Russian, Chinese media working together a matter of survival of Russian and Chinese voices on a global stage: RT editor-in-chief
October 5, 2023 —
As voices from the West continue to dominate global public opinion, it is high time for developing countries to speak louder in the international arena. In a recent email interview, Margarita Simonyan (Simonyan), editor-in-chief of RT, shared with Global Times (GT) reporters Wang Wenwen and Xia Wenxin how media outlets from countries, such as Russia and China, have challenged the West’s monopoly on global public opinion by offering alternative voices as well as her personal experiences and RT’s development since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war.
GT: US media often describe you as the Kremlin’s loyal propagandist. What do you think of such a label?
Simonyan: The US media and American broader socio-political establishment have long been “partial” to RT in general and to my person in particular – the US’ 2017 national intelligence report on Russia’s influence alone cited me no less than 27 times within essentially half of the report dedicated to our news network. I am proud to carry the voice of Russia abroad, in however small or large capacity, and I am glad if this voice resonates with a wide international audience.
GT: Your new book Whirlpool, a collection of short stories, recently got published. What’s it about? What do you want to convey to readers?
Simonyan: In my new book I’m paying homage to the great tradition of Russian psychological prose by highlighting vivid sketches of life. Hopefully, the readers will experience a slice of life in Russia that rarely appears on the front pages of newspapers or on TV screens, and perhaps find a universal connection to these very personal stories.
GT: Recently, there was a failed assassination attempt against you. What do you think of the fact that a media figure could be the target in a conflict?
Simonyan: As a matter of fact there have been two; as journalists, we know and accept these risks, whether we are reporting from the front lines or the studio headquarters. That is our job, our duty – to tell the world the truth about the most dangerous places and events. At the end of the day we are all mortal; for me, to die for telling the truth, for defending your Motherland, is a far less frightening fate than a slow death from an incurable disease or a life of shame for something like treason.
GT: Russian and Western media have different angles and narratives when reporting the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Do you find it difficult to make Western audiences believe that RT’s reports are objective?
Simonyan: I believe that the truth always wins in the end, as long as someone keeps telling it. Every day we work, we fight for the truth, for people around the world to see what is happening in reality, on the ground in Ukraine. We have known for years that these audiences have long stopped believing the narratives sold to them by their mainstream media – which is why they have tuned in to RT in the first place, years ago – because we showed their reality better than their own channels. These audiences are now finding every way possible to continue to access RT on TV, online, and on social media in the territories where RT has been banned.
GT: Not long after the Russia-Ukraine conflict, RT America was shut down. The EU also suspended RT and Sputnik on the grounds that Russia was engaging in a “systematic, international campaign of media manipulation and distortion of facts.” What do you think of such moves?
Simonyan: Western establishments have been distorting the facts about what is going on in Ukraine for a decade. They tried to silence RT for years before the Special Military Operation because they couldn’t let their audiences decide for themselves what to believe about events in Ukraine, in Russia, around the world and in their own backyards. This is why they implemented any way possible, including illegal and illegitimate, to shut us down and shut us out wherever they could.
By banning RT, the facade of free press in Europe and the US completely crumbled. During all this time nobody had pointed to a single grain of evidence that what RT has reported or continues to report, is not true. Instead, what the members of the Western establishments have said is that what RT brings to its audience is not allowed in their supposedly free media environment. When it comes to the Russian voice, or just a different perspective from theirs, it is simply not allowed to exist.
GT: Both Chinese and Russian media encounter such challenges when they try to expand international influence. How do you view Western dominance of discourse power and how should Chinese and Russian media deal with such challenges?
Simonyan: It is difficult to overestimate how important it is for Russian and Chinese media to work together in the international news space. It is simply a matter of survival of Russian and Chinese voices on a global stage. We are virtually alone in confronting the most powerful army of Western mainstream journalism, and such dominance makes for a dangerous, bellicose world.
We are proud that RT is available in Chinese on popular Chinese social media platforms – Weibo, Bilibili, and Douyin. RT’s Weibo account is well ahead of AFP, Financial Times, Associated Press and BBC in terms of audience engagement and follower growth rate.
GT: What do you think of the current Sinophobia and Russophobia in the US?
Simonyan: There has hardly been a period in US history when the American establishment and society at large haven’t had some sort of phobia of this kind. From the Salem witch hunts and the persecution of Native Americans to the lynchings of Black Americans by the Ku Klux Klan and the communist scare during McCarthyism — the forces governing American society have always needed someone to turn their anger on, to pin the blame for all the sins and with whom to fight directly, indirectly or in a hybrid warfare. Today’s Russophobia and Sinophobia are not much different from classic racism and fascism.
GT: Most American media is not owned by the government. But the US media speaks with one voice on major international affairs. Why? How do American politicians influence and even manipulate the media?
Simonyan: Indeed, it is very telling that American news media, public and private alike, with its thousands of outlets – print, TV, online – speak with a single voice when it comes to American foreign policy. Former White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, got her own TV show on a major channel, MSNBC, within weeks of leaving her government job. Various US government departments openly and proudly cooperate with Hollywood film and TV productions, such as Top Gun, when they show the US military in a good light. Despite their claims to the contrary, the lines between American political and media establishments aren’t just blurred – they do not exist.