Julian Assange’s New Platform: RT

So here’s a partnership we might have seen coming: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will host a TV talk show that debuts in March on RT, the Kremlin-funded, English-language twenty-four-hour news channel.

The Kremlin created Russia Today (later shortened to just RT) in 2005, to counter what it believes is relentlessly negative western media coverage of Russia.

How does RT try to counteract that coverage? By providing relentlessly negative media coverage of the west—in particular, the United States. And by not biting the hand that finances it: the Kremlin. (For an analysis of RT and its coverage, done by Columbia Graduate School of Journalism students last spring, go here.)

RT staff were absolutely crowing today about the new Assange show, hyperbolically described on the channel’s website as “arguably the most anticipated news series of 2012.” According to RT, Assange will interview “iconoclasts, visionaries and power insiders,” though none of his interview subjects has been publicly identified.

RT noted that Assange will have to record his ten interviews while under house arrest; he is fighting extradition from the UK to Sweden, where he faces sexual assault allegations that he has denied.

From the perspective of the principal parties, this should be a win-win relationship. Assange had suddenly brought big international attention to a channel whose main star to date has been a snarky, twenty-something presenter, Alyona Minkovski, born in Russia but raised in California.

And RT gives Assange an international platform free from the filter of western mainstream media. RT wants controversy from him, as long as it doesn’t go against Kremlin interests.

“We are hoping it will be as explosive as WikiLeaks leaks,” gushed one RT announcer.

From the perspective of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Assange’s new show might seem an affirmation of her lament to Congress last year, that “We are in an information war, and we are losing it.”

Clinton ticked off the names of some of the best-known government-funded satellite news channels created in the past decade: RT, Al Jazeera English, China’s CCTV. They are, she told Congress, “literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, I think it’s really effective.”

Though it’s not clear how many minds and attitudes are really changed by RT and other services, Clinton’s “information war” description does seem apt. To learn more about the global media wars among satellite stations, and to see how several of them stack up journalistically, go to this report by the Columbia Journalism School’s International Newsroom class last May.

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Ann Cooper teaches at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked as a reporter for newspapers, magazines, and National Public Radio, and was the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Tags: , ,