The channel was born in 2005 with the aim of “breaking the monopoly of Anglo-Saxon global information flows”, in Putin’s own words. The Russian president also said at the time that it was necessary to fight against the message of foreign television channels installed in the country, which “only know how to talk about crisis and collapse”. The journalist Margarita Simonian, hired to launch the platform, took as a model channels such as CNN or BBC, although in recent years she is more reminiscent of the populist and agitator style of Fox.

At the beginning, and under the name Russia Today, the station sought mainly to reverse the global vision -which they sensed was negative- about the Russian people by broadcasting news from that country. But three years later there was a change of brand and strategy: the platform became RT and, instead of praising Russia, it would look critically at the rest of the world. In other words: there would be less news from Russia and more about issues in other countries that are usually left out of media agendas.

At the time of this shift, in the mid-2000s, the so-called “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia or Kyrgyzstan led to the fall of pro-Russian governments in those countries. Moscow then denounced that U.S. organizations had played a role in the uprisings.

Since then, accusations of RT meddling in the political life of Western countries have been constant. But fighting what most governments identify as Russian government propaganda – paid for directly by the state – is much more difficult than fighting the bots and trolls that flood Twitter. When RT is reproached for its evident bias, it has no choice but to fall back on the adage that a plurality of viewpoints enriches the viewer. Or, in any case, appeal to the freedom of expression that Western countries boast.

Even so, international controversies have been frequent. RT and Sputnik – the little brother, more modern and flashy, and also banned these days in several countries – gave as much space as possible to pro-Brexit politicians like Nigel Farage before the referendum that brought about the UK’s exit from the EU. Also in 2016, a report by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US National Security Agency denounced that there was Russian intervention in the elections that brought Donald Trump to the presidency.

A year later, Emmanuel Macron forcefully pointed the finger at RT and Sputnik. He also did so during a joint press conference with Putin. Asked about the veto on these media that he had applied during the campaign that brought him to the Elysée, the French president said: “Russia Today and Sputnik spread falsehoods about me and my campaign, so I considered that they should not be in my headquarters. It is serious that foreign media have interfered by spreading falsehoods. Those two media did not behave as organs of the press, but as organs of lying propaganda. Nothing more, nothing less.” Macron’s rival in the election, the far-right Marine Le Pen, had a few years earlier backed Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula to Russia.

‘The New York Times’ summed up Russia’s “information war against the West” in which RT is the main battering ram by stating that the channel “helps promote nationalist, far-left or far-right views that put pressure on the political center.” There is hardly any ideological preference, the important thing is to move the board. After the American and French elections, also Google or Twitter decided to try to curb the “fake news” of the Russian platform. In January 2022, a U.S. government report highlighted RT’s role as a “critical element in Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.”

Until a few days ago, RT’s broadcasts reached almost all parts of the world in five languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, French and German. But it seems that the war on the airwaves now seems too subtle for Putin, or that its effects are not as immediate as he would like, and he has decided to resort to the weapons of a lifetime. In Ukraine, those of the army; in Russia, imprisonment for 15 years for those who spread “false information” about the war. In the midst of the international media stampede, Putin decides what information is true and what is false for his country.


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