William Dunbar: They forced me out for telling the truth about Georgia

The frustration I felt at not being able to cover the biggest news story of my career was immense'

Monday 20 September 2010 00:00
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When I took the job as RT's Georgia correspondent, I was under no illusions. I knew the channel was financed by the state, and that its editorial policy was bound to reflect that. But for a 24-four year old with no TV experience, it was just too good an opportunity to turn down.

In the year I worked for RT, Georgia was in a constant political crisis, and that meant I never had a day off. But, for the most part, I was happy that my work was balanced. Georgian friends would begrudgingly acknowledge RT as the least worst Russian channel: at least we said "de facto" republic of South Ossetia, and referred to President Saakashvili, rather than "the Saakashvili regime".

But my reports on the plight of Georgians displaced from the breakaway region of Abkhazia never made it on air. When I quoted a diplomat as saying that Georgia's 2008 parliamentary election marked significant progress I almost got the sack. But the big test was the Georgia-Russia war of August 2008. Would RT try to be objective, and offer both sides of the story? Or would it see its main role as being a cheerleader for the Russian army?

I found out on the second day of hostilities when asked in a live interview what the situation was. Carefully loading my answer with phrases like "unconfirmed reports" and "too early to tell", I responded that we had just heard that Russian jets had bombed civilian buildings in the town of Gori. Although accurate, my answer did not go down well. I had been booked to do hourly updates via satellite. On my way to the studio, I was told they were cancelled. The frustration I felt at not being able to cover the biggest news story of my career was immense, and I was tempted to quit then and there.

As the day progressed, there was more bombing, and more civilian deaths. That evening, RT wanted another phone interview. This time I was to deny an inaccurate CNN report about an air strike on Tbilisi, but not mention the very real bombing of other parts of the country. I declined, and tendered my resignation.

I'm grateful for my time at RT, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in Russia. The station has some great stories and some talented people. But on any issue where there is a Kremlin line, RT is sure to toe it.

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