Sunday Times ‘propaganda’ probe targets RT advertisers, misquotes MP
Several British advertisers “panicked” and pulled airtime on RT UK after the Sunday Times called them to ask for comment for an upcoming article about RT, according to a sales house used by advertisers on the channel.
“The Agencies on behalf of their clients pulled their airtime for the reason that they had been contacted by the Sunday Times. The Sunday Times asked them to make comment on their advertising on RT for the Sunday 5th February edition. These advertisers have panicked about the content of the article and pulled their airtime,” the sales house said in comments on Tuesday.
“The sales house the advertisers use to order airtime on RT UK has informed us that several companies at once decided to break up with RT after phone calls from the Sunday Times,” RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said.
“Meanwhile, the Sunday Times article alleges that the advertisers refused to cooperate with us because of ‘Kremlin propaganda,’ and it also cites a British MP urging to boycott RT, though in fact he didn’t say that,” she emphasized.
The RT Press Office said that “the calls from the sales house with requests to pull advertisements from several companies came shortly after the Sunday Times requested comment from RT for their story.”
In the article published on February 5, an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times, Josh Boswell, claimed that “top British brands are pulling their advertisements from the television channel RT UK amid accusations that it is spreading ‘propaganda and fake news’ for Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin,” naming the manufacturers of Gaviscon, Strepsils and Vanish and the make-up brand Max Factor among those advertisers.
Boswell goes on to claim that last weekend Damian Collins, chairman of the UK Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, “called for all British companies to boycott the ‘disinformation and propaganda’ channel.”
The MP is also quoted as saying that “British companies should not be advertising on channels that disseminate fake news designed to spread fear and confusion… I would call on any such company that has not already done so to withdraw their advertising.”
As the newspaper inserted the definite article ‘the’ into the explanatory sentence – “the ‘disinformation and propaganda’ channel” – the reader can’t help but draw the conclusion that the MP’s statement was made about RT.
However, when asked by RT to clarify the comment he made for the Sunday Times, Collins confirmed the statement contained no specific attribution, and was intended as a broader remark.
“Yes, I am happy for you to use the quotation from the Times. My comments were aimed broadly at any channel or website which produces and broadcasts fake news. I did not name any individual organization in my remarks,” Collins explained.
Before the article was published, Boswell contacted RT “to give you an opportunity to comment” on the story. The RT Press Office responded to the request with a comprehensive email, including an explanation of how the channel is publicly funded, much like the BBC and France 24, and how the channel’s mission is clearly stated as exploring underreported stories and providing more balance in the international news arena.
Boswell skipped most of this, however, and reduced RT’s response to a brief quote: “RT, formerly Russia Today, said it was an ‘editorially independent, autonomous non-profit global news organization.”
After RT asked the Sunday Times for comment, the newspaper’s public relations team answered: “Thank you for your enquiry. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, we will only be able to respond if we are in a position to help with your request.”
The Russian embassy in the UK has dismissed the Sunday Times article, writing in a statement: “We understand that not everyone in the UK is happy about the popularity of the Russian channel and the alternative worldview it represents. But this shouldn’t be a reason for a blatant crusade against the channel in such a foul fashion.”
Foreign policy analyst Michael Hughes told RT that the whole approach of the Sunday Times towards RT “is horrible, one-sided and biased.”
“They don’t treat any other stations this way except [RT]. It has nothing to do with the actual programming, they don’t like Russian policy, so they are doing whatever they can to target Russian stations right now.
“It is an obvious violation of the basic standards of journalism. You couldn’t be more obvious in violating journalistic integrity,” he added.
In the past there have been similar instances of Western mainstream media discussing the prospect of RT coverage being restricted, subjected to greater scrutiny or given less equal treatment.
In January, the Wall Street Journal speculated on what would happen if US pay TV operators were to consider dropping RT from their networks. The story followed the US intelligence community’s findings on alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, with seven of the report’s 13 pages devoted to RT.
The prospect of dropping RT appeared unrealistic, however, with Frederick Thomas, chief executive of MHz Networks, saying: “The reality is we live in an age where every nth degree of opinion is available 24/7 and 98 percent of people know that you either just turn the channel off if it’s TV, or if it’s a website, you go to another one.”
In a separate article in January, the Atlantic noted that “RT stories regularly appear toward the top of Google search results,” and that there are more than 4 million ‘likes’ on RT’s Facebook page. The magazine asked Google for information on whether the company had any policies “for how to rank and display news stories and videos from state-sponsored outlets like RT,” but a spokesperson for the search engine declined to comment.
The Atlantic also contacted a spokesperson for Facebook to clarify “if articles or videos from state-sponsored outlets are treated the same way as content from the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.”
Facebook responded by mentioning “changes the company has already announced, which suppress the circulation of links to news stories that users report as false.” However, RT stories “are more likely to be biased than to be ‘purposefully fake or deceitful,’” alleged the article’s author, Kaveh Waddell.