Monday 17 March 2014

"I’ll launch my journalism career by being a mouthpiece for an authoritarian regime. What could go wrong?"

Having written on the subject of Western journalists working for the state-controlled media of oppressive regimes before,it has been with great interest, and not a little satisfaction, that I have been following the exposure of RT (the English-language mouthpiece of the Kremlin) as essentially a propaganda operation which naive or foolish young journalists have signed up to work for only to later learn their mistake. This piece (on Buzzfeed of all places) does a good job of describing what it's like to work in RT, formerly know as Russia Today:

“It was me and two managers and they had already discussed what they wanted,” Bivens, an American who worked in RT’s Moscow headquarters from 2009 through 2011, said of a meeting she’d had to discuss the segment before a planned reporting trip to Germany. “They called me in and it was really surreal. One of the managers said, ‘The story is that the West is failing, Germany is a failed state.’”

Bivens, who had spent time in Germany, told the managers the story wasn’t true — the term “failed state” is reserved for countries that fail to provide basic government services, like Somalia or Congo, not for economically advanced, industrialized nations like Germany. They insisted. Bivens refused. RT flew a crew to Germany ahead of Bivens, who was flown in later to do a few standups and interviews about racism in Germany. It was the beginning of the end of her RT career.

 Living in China, I was amazed by the naivety of journalists who go worked for state-controlled propaganda outlets like CCTV and Global Times. They didn't seem to realise the seriousness of what they were doing - essentially making themselves an accessory to the rule of dictatorship. Instead you would hear strange talk about "helping China tell its story" (as if the Chinese state needs help with this) and absurd comparisons to the output of the BBC used to justify their decision.

The main motive of most of these people seemed to be to gain experience in a semi-professional environment, but it was rather unclear to what degree anyone's career could possibly be helped by having worked for a known propaganda outlet. It is far from certain that any foreign journalists who worked for the Chinese state media gained anything by doing so in professional terms, nor that the people being hired by the Chinese state media even had the skill-set to allow them to suceed in journalism. Instead these individuals fit the type that Jonathan Chait so accurately skewers here:

Their motives appear to be a mix of careerism, naïveté, and utter incuriousity. The modal career arc of an American RT reporter appears to be an ambitious but not terribly bright 20-something aspiring journalist who, faced with the alternative of grim local-news reportage, leaps at the chance to make two or three times the pay while covering world affairs, sort of. It’s the sort of reward that dims one’s incentive to perform due diligence into just who is signing your paycheck, and why. “I saw a job posting,” a former RT America reporter tells Gray, “and figured why not,” in one of the more hilarious uses of “why not” you will ever see. (I’ll launch my journalism career by being a mouthpiece for an authoritarian regime. What could go wrong?)


Monday 3 March 2014

Let’s begin with a clear and candid assessment of the facts.
It is a fact that Russian military forces have taken over Ukrainian border posts. It is a fact that Russia has taken over the ferry terminal in Kerch. It is a fact that Russian ships are moving in and around Sevastapol. It is a fact that Russian forces are blocking mobile telephone services in some areas. It is a fact that Russia has surrounded or taken over practically all Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea. It is a fact that today Russian jets entered Ukrainian airspace.
It is also a fact that independent journalists continue to report that there is no evidence of violence against Russian or pro-Russian communities. Russian military action is not a human rights protection mission. It is a violation of international law and a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the independent nation of Ukraine, and a breach of Russia’s Helsinki Commitments and its UN obligations. 

 After a pretty bloody awful week for US and European diplomacy, at least the US ambassador to the UN is finally setting the right tone. It may well be that the US and the UK will not or can not compel the Russian government to honour their mutual commitment to respect the "independence and sovereignty and the existing borders" of the Ukraine, but at least we can speak the truth about what is going on there: invasion under a flimsy pretext and a flimsier disguise.