WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and Kremlin TV: Anti-Westernism Makes for Bizarre Bedfellows

Posted January 27th, 2012 at 10:30 pm (UTC+0)
9 comments

In March, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, is start recording an interview program for RT, taped in the home where he is living under house arrest in Britain. Photo: Espen Moe

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks transparency advocate and leaker of about 115,000 confidential U.S. government emails, has found a new home: a talk show on RT, or Russia Today, the English language TV channel funded by the Kremlin.

Shortly after WikiLeaks released the American classified documents in 2010, Assange announced his next step: publishing confidential Russian government documents.

Odd how that just never happened.

In the old Soviet days, a Russian who got caught facilitating the overseas publication of secret files would have been walked down a corridor of the basement of Lubyanka, the headquarters of the KGB in central Moscow. At a certain point, an accompanying officer would have pulled out a pistol and dispatched the traitor with a neat shot to the back of the head. Nowadays, Article 275 of the Criminal Code of Russia stipulates 12 to 20 years in jail for disclosure of state secrets to a foreign organization.

Alexander Lebedev knows Lubyanka, which he visited in the 1980s, as a KGB officer. He knows Britain, where Assange is now confined to house arrest as he battles extradition to Sweden on sex charges. Lebedev, a Russian, also knows press freedom – he owns the Independent and London Evening Standard newspapers.

“Shame on you, Mr. Assange!” Lebedev wrote in his Twitter and Facebook accounts last week. “Hard to imagine more miserable final for ‘world order challenger’ than employee of state-controlled ‘Russia Today’.”

WikiLeaks said in a press release that Assange will host 10 half-hour interviews with “key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world.”

Lots of revolutionaries right here in Russia these days. I wonder if any will get air time with Assange?

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Russia Today TV channel, has signed up Julian Assange as a talk show AP Photo:Dima Gavrysh

RT is run by Margarita Simonyan, a former member of the Kremlin press pool. Since taking over in 2005, Simonyan has expanded RT into Arabic and Spanish and has taken on the title of editor-in-chief.

She knows what the Kremlin wants — and likes.

When the clean government protests erupted in Moscow and other cities after the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections, Simonyan tweeted that adults encouraging young people to take part should “burn in hell.”

Last year, RT’s effusively covered the Occupy Wall Street movement as it spread around the globe. But the cheerleading stopped at Russia’s border. Here, RT told viewers, protests are foreign funded and several protest leaders are racists.

Strangely at odds with the official “reset” policy of smoother relations with Washington, RT constantly hammers on the United States. When it gets the chance, as in last August’s riots in London, RT expands to include the rest of the West.

In a recent Al Jazeera report on RT, the announcer described it as “a channel more interested in reviving the Cold War, than reporting what’s really happening in Russia today.”

And that is the paradox of RT.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a statement to media gathered outside the High Court in London, Monday, Dec. 5, 2011. A British court Monday gave WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange permission to continue his legal battle to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex crimes allegations. AP Photo:Kirsty Wigglesworth

In countries, like China, Japan, and South Korea, where difficult languages confound western visitors, English language broadcasting serves to promote the host nation. When I worked in Northeast Asia, Japan’s NHK English and South Korea’s Arirang were useful windows on their country’s tourist sites, cuisine, economy and foreign policy. Informative, if a bit bland.

These state-owned channels are not used for dissing China, Australia, or the United States. Not only would that violate ingrained Asian courtesy, but it would be seen as a counterproductive use of a tool for national promotion.

So, I was not surprised last week when, over lunch with an Asian diplomat in Moscow, he eyed me closely and asked: “What do you think of Russia Today?”

I responded that I know Americans who have watched it, and, as a result, have decided not to visit Russia.

The diplomat, a veteran Russia hand, sighed at the paradox.

But the Kremlin depends on about 15 major energy companies for over half of government tax revenues. It is not going to fret about stagnant hotel room tax revenue.

RT is seen as useful for scoring points, and asserting a Russian voice in a multi-polar world.

And, after seven years at the top, Simonyan’s instincts for Kremlin politics have yet to fail her.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly called Assange’s detention in London undemocratic. At that time, in December 2010, The Guardian newspaper quoted a source close to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposing that Assange be nominated for a Nobel Prize.

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

9 responses to “WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and Kremlin TV: Anti-Westernism Makes for Bizarre Bedfellows”

  1. Gennady says:

    1. I agree with Alexander Lebedev as he shames Mr. Assange.“Hard to imagine more miserable final for ‘world order challenger’ than employee of state-controlled ‘Russia Today’.”

    2.PM Putin calling Assange’s detention over sex crimes allegations as an undemocratic one looks super-hypocritical.
    How can a FSB man revering bloody VChK-OGPU-NKVD-KGB crimes against democracy preach democracy?
    How about dozens unsolved murders of journalists, Magnitsky case and gagged press and brain-washing state TV in “democratic” Putin’s Russia?
    How about insulting all those people who claimed rigged-voting of State Duma election?

    3. The same as with PM Putin, “Russia Today” TV lost its way in the past; it is spearheaded to cold War propaganda by hypocrisy of its broadcasts.
    When one watches “Russia Today”’s presenters (s)he can wonder,
    how can it be possible that the presenters from the democratic West will deliver outright disinformation when it touches upon internal affairs of Russia. What kind of today’s Russia is “Russia Today”? They try to present a glossy image of Putin’s Russia with destroyed industry, science, education, healthcare, dying-out population, crumbling apart infrastructure and falling-down satellites, It is a kind of a banquet at the time of plague,

    4. I bet that on the pattern of late Dr.Goebbels and infamous Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, Margarita Simonyan has struck a deal with Mr Assange to attack the West without a peep about real Putin’s Russia.
    I assure you, honorable Margarita Simonyan, your tricks are dirty ones.

  2. Kcroc says:

    Thank you so much for pointing out the complete and blatant anti american reporting done by RUSSIA TODAY. I’ve visited the site many times only to find that they seem to get exited, and do a lot of front page reporting when something (that they can blow out of proportion) happens here in the states, but when something happens in “Mother Russia” then you have to look real hard to find it, and even then they down-play it. (ELECTION FRAUD). They talk about american media, but they don’t realize that the WORLD is sick of bias reporting, and as far as i’m concerned, RT leads by a wide margin in this respect.
    Julian assange is now in good company, with people just like him. Can’t say I saw it coming, (Joining up with RT) considering WikiLeaks, and the reasons he put a lot of people at risk. Well all I can say to him is “siding with RT and Medvedev, who’s Putin on you, the Russian people, and everybody over there at RT, (especially if you happen to be American who works for RT), might not be a good idea.

  3. Ashley says:

    Well if western financial institutions didn’t cut him off he may not need to whore himself out like this. I’m sure the interviews will be good quality.
    As is western reporting when an when it’s time to beat up an enemy or a superfluous client but again western media is silent on a lot of what the west is getting up to and if not silent just reporting the party line.
    So if the Western Media is any better than RT why don’t they offer him a time slot for his interviews? If it’s such a cop out that RT wont report and/or fabricates internal affairs of RUSSIA why doesnt the western media step up and show us how it’s done.

  4. american voice says:

    Congratulations to Assange for having this show picked up by RT, and thank you RT for doing this. Contrary to what the article implies, Assange is NOT an employee of RT; RT just decided to broadcast the independently made interviews. This was pretty brave of gov controlled RT considering that, as the article states, Assange had promised to expose secrets about Russia. But why were these documents never published? The writer tries to insinuate that it is because Assange is somehow in bed [“Bizarre Bedfellows”] with Russia. That is a completely ludicrous smear as Assange is virtually stateless. Could the absence of this publication have anything to do with: 1.the world’s most powerful governments, helped by compliant, dependent allies, having anxiety attacks over having their corruption exposed, or 2. with both the usa and russia shutting down wikileaks sites so that the documents would get no public exposure, or 3. that the usa made it impossible for wikileaks to receive funding to operate, or 4. that government dependent media easily folds when faced with their gov’s agenda to smear Assange, or 5. that Assange has been under house arrest on bizarre charges of consensual ‘rape’?
    But it is interesting to note that Article 275 of the Criminal Code of Russia stipulates 12 to 20 years in jail for disclosure of state secrets to a foreign organization. That looks like 2 minutes of timeout in a corner compared to what the usa would do. He would be charged as a terrorist, meaning all his legal rights to a fair trial are stripped, he will sit caged in total isolation prior to trial until the conditions of solitary make him mentally unfit to defend himself, he will get a sham trial, and finally buried alive until death in solitary. That is USA ‘justice’ today.
    Assange is anti-western? What a joke! He stands for democracy, the right of people to know what their gov is doing, and their right to make informed decisions on the course of action for their country. I hope someday this blogger will rediscover this vital western principle which is the essence of freedom from tyranny.
    [The usa is suddenly having a rash of treason trials with whistle blowers trying to get the truth out, and the usa trying and succeeding at suppressing the truth.]

  5. Gennady says:

    To the so called “American Voice”

    1. What a rare coincidence that your opinion is as faked and doesn’t hold water as it is with whatever “Russia Today” broadcasts about today’s Russia internal affairs. Maybe they came out from the same editorial board?

    2. You’ve missed the concrete strong opinion of Alexander Lebedev as he shames Mr. Assange. His opinion is of great value. The man does know what Putin’s “Russia Today” is.

    3. It’s a lie that “Assange is NOT an employee of RT” because Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Russia Today TV channel, has signed up Julian Assange as a talk show. One can guess what kind of remuneration is implied for his “contribution”.

    4. It’s a lie that FSB controlled “innocent” RT just decided to broadcast the independently made interviews”. Who and where can be made the interviews in brain-washed Russia? On the Moon? By robots?

    5. It’s a gross lie that ‘12 to 20 years in [Russian] jail for disclosure of state secrets to a foreign organization..looks like 2 minutes of timeout in a corner’.
    Just try to remember what has become with Magnitsky,
    what goes on in over-crowded cells for 20 hungry inmates in every one of them, with no beds, no toilets, with tuberculosis rampaging among them.

    6. Instead of rummaging in one’s ‘international underwear’, why isn’t better for “Russia Today” to pay more editorial attention to the plight of Russian people under PM Putin,
    to the causes of flight of 85 billion $ investments,
    to reasons of destroyed once strong industry, science and education?
    How about more considerations to the appalling state of Russian healthcare and Putin’s government inability to stop dying-out of population?
    How about “Russia Today” to reason why it happened that Russia isn’t any more the leader in outer space explorations?
    Wouldn’t it be a good idea if “Russia Today” had reported on why 40000 Russian speaking high-tech professionals work in the Silicon Valley for the USA Corporations?

    • american voice says:

      To the so called “Gennady”
      1. My opinion is only my opinion, and I am an American, so it represents 1 American’s opinion. I find you’re your opinion that my opinion comes from the RT editorial board very funny.
      2. I have no knowledge of Lebedev, but his opioion on Assange’s show is entirely irrelevant. His objection to the show, which hasn’t even aired yet, is based solely on his objections to RT, a channel that he doesn’t like.
      3. RT, as I understand it, has bought the rights to Assange’s show. That does not make Assange an employee of RT. Of course they are going to pay him for the right to air his show!!!
      4. I doubt the interviews will be in Russia or on the moon as Assange is under house arrest in Britain. The few RT videos I’ve watched on youtube are only on subjects that interest me. They wash America’s laundry in public. You don’t expect American media to do that truthfully, do you? That’s what ‘friends’ do, and they do the job where American media won’t. Just because it airs negative news about America doesn’t mean it’s not true and couldn’t use some airing.
      5. I’ll take your word for it that conditions in Russian jails are terrible. You should take my word for it that conditions for America’s political prisoners amount to torture. Personally, I would rather be with 20 other hungry inmates than buried alive in a solitary cage with nothing to do, no stimulation, and no human contact. Every civilized country considers that to be torture and I think it’s against the Geneva conventions. Every human rights agency condemns it. It is a disgrace to the USA who touts its human rights record while, at the same time, using torture.
      6. As I indicated before, Russian media [RT] is controlled by Russian power brokers just as American media is controlled by American power brokers. This means that you wash the laundry of your ‘enemies’ and not your own.

  6. Brian Walseth says:

    Thank you for doing a story about RT. Sometimes while redditing I run into their journalism, and I don’t quite know what to make of it. Why do they say the things they do? “oil and gas funding” puts it in perspective–along with Murdoch’s Fox news, for journalistic Integrity.

  7. Sergei says:

    Occasionally, I run the Russia Watch blog, and it seems to me even less
    balanced than RT 😉

    RT (esp.RT-America) follows the “free stations” model borrowed from BBG’s text
    book. It seeks to provide local perspective and coverage. Thus, it’s incorrect
    to compare RT to Japan’s NHK English and South Korea’s Arirang. Rather, the
    station should be compared to VoA Persian TV or RFA Burmese TV. For instance, RT America provided detailed coverage of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Movements long before those stories made it to US “mainstream media.”

    Obviously, RT treads its own editorial line just like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, VOA Russian do. Sadly, there’s not much in terms of journalistic integrity left in this world. Sure, BBC is still attempting to hold the grounds but they are losing the battle, too. – Just look at their dismal coverage of Libya, Syria and Iran…

  8. Observer says:

    It come no surprise to the west that Russia want some counteracting voices like this ,for a long time. Along with China, Iran Venezuela Cuba ,Russia voices is less echo , less weight than the other compare to China , China already passed Russia in many aspect, especially in relationship with the world communities Russia is behind China, Just a decade ago we use to hear compare ration between Us and Russia now hear the US and China. After the Soviet Union collapsed Russia seem to be stop progressing and go in a circle like the last satellite. The reality is Russia still lingering with the Communism curse with the Authoritarian governing . lacking of true democracy that is a counter forces holding back the rocket of Russia ,unlike China Communism now is only as a fence to confine the chickens inside but they are allow to run free eat and grow inside ,the one creates disturbances will be slaughtered immediately and results chicken grow faster and have more meats to sell. Back to Jullian Assange is already an old story stained with rape and money deal so it not so hot any more I don’t thing the RT will get their money worthy. Peoples are more aware and concern about the wars and deaths and not pay attention to thing that they already know.

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About

James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.

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