On November 5th, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will participate in the second Free and Equal debate in the Washington studio of RT America. Their participation begs the question, who is RT America?
RT is the re-branded name of Russia Today, a state-funded multilingual Russian-based television channel. Russia Today was created in 2005 by the Kremlin as a soft power tool to improve Russia’s image in the world as well as fight the anti-Russian biases the Kremlin saw in the western media.
Creating a state-run media source is not unique, the last decade saw the creation of a number of “counter-hegemonic” 24-hour news channels offering a different vision of news from that of the established media giants such as CNN and BBC News. The most famous example has been the creation of Al-Jazeera by the Qatari government. There are also other examples such as France-24 created by France, Telesur by Latin American countries, Deutsche Welle by Germany.
Russia Today was at first concentrated on giving a coverage of events in Russia and international events involving Russia such as the war in Georgia in 2008. The coverage of the war expanded greatly Russia Today’s viewership. Russia Today has been expending with the creation of RT in Arabic in 2007, RT in Spanish in 2009. RT America was created in 2010 with a special focus on American news.
Russia Today is accessible to 430 million people in more 100 countries. In the United States, RT can be watched by 50 million people and is ranked second most popular foreign news channel after BBC News. This popularity is a sign that the editorial shift that happened since the election of President Obama and the warming of the US-Russia relations that saw less anti-american content worked. The editorial shift corresponds with the re-brand from Russia Today to RT.
RT’s philosophy has been to bring to the attention of their readers issues that have been ignored even distorted by the US mainstream media. Their will to challenge widespread and unchallenged positions is very well illustrated by their controversial ad campaign “Question more.”
RT have invited on the air many observers and “experts” that have not received air-time on mainstream channels including anarchists, anti-globalist, and leaders of left wings organization. In 2012, they broadcasted World Tomorrow, a series of interviews hosted by Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks. Among the people interviewed were Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah, the President of Ecuador, world famous hackers, and Guantanamo prisoners.
Following the same goal of giving a voice to usually ignored individuals, RT has given large and favorable coverage of the Ron Paul campaign in the Republican primary with articles like: ‘Ron Paul: “Last Man Standing for Lost Liberties‘ or ‘Corporatocracy: Ron Paul Says “US Slipping into Fascism.’ It is only logical that RT will host the last debate of this 2012 election between Gary Johnson and Jill Stein on November 5th.
RT remains a controversial source of information. They have been criticized for their tendency of choosing inflammatory topics such as the 9/11 conspiracy to gain viewership. RT has also been seen as biased by a number of observers, especially regarding its coverage of events happening in Russia, the trial of oligarch Mikhaïl Khodorkovski is an example.
The reasons behind the important coverage of third party candidates and outsiders by RT are not extremely clear. It is obvious that having candidates openly criticizing the current American policies is appreciated in Moscow, especially regarding foreign policy.
RT will be giving third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein’s debate a potential audience of 50 million people. American citizens might distrust a Russian-based news channel but RT is giving them an opportunity to hear two candidates discuss issues that have been left out by the Democratic and Republican candidates. This is more than what most American mainstream media is offering.