RT Defends Host Abby Martin, Responds to Accusations of Pro-Putin Propaganda

In an interview, the Kremlin-funded television station defended the RT host's right to condemn the Russian incursion into Crimea.

In the past few days Russian media outlets, particularly the Kremlin-funded English language outlet RT, have been widely mocked for their rosy portrayal of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (including in a story by me). Examples include a dispatch about how Crimea has "actually become more stable," some highly suspect chyrons, and an interview with Aikido black belt Steven Seagal about the Western media's coverage of the crisis in Ukraine.

Then last night one of its leading hosts, Abby Martin, took to the airwaves to denounce Russia's action in Ukraine and proclaim her "journalistic independence." Though she said she doesn't "know as much as I should about Ukraine's history or the cultural dynamics of the region," Martin said, "military intervention is never the answer" and "what Russia did is wrong." She added that her "heart goes out to the Ukrainian people, who are now wedged as pawns in the middle of a global power chess game."

While it's clear the network maintains a strong pro-Russian bias, Glenn Greenwald on Tuesday defended RT's coverage, saying it isn't so different from what we saw on American media outlets in the lead up to the Iraq War. "For all the self-celebrating American journalists and political commentators: Was there even a single U.S. television host who said anything comparable to this in the lead up to, or the early stages of, the U.S. invasion of Iraq?" he wrote. Of course the American hypocrisy charge doesn't make RT's coverage better, just more familiar.

So how does RT possibly defend itself? We sent a query to the head of RT's D.C. bureau, who forwarded the request to headquarters in Russia. In a Q&A conducted over email, RT's Moscow-based press office backed up Martin's assertions of editorial independence and promised to dispatch the D.C.-based host to Crimea to help her learn more about the conflict.

The following exchange has been lightly edited for clarity.

Some worry Abby Martin will suffer recriminations for her public denunciation of Russia's actions. Does RT stand behind Martin's statement?

Contrary to the popular opinion, RT doesn't beat its journalists into submission, and they are free to express their own opinions, not just in private but on the air. This is the case with Abby's commentary on the Ukraine.

We respect her views, and the views of all our journalists, presenters and program hosts, and there will be absolutely no reprimands made against Ms. Martin.

In her comment Ms. Martin also noted that she does not possess a deep knowledge of reality of the situation in Crimea. As such we'll be sending her to Crimea to give her an opportunity to make up her own mind from the epicenter of the story.

How will you cover the unfolding story in Crimea and Ukraine?

We will continue to provide the most comprehensive picture of events there as we have been doing all along--from Kiev, from Crimea, the Ukraine in general. Some outlets chose to highlight just one story on Crimea, but for months RT has been covering the protests, violent clashes, political maneuverings, and opinions of common people on both sides of the conflict in the Ukraine as we did here.

How do you respond to charges of propaganda?

The charges of propaganda tend to pop up every time a news outlet, particularly RT, dares to show the side of events that does not fit the mainstream narrative, regardless of the realities on the ground. This happened in Georgia, this is happening in Ukraine. Some of the most striking facts about the actions of the opposition, such as its extreme right wing and anti-Semitic leanings, were being glazed over by most of the Western press. The fact that the protesters were receiving significant aid from abroad in violation of Ukrainian sovereignty was also ignored. Ditto how violent the protesters were, how they attacked the security personnel and refused injured policemen access to medical aid. No, the story across the Western mainstream media was all about peaceful, democracy-loving opposition being brutalized by the police. This was simply not the case, and it is our duty to show the truth on the ground.

Does RT have a point of view on the unfolding news cycle? If so, what is it?

RT's point of view is based on the facts and developments on the ground, and we will stick to that as the news cycle unfolds.

Martin's full statement, which aired last night as part of her Breaking the Set program, is here.

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UPDATE: Abby Martin says she's not going to Crimea "despite the statement RT has made." After the Kremlin-funded station told National Journal and other outlets it would send her overseas, the D.C.-based host tweeted out that she was declining the offer:

A source tells National Journal that Martin and her team first heard about the offer when they read reports of it in the media.