test-launches 24-hour English news channel
Sept. 15, 2005
MOSCOW - Russia launched
experimental broadcasts Thursday of a 24-hour English-language satellite TV news
channel aimed at polishing its image abroad and presenting foreign audiences
with its view of the world.
Boasting a staff of 344 people and $30 million earmarked from the state budget,
Russia Today kicked off test broadcasts with a British anchor reading news
against a pink-and-orange background and dozens of editors and producers busily
working on their computers in spacious newsrooms. The channel will be broadcast
in North America, Europe and Asia.
"All too often, the view of Russia does not correspond to reality: information
on Russia is either distorted or incomplete or just nonsense," said Margarita
Simonyan, the chief editor.
The channel's founders say Russia Today aims to counter the often negative
stereotypes of Russia created by foreign media and present a balanced view of
this vast country of 143 million.
"You need to think about how the news is seen from here in Moscow," said Michael
Alexander, an editor at the channel.
Critics, however, dismiss the project as Kremlin-funded propaganda launched at a
time when President Vladimir Putin is coming under increasing criticism abroad
for backsliding on democracy.
Since coming to power five years ago, Putin has created an obedient parliament,
abolished direct gubernatorial elections and presided over reining in non-state
Media reports have suggested the project was the brainchild of Putin's
presidential secretary Alexei Gromov, and analysts have expressed doubts over
the objectivity of its news coverage.
Simonyan pledged, however, that authorities would not interfere with the
"I don't think it would make much sense if they did. It is pretty obvious when
you censor it," said Simonyan, 26, who was appointed chief editor after several
years of serving as a Kremlin reporter for the state-run Rossiya channel.
"The audience out there is so sophisticated these days that they will see at
once what's right and what's wrong and then they will never switch us on again,"
Simonyan said the channel would eventually have a board of governors to monitor
its coverage and ensure its independence from the state. She declined to
identify potential trustees.
Simonyan said the channel's objectivity would also be guaranteed by the 72
foreign journalists who have been hired from the U.S., Britain, Australia and
Russia Today is expected to start broadcasting by the year's end, but other
details like how it will be disseminated and its advertising plans were sketchy.
Simonyan declined to estimate the number of the channel's potential audience.
The channel will focus on events inside Russia, but will also cover
international news. A Thursday newscast shown to reporters during a tour of the
station's office included reports on opposition figure former Prime Minister
Mikhail Kasyanov, the jailed oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the U.N. summit
in New York and Hurricane Ophelia off North Carolina.
Experts, however, said a state-funded TV station could hardly be allowed to
criticize the authorities and provide a truly balanced viewpoint. "When the
state is behind mass media, this rarely produces a decent information product,"
said Konstantin Isakov of the MR&MC media consulting group.