Alex Salmond’s new television venture has already caused controversy.

The former First Minister’s chat show is broadcast on RT UK (previously Russia Today) which has led to criticism from politicians and commentators across the political spectrum.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

One such criticism came from Labour MP Ian Austin. As part of a Twitter post, he argued that RT was a tool used to promote pro-Russian views around the world.

Is all the fuss around the Russian TV network justified? Ferret Fact Service looked at Austin’s claim and found it to be Mostly True.

Evidence

RT is a television news network which launched in 2005. Its stated aim is to “cover stories overlooked by the mainstream media, provide alternative perspectives on current affairs, and acquaint international audiences with a Russian viewpoint on major global events.”

It was conceived by and remains funded by the Russian state, but positions itself as similar to the BBC.

Its UK arm RT UK was launched in October 2014, which is available on Freeview to most UK households.

Alex Salmond is not the first British political figure to have a show on the channel. Former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway has a weekly programme, and former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has guest hosted on the channel. Prominent politicians including Jeremy Corbyn and Vince Cable have been interviewed on RT.

But is the network a propaganda operation for Putin’s Russia?

An often-cited US intelligence report called the channel “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet”, and found it to be a factor in alleged Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election. RT was forced to register as a foreign agent in November 2017.

The report included RT as part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine” alongside its domestic media and a “network of quasi-government trolls” operating on social media.

A network of 600 pro-Russian Twitter accounts monitored by the Alliance for Securing Democracy regularly shares RT content.

RT was launched to improve Russia’s image abroad. A Columbia Journalism Review article said Russia Today was “conceived as a soft-power tool to improve Russia’s image abroad, to counter the anti-Russian bias the Kremlin saw in the Western media.”

This seems to concur with the words of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who confirmed the purpose of the channel in an interview in 2013.

“When we designed this project back in 2005 we intended introducing another strong player on the world’s scene, a player that wouldn’t just provide an unbiased coverage of the events in Russia but also try, let me stress, I mean – try to break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams,” he said.

While stressing the editorial independence of the channel, Putin admitted that “certainly the channel is funded by the government, so it cannot help but reflect the Russian government’s official position on the events in our country”.

The channel has featured on a list produced by the Russian government of core organisations of strategic importance.

Media freedom in Russia has been widely criticised. Free press campaigners Reporters Without Borders said “the climate has become increasingly oppressive for those who try to maintain quality journalism or question the new patriotic and neo-conservative”.

Its 2017 World Press Freedom Index ranked Russia at 148th out of 180 countries and categorised the situation for journalists there as “Difficult.” The UK was categorised as “Satisfactory” and came in at 40th.

Freedom House designated the Russian press as “not free”, describing Vladimir Putin as “a trailblazer in globalizing state propaganda”.

Since it began broadcasting in the UK in 2005, RT has been the subject of criticism from regulators Ofcom for showing a lack of impartiality during broadcasts.

It has been found in breach of Ofcom rules 14 times. This includes a breach of impartiality rules over Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. It was also reprimanded for broadcasting claims about the BBC’s Syria footage.

There is no evidence that Salmond’s show on RT is subject to editorial interference from Russia’s government, and the programme is  produced by the former First Minister’s own production company, Slainte media. Salmond told the BBC he would “have total editorial control” over the programme.

The first episode was broadcast on November 16 and featured an interview with Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

Verdict: Mostly True

While there is no suggestion that Salmond’s show will be editorially compromised by Russia Today’s association with the Russian state, there is clear evidence that the media company is used to espouse pro-Russian views and breached impartiality guidelines. Vladimir Putin admitted RT “cannot help but reflect the Russian government’s official position”.

Mostly True

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.

Ian Austin MP did not respond to a Ferret Fact Service request for evidence.

Photo courtesy of Alex Salmond Show.

https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/5f2c9b85-a906-4b49-8473-d827c0b7de41

Comments

  1. RT is no different from the BBC. In fact, the BBC has the greatest motivation to control and manipulate its viewers. RT has more editorial freedom than the BBC, not less. RT routinely puts out better news than the BBC, which constantly props up the interests of the elite classes and the corporate state.

    Mostly true. What a joke. As if the US state department is the arbiter of any kind of truth. “He has weapons of mass destruction!”

    Derisable worthless story with no merit consisting of regurgitated US/UK state propaganda.

  2. I came all the way down here to have a winge about this article but I see you’ve already done it, well done commentators 🙂

  3. When the fact checker espouse political views (I don’t have to explain anymore than all other comments have), then it is proven beyond doubt that the fact checkers are really pushing a political agenda.

    And I bet, as others will be, accused of being some Russian troll. It’s pathetic and the last time I will ever trust the ferret to be impartial.

  4. It’s unfortunate that you cited Ofcom as an arbiter in this rather strange article.
    An organisation whose Board mainly consist of Government place men and women, sitting alongside Nick Pollard, he of the BBC/Saville Inquiry.
    Is there such a thing as an impartial media outlet?

  5. This article looks like anti-russian propaganda and wouldn’t have looked out of place on the BBC website. I watch RT myself and am well aware that it is bought and paid for by Putin, so I can manage to filter out any propaganda as necessary. I watch RT to hear news that is not broadcast in the UK news outlets, that way I have a balanced view of whats happening in the world (and the UK). It is very disappointing to see The Ferret jump on the band wagon by dismissing RT as just propaganda, and also insinuate (by association) that Alex Salmond’s show will be influenced by RT. Funny that the MP Ian Austin cannot provide any evidence….

  6. Gosh this is such a poor article for the Ferret, I am really disappointed in it. I was actually considering renewing my membership but no way will I do that now. Are you seriously believing the propaganda put out by the US Government? If so, you have no right to call yourselves investigative journalists. You are just as biased as the mainstream media. Have you ever watched RT? I watch it regularly because I am more likely to find out actual facts and the truth of what is going on in the UK and elsewhere than in any UK media. You are just adding to the Russia bad, Russia the bogey man rhetoric which is being broadcast when the most dangerous Government in the world is the US.

  7. This is a disappointingly framed article from the Ferret. The sources you site are not exactly impartial. My owe experience is that RT reflects reality far more accurately than most other mainstream media outlets. This article is basically just recycling the attacks that the biased pro-neoliberal media deploy against RT.

  8. To be honest, I don’t see any “clear evidence”, just a lot of opinion pieces. Imagine how the BBC would fare if it were not self-regulated especially when it comes to complaints. I like entering the world of Kafka! Poor article.

  9. This is a very poor article and has nothing to do with either fact checking or investigative journalism. The Ferret should seriously consider why this was even posted and to what extent its own reputation may be compromised by it.

    While there is no doubt that RT, in its commentary on Russian politics, rarely hosts any criticism of the Putin government, the station clearly provide a platform for a wide range of opinions and investigations, some serious, some less so on a decently wide range of international matters. Knowing areas it will not touch, it still serves as a useful counterbalance, a source of alternative views for analysis not readily available via the BBC, ITV, CNN and Channel 4 news channels.

    Interesting too to note the sources used for this “fact checking” procedure: an “oft cited US intelligence report” on alleged Russian interference in the US election, which no-one has yet been able to prove had the slightest impact on the election outcome.

    Does the Ferret consider that US intelligence reports should be cited uncritically as evidence of anything other than the interests of the US government and intelligence services? Do Ferret journalists have any knowledge of the history of the 20th or early 21st century? Does the term “weapons of mass destruction” ring any distant bells ?

    Another source: the Alliance for Securing Democracy. This organisation’s mission statement notes “The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative housed at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions. The Alliance will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.”

    Does that strike Ferret journalists as likely to represent the source of honest and accurate, carefully weighted appraisal of anything? Does the term “media attack dog” have any resonance with Ferret journalists?

    A 2010 Julie Ioffe article is cited. Interesting then to note Ioffe’s current role in the Atlantic as a staff writer, clearly tasked with attacking the Putin government. One of her recent articles is entitled “The History of Russian Involvement in America’s Race Wars: From propaganda posters to Facebook ads, 80-plus years of Russian meddling.” One of the first sources for this piece is a “John Sipher, who ran the CIA’s Russia desk”. According to Mr Sipher “The Soviets planted misinformation about the AIDs epidemic as a Pentagon creation, according to Sipher, as well as the very concept of a nuclear winter.” Ioffe quotes Mr Sipher uncritically.

    Does the name of Senator Joe McCarthy cause any unease amongst Ferret journalists?

    The last two sources, Media without Borders and Freedom House provide a more balanced appraisal of the worldwide threats to democratic rights posed by a great many governments, including that of the United States. Freedom House however states “We advocate for U.S. leadership and collaboration with like-minded governments to vigorously oppose dictators and oppression.”

    Is it necessary to remind Ferret journalists of the long record of dictatorships installed and backed by the US? And what about the current role of the NSA in monitoring worldwide internet traffic, an anti-democratic operation far beyond anything within the capacity of the Russian government.

    None of this is to endorse in the slightest the politics of Vladimir Putin, Alex Salmond or, for that matter, Ian Austin. The point I am making is that the Ferret’s claim to be running an impartial fact checking service is clearly problematic. Rather, the Ferret, in this article at least, is functioning as a mouthpiece for the US government. Is this what the Google Digital Initiative amounts to?

  10. Your article is pejorative, in that it start with the presumption that news outlets are supposed to be impartial. That is not the reality. In fact, the BBC functions effectively as a propaganda service for the UK state. There is no doubt that RT does much the same thing in relation to the Russian state, but the programme is not editorially effected by this. I find it significant that neither ITV nor the BBC nor SKY chose to air the programme. It’s a bit lame for politicians to point score against Alex Salmond when they’ve done their worst to no-platform him. Also hypocritical – many of the loudest complainers have themselves used RT as a platform for their views. I watched the program (unlike many of them) and found nothing to complain about in its content.

  11. You say,
    “It (RT), was conceived by and remains funded by the Russian state, but positions itself as similar to the BBC”.
    In what way is this different from the BBC?
    Is not the BBC funded by the UK government?
    The TV licence fee going directly to UK government as a form of taxation.

    1. As for any American intel agency, they lie all the time, they are politicized, and have great influence on the mainstream media. After 50 years in the US, I have quit US mainstream media entirely. I read RT every day because it is vastly superior in terms of accuracy and range of issues. The US media lies by omission, for instance the American people have not been told the truth about the US overthrowing the Ukrainian government or why Crimea left the Ukraine. All we hear is “Russian aggression”, while the US/NATO war machine surrounds Russia!

Comments are closed.