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RT covered both of this week's big protests; CNN ignored one of them

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist based in Russia.
RT covered both of this week's big protests; CNN ignored one of them
If you are relying on CNN for your news, you are probably only getting half the story. Especially if two major European stories of recent days are anything to go by.

On Sunday, as protests took place across Russia, I found myself far from the action. In a Balkan hotel room, to be precise, where the only channel available in either English, Russian or German was CNN. And it’s fair to say they offered tremendous coverage of the rallies, even if they exaggerated their importance. In fact, you might suggest they appeared to revel in them.

And, you know what? If marches were held in America, against a top US official, there’s little doubt RT would be on hand to document them too. Because that’s what international news outlets should do. Hence, why RT viewers and readers on Sunday were kept well informed of events. Indeed, I was able to pair up CNN’s TV output with RT’s live online feed to follow everything more carefully.

Now, over the next two days, another demonstration intensified. This time in Paris. Where large numbers gathered to highlight police brutality. The group was incensed by the weekend killing of an Asian man by officers. However, unlike in Moscow, things turned violent, and security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowd. This was captured on camera by RT’s Ruptly agency and makes for disturbing viewing.

Furthermore, a diplomatic tussle also developed when the Chinese Foreign Ministry pressed Paris to investigate the killing thoroughly and to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals on French soil. Meaning the story had now moved from a parochial squabble to the international arena.

Thus, I switched on CNN, searching for more coverage and a different point of view, and what did I see? Nothing, zilch, and nada. A complete blackout. But, don’t worry, it wasn’t only dead air because they still found time to go back over the Moscow stand-off and analyze the fallout. Although curiously, they didn’t wheel out their usual ‘Russia expert,’ who has never actually been to the country. Or perhaps I missed his slot.

All of this is important because it reveals the agendas at play. CNN will jump on any dissent in countries considered enemies of the US, but it ignores, arguably worse, flare-ups in places where the authorities have good relations with Washington and subscribe to the network’s world view. And this ultimately undermines its claim to objectivity. Even if last year’s American election already pretty much exposed this to be pure bunkum.

On the other side of the coin, RT was in a tricky position on Sunday. Because the internal Russian consensus agreed that the Navalny rallies weren’t a particular turning point in domestic politics. Yet, foreign media was amplifying them out of all proportion. There was talk of color revolutions and “regime collapse.” Notions with no basis in reality. RT, as a Russian state-funded broadcaster, set the record straight, informing its readers that 7,000 people (police estimate) to “much larger” (organizer’s tally) had participated in the rallies. It is worth noting that even the highest opposition figure put the number of participants at 60,000 nationwide.

In any case, RT evidently made an editorial call to lead with the story and gave it prominent coverage all day. Including on its Russian-language website.

Nevertheless, that didn’t prevent social media activists from spreading fake news on Twitter, alleging RT was ignoring events. This particular tweet was shared by the head of news at The Moscow Times, a professor at London’s King's College and a consultant at IHS Markit, among others.

Notably, none of these concerned keyboard warriors have directed angry messages at CNN for ignoring the French clashes. As it happens, CNN is not alone in its Twitter blackout as the British state broadcaster, BBC also hasn’t issued a single tweet about Paris.

While the differing coverage of two protests on different sides of Europe probably won’t cause the world to shake, it matters inside the media bubble. Because RT is constantly assailed by critics for promoting a blinkered worldview, while its mainstream rivals get a free pass. And whenever this network draws attention to stories uncomfortable for the Western establishment, its supporters lash out. You can bet most of the Russian government would have probably preferred if Sunday’s episode had been ignored too. But that would have been a bad call.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.