Wish I had direct line with Putin, but I don’t – RT Editor-in-Chief
Despite the belief RT “gets orders” from the Kremlin, it enjoys more editorial freedom than many US media outlets which unquestioningly believe the authorities – despite being fed proven lies before, RT's editor-in-chief says.
RT’s success could never have been possible had it been controlled directly from the Kremlin, as many in the Western media seem to believe, Margarita Simonyan told AP in an exclusive interview. RT was specifically created and designed to be as independent as possible from day one.
“I’m really so tired of this argument that all we ever do is under Kremlin orders and so on. How is it even technically possible?” Simonyan asked. Neither does RT impose its opinion on its hosts, guests or contributors. “You can't possibly imagine that I’m given orders from the Kremlin. I’m not on the air – people like Larry King are on the air. Can you imagine that I call him and tell him what to say?”
And no, Vladimir Putin is not calling the shots either. “Believe me, I don’t have my own conversations with [Putin], I’ve never talked to him on the phone,” Simonyan said. “I’ve never in my life. – I would like to, you know, but it doesn’t work like that.”
US media 'principles' clash with reality
RT offers an alternative to mainstream points of view, but it strives to remain balanced, including when covering the 2016 US Presidential election. Unlike the American media, which rushed to paint RT as a “Russian propaganda” tool while being far from impartial themselves.
“We’ve been hearing from America for years and years: ‘A journalist cannot have a political view, a journalist can support or not support a certain party or a candidate.’ But when we watch American TV, read American newspapers... We see that it’s a lie,” Simonyan said. “All of the American journalists, almost all of them, support or are against a certain candidate, or a president, or the whole government or party.”
US media were blindsided when RT leveled the playing field by actually sticking to the rules the Americans had written. “I was giving an interview to an American station and a correspondent asked me, ‘Do you think it’s all right for a foreign media [outlet] to come to our country to broadcast and to talk to our audience? Why should it be all right?’” Simonyan recalled. “And I’ve said: ‘Well, because, you’ve invented that, because American media have been in different countries for ages, talking to their audiences. Is that ok?’ And the correspondent said, ‘Well, I didn’t realize that.’ It’s the perfect answer, really.”
Meddling saga shows how media take authorities' word for anything
The way the US media jumped on the 2016 “Russian election meddling” narrative shows how unwilling they are to question their authorities' claims. They took the official word, despite the absence of any solid proof.
This has happened before, but no lessons seem to have been learned. “The government, the CIA tells the American audience: ‘There has been Russian involvement in the elections.’ And journalists are asking me questions as if that’s the fact,” Simonyan said.
“And I’m asking them questions [too], ‘Why do you think it’s a fact? Did you see any proof?’ – ‘Well the CIA told us so.’ I tell them, 'Well the CIA told you many many things that later happened to be a lie.’”
The Iraq War is one example where blind trust failed the US media. “I think if there were more voices in the media against this stupid – and as we now know, unfair and dishonest – war, maybe it would never have happened,” Simonyan pointed out. Even those who opposed the war said that, while weapons of mass destruction were not reason enough to invade, they did not doubt the weapons were actually there, she added.
US & Russia will get along, and RT will be fine
Some US officials said branding RT America as a “foreign agent” last November was just a formality that wouldn't impede the channel's operation. Well, it wasn't, and it did.
The stigmatizing label scares away both audiences and employees, making journalism that much more difficult to practice. “It’s a matter of making our work extremely more difficult, it’s a matter of intimidating our partners, it’s a matter of making our partners… harsher on us,” Simonyan said.
READ MORE: ‘Condolences to journalists’: RT editor-in-chief on Russia’s mirror-response bill on foreign media
“You know that Twitter and Facebook and the others have been called to Congress and made to testify about how on Earth they ever let us become so popular. And after that some decisions have been taken by them, against us, precisely because of that, precisely because of that pressure.”
Despite the current turbulence in relations between Washington and Moscow, the RT and Sputnik Editor-in-Chief believes the US and Russia will eventually get along, and news organizations from both nations will be able to work unhindered.
“I would like the world to normalize, and when the world normalizes, everything is going to be fine with RT,” Simonyan said. “I do not know two people more alike than Russians and Americans.”