Every Breath You Take: The Guardian's obsession with RT

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
Photo by RT
There's a fine line between admiration and obsession. The UK’s Guardian newspaper is treading it currently as its editorial staff continues to be engrossed by RT.

One of the more amusing things about weddings is the number of couples who choose Every Breath You Take by The Police as ‘their song.’ The classic track is interpreted as a loving ballad by copious matrimonial dancers but is actually about a sinister stalker. That said, despite the misunderstanding, the ditty makes a lot of people very happy, so it’s all harmless fun.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper is known for its obsessions. The list is long but Margaret Thatcher, Gaza, tax avoidance, and Edward Snowden are recent examples. Russia, especially its President Vladimir Putin, is another. Now, it seems the good burghers of Farringdon have a fresh compulsion, the Moscow-based TV channel RT (formerly known as Russia Today).

Initially, it all seemed quite innocuous, if a tad intense. Recently, however, it’s moved over the borderline into a complete preoccupation. In the last two months of 2014, The Guardian published 13 stories wholly or partially about RT. Evidently their new year resolutions didn't include laying off their Russian 'nemesis' because they started 2015 like they finished 2014. It seems RT has upset their little liberal heads so much that they just can’t let go.

Quite what the Guardian's diminishing readership makes of this is a mystery. The paper currently sells around 207,000 copies a day, down from 302,000 in 2010. By comparison, The Sun manages over 2.2 million and The Daily Telegraph about 544,000 in the same UK market. Could The Guardian’s lack of success in the shops be somehow related to a fetish with nursing their grudges – something that ordinary folk don’t actually care to hear about over and over?

Headquarters of the Guardian newspaper in Kings Place, London (Reuters)

Or perhaps its problems with fact-checking are responsible? After all, this is a newspaper that Private Eye magazine once nicknamed ‘The Grauniad’ for its legendary typos.

Some of The Guardian’s recent mistakes and outright lies about RT continue that ignoble tradition. For instance, they have quoted the punk art-collective Pussy Riot as authoritative sources on RT’s budget. The performers claimed that it was ‘$1 billion.’ In actual fact, RT’s 2013 budget was 11.87bn rubles ($225m at current exchange rates). This figure will rise in 2014 to 15.38bn Rubles ($291 million). This information is freely available in the official filings of both the State Duma (Russia’s parliament) and Ministry of Finance, and has been confirmed by RT in many interviews.

Shortly before Christmas, The Guardian also erroneously reported that RT's cash-pile outstrips the BBC's World Service, which has an annual endowment of £245m ($381m) from the British public. The Guardian argued the BBC needed more cash to counteract its Russian rival citing RT's success on new media platforms. It is true that RT enjoys considerably more reach on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. In this regard, did it occur to The Guardian that the BBC's output, as a mouthpiece of the UK Foreign Office (financing switched to license fee this year, but that’s public money anyway), might be the problem, not its massive funding?

Never a paper to let the facts get in the way of a good scare, The Guardian also alleged that all RT staff in London receive a ‘13th month’ salary bonus at the end of the year. This was fresh news to all RT’s London employees who have never received such a, surely very welcome, benefit and are crestfallen to have learned that it’s not in the pipeline either. Such fibs correspond to a deliberate establishment mistruth that we are all handsomely paid by the Kremlin to project its worldview.

Photo by RT

Writing for RT is also not exceptionally lucrative. I know from personal experience that RT's current op-ed pay rates are less than half what London newspapers paid in 2005, a decade ago.

Sting wrote Every Breath You Take about the breakup of his marriage to Frances Tomelty. It’s not known whether the Irish actress was flattered or horrified. Right now, RT's staff is also unsure about the appropriate response to The Guardian’s infatuation.

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