A US intelligence report claimed RTs negative election coverage of Hillary Clinton was deliberate, which Margarita Simonyan called a sad commentary
The editor-in-chief of RT, the Russian government-backed 24-hour news network, has hit back at claims in a US intelligence report that the news organization engaged in a longstanding effort aimed at undermining US viewers trust in US democratic procedures.
In comments provided to the Guardian by email, Margarita Simonyan disputed US intelligence claims linking RT to Russian efforts allegedly ordered by President Vladimir Putin, to influence the presidential election in favor of President-elect Donald Trump.
In the words of the declassified CIA, FBI and NSA report, RTs coverage of Hillary Clinton throughout the US presidential campaign was consistently negative and focused on her leaked emails and accused her of corruption, poor physical and mental health and ties to Islamic extremism.
Simonyan called the report a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the American intelligence analyst community.
The agencies only charge against RT is that we were critical of Clinton in reporting actual facts about her, she wrote. This is our supposed crime! What a resounding endorsement of journalism and freedom of speech.
The report cited comments made by Simonyan in early November to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, in which she said the US itself lacked democracy and had no moral right to teach the rest of the world.
Simonyans comments are unlikely to throw critics of the state-funded broadcaster, after the US intelligence report accused RT America of deliberately seeking to obscure any legal ties to the Russian government.
The report may, however, strengthen those ties, said Alexey Kovalev, who runs a website debunking Russian propaganda.
There are many legitimate reasons to criticise RT, he said, but the report singles out the channel for all the wrong reasons. Covering protests and other social and political fissures is a perfectly legitimate media activity.
Kovalev added that the prominence given to the channel by the US intelligence report is likely to be seen as a huge success by its management, and may lead to increased funding.
He also suggested that by viewing RT reporters in the US as saboteurs and spies, the report would give Russian authorities more ammunition when dealing with critical western coverage of Russia.
Simonyan denied that RTs reporting constituted propaganda or interference.
Apparently, she wrote, all foreign media organisations have to follow an approved script of acceptable coverage, lest they are accused of interference. And make no mistake, were not talking about neutrality. The only acceptable approach was, Support Clinton, attack Trump.
The alternative is that they would have to reckon with the fact that RTs reporting often reflects the reality on the ground, in the US and elsewhere, much better than the mainstream media.
How else to explain years of totally out-of-touch coverage that failed to acknowledge the momentum behind not just Trump but Bernie Sanders, leaving mainstream media journalists and punditry collectively speechless on 9 November?
Simonyan declined to address why US intelligence agencies would identify RTs importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US government and fuel political protest.
That question, she wrote, was among the many, many other questions left unanswered by their report, for instance about actual evidence supporting their judgments. So far they havent provided any intel aside from up-to-a-decade-old, publicly available interviews and obsolete but likewise public data.
RT receives funding from the budget of the Russian Federation. Its executives say its journalists are independent.
The intelligence report was particularly embarrassing for the Trump camp because its nominee for national security adviser, retired Lt Gen Michael Flynn, has been a frequent guest on RT news programmes. In December 2015 he was paid by the network to give a speech in Russia and attend a lavish party, at which he sat next to Putin.
Simonyan said RT was no different from other state-sponsored broadcasters.
She wrote: I think the fact that the BBC World Service, Germanys Deutsche Welleand the US Broadcasting Board of Governors receive considerably more funding than RT (BBG nearly three times as much!) to get their respective countries points of view across to a global audience, points to a fact that media-political establishments of the United States and Europe cant let go of the monopoly on messaging.
Simonyan claimed proof of this lay in the Guardians own endorsement of Clinton.
Somehow, she wrote, nobody is raising alarm over British interference in the US elections when the Guardian published an actual endorsement of a foreign countrys candidate (Dont vote for Trump, elect Clinton).
Guardian US is a US-registered media company and subsidiary of the Guardian.
You had nearly all the US media in the bag for Clinton, Simonyan continued, all the pundits prophesising a virtual coronation for several years, and an outsider won regardless.
Whats obvious is that the US has a very imperfect system, and yet its leaders are obsessed with lecturing the rest of the world on how to organise their affairs.
- Additional reporting by Shaun Walker in Moscow
Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/09/rt-russia-news-us-election-hacking-margarita-simonyan