More money, more problems?
A BBC report warns the UK government that the broadcaster risks being marginalized by “disparate and dangerous” foreign rivals such as RT, and Russia is one of the countries spending cash on its foreign channel in ways the UK “cannot match.”
The former head of BBC World complains to The Guardian that the World Service is being “financially outgunned” by foreign news channels, RT included, and “Britain and the US are losing a global ‘information war’ with the Kremlin.”
RT is “lavishly funded,” echoes US government-financed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The Netherlands is funding research on “how the EU can fight back against Russia’s ‘information war’” carried out by “well-funded Russian broadcasters, such as RT,” while a NATO official laments to the Financial Times that it takes “20 or so people in NATO’s public diplomacy team” to try “to counter an organized, multi-faceted, well-funded Russian operation that is going on across the world.”
For months now we have been hearing the panicked cries of American and European officials, journalists and media executives about Russia “winning the information war” thanks to the virtually endless stream of financing that flows from the bottomless pockets of the Russian government to RT, and to a slightly lesser extent, Rossiya Segodnya/ Sputnik, Russia’s new information agency and radio service.The way the mainstream media tells it, cash-strapped Western outlets simply cannot compete with Russia’s well-funded “propaganda machine.”
World Service fears losing information war as Russia Today ramps up pressure http://t.co/Em0A0l7OCH
— The Guardian (@guardian) December 21, 2014
The facts, however, could not be more different.
RT’s 2015 budget is 13.85 billion rubles. At current exchange rates this is roughly equivalent to $220 million / €193 million / £143 million. Let’s compare this to the US’ Broadcasting Board of Governors and the UK’s BBC World Service – the foreign news broadcasters of their respective governments.The BBG and the BBC World Service have repeatedly invoked RT’s financing while calling for increased government support of their own efforts. Yet for 2015 the BBG receives $721 million from the US government, and the BBC World Service budget, now subsidized by the UK public via the license fee, stands at £245 million ($375 million) a year.
RT’s financing pales in comparison – and that is before taking into account the fact that the BBG and the BBC WS are online and radio services only, and producing and distributing content for these platforms is dramatically cheaper than creating video material and broadcasting it via cable and satellite.
Even if RT’s budget was combined with that of Rossiya Segodnya/Sputnik (5.8 billion rubles, or $93 million/£60 million), the grand total would still be smaller than the financing of either the BBG or the BBC World Service.
Nato seeks new weapons to counter Russia’s information war http://t.co/pAWCQaAIQE
— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) December 7, 2014
What about RT’s more direct competitors in the TV space? Germany’s Deutsche Welle’s budget has just been increased to €294 million ($332 million). Al Jazeera’s budget largely remains a secret, but the Qatari broadcaster spent half a billion dollars in 2013 to buy Current TV in an effort to extend its US reach.
And let us not forget CNN International and BBC World News. It's true that these are corporate-owned channels (in case of the BBC World News, it’s owned by BBC Global News Ltd, the commercial arm of the BBC) with no official financing coming from either the US or the UK governments; however, one would be hard-pressed to find a single international news report on either channel that strays from the official line of the State Department or the Foreign Office. As such, CNN and BBC are de-facto soft-power extensions of the American and British governments, where foreign policy is concerned. Meanwhile, their no doubt enormous budgets remain a mystery, unlike that of the fully transparent RT.
To sum up: on the one hand you have the BBC, CNN, Euronews, France24, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera America and the BBG’s Voice of America and Radio Europe all beaming their strikingly similar points of view on current events to a likely combined price tag of several billion dollars; on the other hand you have RT “winning the information war” at a fraction of that sum.
Clearly this victory is not a question of money.