Anyone making the journey to Westminster by public transport will be confronted by a series of posters warning them about the state of British media. The word ‘redacted’ is in large letters, and readers are advised to look up a website for ‘the ad we can’t show you here’. If you do, you see a picture of Tony Blair advocating war. ‘This is what happens when there is no second opinion,’ the webpage says, advising people to ‘question more’. This is how Russia Today, the Kremlin’s fast-growing English language broadcaster, is selling itself: as the challenger to an out-of-touch establishment. At a time when there’s a widespread distrust of political elites, it’s not a bad line.
Unlike rival broadcasters, Russia Today — or RT as it has rebranded itself since 2009 — has a growing -budget; President Putin himself is said to have intervened to protect it against cuts. The network now claims a worldwide audience of 700 million, a figure the old Voice of Russia could only dream about. It is widely present in social media, having 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube, for instance. And it has achieved a largish cult following on the fringes of the left and the right in the West. Its audience seems to believe in RT’s marketing message — that the network covers the stories which the mainstream media ignores, such as Occupy Wall Street or WikiLeaks scandals.
But there are, of course, stories that Russia Today is not keen on covering — such as the reality of Russia today. Take this week’s economic crisis, which Anne Applebaum writes about: the plunging rouble, the forecast of a recession, the accelerating exodus of capital as investors head for the hills. The story was the fourth item on RT’s business page — under the heading of ‘Business Snaps’.