At times of geopolitical crisis, winning the information war is crucial. No-one knows this better than RT (formerly Russia Today), the Kremlin-backed news channel, which has just launched an advertising campaign in New York suggesting that it could have helped prevent the Iraq war.
One poster features Colin Powell with the slogan: “This is what happens when there is no second opinion. Iraq War: No WMDs, 141,802 civilian deaths. Go to RT.com for the second opinion.” A second says: “In case they shut us down on TV. Go to RT.com for the second opinion.”
RT spokeswoman Anna Belkina has declined to reveal the company behind the advertising campaign, but has said that Washington DC and London will be the next cities targeted.
The channel, which launched in 2005, has long pitched itself as an alternative to mainstream news sources such as the BBC and CNN. Its critics claim the channel is a propaganda machine for the Kremlin, a view substantiated in recent months by employees of the network who have resigned over coverage of events in Ukraine.
In March, US anchor Liz Wahl resigned on air, accusing the channel of “whitewashing” Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Wahl said: “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I’m resigning.”
Several months later in July, the network’s London-based correspondent Sara Firth quit in protest at the channel’s coverage of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. She told the Guardian: “It was the most shockingly obvious misinformation and it got to the point where I couldn’t defend it any more … I have always fought against this argument that RT is an evil network but you wake up and think, that’s just wrong.”
RT is no stranger to advertising blitzes. In 2009, the channel launched a campaign in the UK with five posters challenging ideas around terrorism and even the veracity of climate change. One poster featured Barack Obama’s head superimposed on the image of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a tagline reading: “Who poses the greatest nuclear threat?”
Among other things, Russia Today struggles with definite articles http://t.co/ANG3F5TJ8s
— Sam Greene (@samagreene) August 18, 2014
RT's strange new ad campaign: coming soon to Washington and London http://t.co/Fut2rzItX5
— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) August 18, 2014
— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) August 18, 2014