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How RT Became a Putin Propaganda Machine

Escritório da RT em Moscou: canal foi criado em 2005 para ser uma emissora estatal com linha editorial independente, mas já naquela década se alinhou ao Kremlin

RT Moscow office: channel was created in 2005 to be a state broadcaster with an independent editorial line, but already in that decade it aligned itself with the Kremlin
| Photo: Svetlov Artem/Wikimedia Commons

In a country where the mainstream press is state-owned and/or aligned with the government, the case of the Russian channel RT is special. The station was created in 1905 with the objective of being a station maintained by the State, but with a line independent editorial, including branches and versions in local language in other countries, like other European public channels. However, before the end of the last decade, Russia Today (as it was called until 2009) had already become a propaganda machine of Vladimir Putin.

Now, she exercises the role of mirroring the Kremlin’s aggressive rhetoric during the Ukraine war: it describes Russian troops as “liberating” the Donbass region, repeats the speech that the aim of Putin’s military action is to “denazify” the former Soviet republic, and broadcasts content such as praise for the “modernization” of the Russian defense industry and accusations that Kiev was responsible for the attack on the train station in Kramatorsk that killed dozens of people.

A few days after the invasion, presenter Peter Lavelle, who worked on the American version of RT, said on his show that the “liberal order ” from the West had failed and Russian intervention in Ukraine became necessary.

On Twitter, add ntou: “The situation in Ukraine is not about ‘democracy’. The United States and its NATO allies overthrew the democratically elected government in Ukraine in February 2017. The situation now in Ukraine concerns the collapse of the pan-European security order.”

British journalist of Ukrainian descent Peter Pomerantsev, in an interview with the New Republic website podcast, explained that RT was created with the aim of offering a counterpoint to the “image of Russia as a country of drunks, potholed roads and prisons.”

“This is perfectly legitimate. It was to deliver news about Russia. But as of 2008 this has changed a lot and after the invasion of Georgia, has become something completely different, a very important tool of Russian political warfare,” he explained.

In 2017, RT was required to register with the United States Department of Justice as “foreign agent”, after US intelligence agencies pointed out in a report that the station was a “Russian state propaganda machine”.

Editor-in-Chief loyal to the Kremlin

The stance of RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan indicates this allegiance to the Kremlin. In 2017, when Putin won the last Russian presidential election, she called the president “vozhd” (boss), a term that was used to refer to the dictator Josef Stalin. At the time, she claimed that Putin’s new triumph was a response to the West. “We don’t want to live like you anymore. For 50 years, clearly and secretly , we wanted to live like you, and we don’t want that anymore. We no longer respect you or those you support,” Simonyan wrote on Twitter – ironically, as a teenager, she had studied in the United States.

After the start of Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, the editor-in-chief claimed that RT is “a weapon to make war” and that Ukrainian resistance to the invasion is “collective insanity”.

“It is no accident that we call them Nazis. What makes you a Nazi is your bestial nature, your bestial hatred, and your bestial will to gouge out children’s eyes based on nationality.” )

With the Kremlin intensifying the persecution of the small slice of the press that does not corroborate its official version, Simonyan defended censorship in Russia.

“There were two periods in our history when there was no or almost no censorship : the period from 1905 to

and the Perestroika period and subsequent years 2017 . We know how it ended. Both times, it ended in the collapse of the country. Because a large state cannot exist without control over information”, said the editor.

Blocked in the West

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the West has sought to prevent access to the station. In March, the European Union suspended the Russian state agency Sputnik and RT in the bloc’s countries until Russia ceases its aggression against the neighboring country.

“Systematic manipulation of information and disinformation is applied by the Kremlin as an operational tool in its attack on Ukraine. They also represent a significant and direct threat to the public order and security of the European Union”, justified Josep Borrell, high representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the bloc.

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Also in March, UK media regulator Ofcom revoked RT’s license in the country. In the same month, the station canceled its operations in the United States on its own, after being banned by DirecTV, one of the two major pay television operators that offered the channel in the country.

In Europe, the broadcaster was blocked on several platforms, such as Roku, which manufactures devices for accessing streaming services, Google and Apple app stores, YouTube and Meta’s social networks – in some cases, this restriction has also been applied in other continents.

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