’s coverage is so biased that its presenters are walking out. Archie Bland tunes in to the other side

On Monday, Russia Today presenter Abby Martin made use of her editorial independence to make a fervent speech about her opposition to the Moscow government’s intervention in Ukraine. On Wednesday, another host, Liz Wahl, resigned on air, explaining that she could not be part of a network “which whitewashes the actions of Putin”.

I watched, then, with beady eyes for any sign of wavering loyalty to the RT message. I saw none. (That may have partly been because Abby Martin had skipped her show to be interviewed by Piers Morgan instead.)

The reality was somewhat unexpected: unremitting boredom. Watching more than half an hour of rolling news is never good for you; the breathless tone and churning speculation conjure a sharp sense of killing time in a Sheraton hotel room before a business meeting. RT, though – to use its proper title – does something else again. RT does endless, grinding repetition. It’s like Fox News if Fox News didn’t care about selling ads.

An hour on RT is split into 30 minutes for news and 30 minutes for a presenter-driven strand of the sort that Mr Morgan has just lost. Here is how a typical hour went today, with only slight variation for presenter or pundit.

First up, it goes without saying, is Ukraine. We begin with the Crimean parliament’s vote to join Russia, a momentous development that warranted top billing but not much in the way of reporting. More substantially dealt with is a suggestion, repeated over the phone by an Estonian minister to EU foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton, that the snipers who killed so many protesters in Kiev were cynical opposition plants.

Presenter Marina Dzhashi walks us through some sketchy back-of-an-envelope ballistic reconstructions that purport to show that all the sniper fire came from opposition areas. I stare at her hard, wondering if there will be any hints of a looming defection to liven things up a bit, but Dzhashi stays resolutely on message.

Then it’s on to a segment called Propaganda Watch, which is exactly as dreary as it sounds. Presenter Gayane Chichakyan is so tired of the lies that the MSM is feeding the sheeple. She, too, is excited about the sniper story, and uses her anti-propaganda slot to inflate the Estonian minister’s words from rumour to “evidence”. Why is it not being better covered elsewhere? Well, she says darkly, “it doesn’t fit into the narrative, does it?”

In a way, the Ukrainian stuff is the least of it. It is, after all, a massive story. The second half of the news is far stranger, cherry-picking a couple of yarns that are almost random except that they paint an ugly picture of the West – the arrest of David Cameron’s aide Patrick Rock over child porn allegations being one, an obscure tale of a deadly New Jersey gas explosion being the other. Again, they are repeated ad infinitum, such that the news seems to roll less than it does to plod.

The break is stuffed with trailers for presenters who, we keep being told, question everything and are afraid of nothing, with the possible exception of the consequences of insulting Vladimir Putin. This set of wannabe Bill O’Reillys, whose shows fill the second half hour, are fatally stymied by a lack of resources: instead of the kinetic impatience that we’re used to, everything gets done to death. Business presenter Erin Ade, the poor thing, has to spend 20 minutes interrogating a bloke who thinks we’ll soon be paying our bills with gold ingots.

Neatly emblematic of it all is Worlds Apart, a show which promises fearless debate but instead features a pro-Kremlin presenter haranguing an academic. The Ukrainian government wasn’t elected, the host says. Of course it wasn’t, the academic, Dr Angela Stent, replies – it’s an interim body, set up in a huge hurry. And the summarising caption appears below: Stent: US now supporting interim government which wasn’t elected democratically.

Thank goodness someone is here to keep the narrative from going off the rails.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own