Nuland downplays RT’s threat to ‘truthful’ US media space

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)
Due to its “tiny audience,” RT poses no threat and should be allowed to stay within US media space, which is “full of dynamic truthful opinion,” the State Department's Victoria Nuland said. But other US officials view RT as a “challenge” in the media war.

“All you have to do is look at RT’s tiny, tiny audience in the United States to understand what happens when you broadcast untruths in a media space that is full of dynamic truthful opinion,” said the official, who curates Washington’s policy in Eastern Europe, during a Q&A at the Brookings Institute.

During a session that was almost entirely focused on the ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine, she also accused RT and other Russian outlets of broadcasting “lies about who’s responsible for the violence” in the region.

When asked whether the Moscow-headquartered channel – which launched RT America, a US-specific broadcast station, in 2010 – should be banned, Nuland asserted that there was no need.

“We believe in freedom of speech, freedom of media in this country. The question we ask Russians, is why are you so afraid of diversity of opinion in your own space?” she told a receptive audience at the Washington think-tank.

However, dismissing RT as irrelevant is a somewhat passé tactic which has been rejected by senior US officials. Poll results have also shown RT's steady growth.

A survey conducted in the seven major US cities last year showed that residents of Washington DC, New York and other cities prefer RT to other international TV channels such as Euronews, Deutsche Welle and France 24.

Moreover, RT enjoyed the highest rate of increase in weekly audience reach among all surveyed channels, ahead of CNN International, BBC World News, Al Jazeera America and Euronews. Its weekly audience had doubled in a year, reaching nearly 3 million viewers.

RT’s online presence is even more extensive. Its combined YouTube channels were the first of any news organization to hit both one and two billion views, with the latter milestone reached in December. RT’s Facebook page has over 2.3 million 'likes,' while receives tens of millions of page views each month.

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The current and former US secretaries of state, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, have described RT as more of a threat to US media space, with Kerry calling it the Kremlin's “propaganda bullhorn” over Ukraine.

Back in 2011, Clinton declared that the US was losing a media war against alternative outlets like RT, saying: “We are in an information war and we are losing that war.”

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But the starkest reaction to the network has come from the chair of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Andrew Lack. The head of the federal agency – which is responsible for running Voice of America and Radio Free Europe – placed RT alongside terrorist organizations, for pushing perspectives that the US finds unacceptable.

“We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram,” he told The New York Times, unleashing a storm of criticism from journalists worldwide.