RT (Russia Today) can seem like an attractive workplace for internationally minded journalists.
The Russian broadcaster presents itself as “a global, round-the-clock news network of eight TV channels, broadcasting news, current affairs, and documentaries, with digital platforms in six languages”.
In its own words, RT “creates news with an edge for viewers who want to Question More,” and the channel does not hide the fact that it “is publicly financed from the budget of the Russian Federation”.
RT does sound like an exciting workplace: “Our correspondents have to be across stories in no time and can be deployed anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat,” the network tells in the “vacancies” section on its website.
Something to hide
But there is also a downside to working for RT.
Last week, the Russian news outlet Znak could reveal that RT forces employees to sign non-disclosure agreements under which the broadcaster demands 20 years of silence about the work at RT after they leave the network.
The cost of a violation is 5 million rubles – nearly 70,000 euros – a contract with the signature of RT’s CEO seen by Znak stipulates.
In this way, RT makes it clear that openness is not helpful in the state propaganda business; the rules also suggest that RT has something to hide.
A defence ministry: RT’s secrecy rules make the network resemble a military organisation. No wonder that RT’s own chief editor, Margarita Simonyan, has said that the network she manages is like “a defence ministry” and capable of “conducting information war against the whole Western world”. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Going off script
In spite of the strict rules, RT has not always been successful in controlling its employees’ behaviour.
On 5 March 2014, Liz Wahl, an American news anchor, explained to her audience in a live broadcast on RT, why she could not legitimise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
Leaving RT: “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I’m resigning,” Liz Wahl told when she went off script and quit her RT job while live on air. Image: Youtube.
After quitting, Ms Wahl gave an interview to Euractiv and described RT as a workplace where she was “surrounded by the constant criticism of everything American: society, government, policies. It’s natural to just get swept up in that thinking. By covering certain stories, by having certain guests on, by following certain blogs. It becomes a psychological echo chamber”.
Not a black box
RT and other Russian state media outlets are far from being the black boxes their management would like them to be.
A recent investigation by the Russian independent online magazine Proekt added new details to what was already known about how the Kremlin issues guidelines for journalists at weekly meetings, which RT’s management also attends, according to Proekt’s sources.
RT under pressure
It is also not the first time RT has been challenged by critical journalistic reporting.
Most recently it happened when German investigative journalists looked into a cluster of RT-controlled online outlets operating out of Berlin, which did not advertise their connection to RT.
For examples of disinformation disseminated by RT, follow this link to the EUvsDisinfo data base.
Top image: RT on Youtube