Assange TV, Presented by the Kremlin

April 16, 2012

The New York Times on April 13, 2012 released the following:


As my colleague Noam Cohen reports, “The World Tomorrow,” a new talk show hosted by Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, begins on Tuesday on the Russian government’s satellite network Russia Today. The network, which broadcasts in English, Spanish and Arabic, unveiled commercials for the program across its channels on Friday, promoting it online and on the air.

In one ad for the series, which features clips of Occupy Wall Street protesters and Egyptian demonstrators, the host says: “Today, we’re on a quest for revolutionary ideas that can change the world tomorrow.” The final shot is taken from an online ad for WikiLeaks last year, in which Mr. Assange seemed to take credit for inciting the Egyptian revolution.

In a second commercial for the series, promoting the Arabic and Spanish versions of the show, Mr. Assange explains that he turned to television “to get the maximum political impact possible.” He also describes the WikiLeaks project as a kind of corrective to what he sees as the ills of traditional news organizations. Publishing “the full source material,” he says, “helps keep journalism honest.”

According to a description of the series on the WikiLeaks Web site, Mr. Assange was responsible for all editorial decisions and the Russian government network, which bought the exclusive rights to first broadcast the shows, “has not been involved in the production process.”

A correspondent for the network’s English-language satellite channel teased viewers on Friday by refusing to reveal the names of the 12 “politicians, revolutionaries, intellectuals, artists and visionaries” Mr. Assange interviewed for the show, but she did divulge that the first guest was “particularly controversial and, according to Julian in the wake of the interview, highly charismatic.”

Russia Today’s editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, said her network was “proud to premiere Julian Assange’s new project” because the network “is rallying a global audience of open-minded people who question what they see in mainstream media.” But the fact that the broadcaster was set up by the Russian Information Agency, a state-owned news media organization dedicated to improving the image of the Russian government, does make it seem like a strange partner for a man who usually celebrates popular protest movements.

Given that the Kremlin-financed channel finds fault with Vladimir Putin’s government about as often as Fox News produces exposés on the Republican Party, it will be interesting to see if the guests include any Russian, Syrian or Iranian dissidents.

When asked by The Lede if WikiLeaks had any qualms about working with a network owned by the government of Russia — a country where 52 journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, have been killed in the past two decades for questioning the powerful — the organization’s Twitter feed, which is apparently under the control of Mr. Assange, replied only by attacking The New York Times. The Twitter response also equated Russia Today to the BBC, but the British network, unlike the Russian one, is financed not by the government but through direct contributions from the public, and maintains a board of governors that guarantees its editorial independence.

In an interview with The Moscow Times in 2010, Ms. Simonyan rejected the charge that the network’s “editorial policy is overtly toeing the Kremlin line by giving generous airtime to obscure critics of the United States.” Although the Moscow newspaper reported that one employee of Russia Today who asked to remain anonymous said “giving airtime to all these crazy conspiracy theorists,” also “makes us look stupid,” the editor strongly disagreed.

    Simonyan argued that the channel’s policy was merely to provide a platform for marginalized points of view that otherwise got little coverage, like the Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists. “I personally do not believe them. But I believe that if there are people out there who think so but do not get into mainstream media, they deserve an audience — and we should give them a forum,” she said.

    She added that giving airtime to “truthers” was morally comparable to Western media coverage of the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and two other cities that killed 293 people. “What about Western media reports saying that Vladimir Putin was behind the bombings?” she said.

Since the Russian channel does so regularly feature American and British pundits from the far left of the political spectrum, who praise repressive government in the Middle East and Latin America as champions of the resistance to “western cultural imperialism,” the network might have found it easy to accommodate Mr. Assange, whose work has been focused almost entirely on exposing the secrets of the American government.

It will be particularly interesting to see what the protesters in the Arab world Mr. Assange identifies with make of his talk show. While at least one Tunisian dissident, the blogger Slim Amamou, has endorsed the idea that WikiLeaks disclosures helped prompt the uprising revolt there — and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi agreed — Mr. Assange’s show will be broadcast to Arab viewers on a Russian government channel just as the Kremlin has thrown its full support behind President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on the protest movement in Syria.

As The Lede reported in February, an analysis of Russia Today’s coverage of the conflict in Syria showed that the channel often echoed reports from Syrian government channels.”


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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