On Wednesday the RT America anchor Liz Wahl resigned on air, claiming she disagrees with the channel’s editorial stance. And here’s what I have to say about it.
These days it takes a lot of courage to work for RT. Never before have I seen RT and its journalists bullied like this. See for yourselves what they did to poor Abby [Abby Martin – the host of Breaking the Set on RT America – OR]. First, she openly voiced disagreement with Russia’s stance on air – and was virtually made an American hero. But then Abby reminded everyone how much she disagrees with America’s stance as well, adding she takes pride in working at RT, where she is free to express her views. Less than an hour passed before Abby had her name dragged through something I have difficulty finding a decent name for this late at night. The US mainstream media even went as far as claiming we had orchestrated the whole thing as a publicity move. They labeled Abby a conspiracy theorist, bringing to light her past as an activist. In less than 24 hours, they first sang her praises and then excoriated her. All of this in front of her colleagues, including Liz Wahl. How do you think they felt watching that?
On Tuesday I spent quite some time explaining to a New York Times correspondent why I consider Russia’s position to be right. I’m Russian. I support my country and I will fight for the truth for as long as it takes. Neither Abby, nor Liz, nor many other employees are Russian nationals, but foreign. And now their country is likening my country to Nazi Germany. For many years they have worked for RT in good faith, proving every day that a voice that stands out from the mainstream media can be beautiful and strong, attract an audience that grows daily. These are the people who were the first to tell their country about the Occupy movement, who were detained at protest rallies, handcuffed for hours and then tried in court for doing their job. These are the people who were outraged by US hypocrisy in Syria, Libya – you can finish the list yourself – and reminded the world who used chemical weapons most often, even resorting to nuclear bombs. These are the people who did things the Western mainstream media would have never done. But those were peaceful times. And now we’ve got a genuine war going on – no, thank God, it’s not in Crimea. It’s a media war. Every single day, every single hour the guys who work for us are told, “You are liars, you are no journalists, you are the Kremlin propaganda mouthpiece, you’ve sold yourselves to the Russians, it’s time you quit your job, and everybody is laughing at you, so change your mind before it’s too late.”
The storm of articles posted about RT over the last couple of days – literally tons of printed copy – looks as if it were written to dictation. Hardly any respectable media outlet refrained from lambasting and lynching RT journalists in articles or reports. Our employees listen to their colleagues, their fellow citizens, and their potential employers, as career prospects are obviously important to every journalist. How many could withstand this pressure? Well, some will and some won’t. Some sincerely disagree, as they believe their own country more than mine. Others are simply thinking about their future. And it’s hard for me to judge them.
This is all typical of a media war. We’re not the first and we will not be the last to go through this. During the Arab Spring, Al Jazeera staff in Lebanon made headlines by resigning en masse. Their Egyptian colleagues followed suit. Over twenty journalists resigned citing disagreement with the channel’s editorial line. That this happened without any pressure from the world mass media was due to the fact that, throughout the Arab Spring, Al Jazeera was completely in tune with the global mainstream. So no one sought to criticize the channel, on the contrary, everyone praised its coverage.
A couple of minutes after Liz made her statement, we found all the major news media in the world – as our exhausted spokeswoman put it, “CNN, NYT, pretty much everyone” – glowing with schadenfreude, as they lined up for official feedback from RT. This included those who had ignored the news of the Ashton-Paet phone leak revelation, as if it didn’t happen. A rival media anchor’s resignation is certainly much more newsworthy and more relevant to the Ukraine crisis than two European leaders saying opposition henchmen may have been killing people.
I can see very clearly why I continue to work for a channel that stands alone (!) face-to-face with thousands and tens of thousands of Western news outlets, showing everybody the other side of the story, under daily attacks from the media against which it can hardly fight back. It’s my country. There is no other choice for me. But the foreign journalists who work for RT across the globe do have a choice. Some of them might be asking themselves, “Why would I have to defend Russia at the expense of my career, my future, my reputation, why would I tolerate humiliation by my fellow journalists?” Few can say“Because I’m telling the truth, and there’s no one else to tell it.” Some will fail to find the answer and quietly resign. Others will perform their resignation on air in a self-promotional stunt, perhaps securing fantastic career prospects they wouldn’t have dreamt of before.
Standing out from the crowd is hard, sometimes unbearable. I wish the best of luck to those who can’t take it. To those who continue to do their best for RT, who know they are right even if the whole world says otherwise, I have to say I’m proud of you. IMMENSELY PROUD.
Margarita Simonyan is the RT’s editor-in-chief