Russia's state-backed news channel RT (formerly Russia Today) will launch its first dedicated British news channel tonight from its new London studios at Millbank. RT UK will cover local, regional and national stories from the UK, and will “challenge dominant power structures in Britain by broadcasting live and original programming with a progressive UK focus”, according to the media organisation's website.
RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan has said the British media landscape is in need of diversification: “Now, with a dedicated UK channel, we can serve the needs and interests of the British public by promoting debate and new ways of thinking about specifically British issues.”
The 24/7 news channel will broadcast five hours of UK-related content per day between 6pm and 11pm, including live news, current affairs programmes and documentaries as well as content from RT's other channels.
Funded by the Russian government, RT is widely criticised as a propaganda mouthpiece for the Kremlin and has faced accusations of bias including from its own reporters. The channel became the centre of scandal earlier this year after two high profile RT reporters — London correspondent Sara Firth and Washington DC bureau anchor Liz Wahl — resigned. Wahl resigned on air in March, accusing RT of “whitewashing” Russia's annexation of Crimea, followed months later by Firth's resignation after the downing of flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine. Just moments before her resignation, Firth tweeted: “RT style guide Rule 1: It is ALWAYS *Ukraine's fault (*add name as applicable).”
Nevertheless, a number of RT journalists have remained loyal to the channel. UK correspondent Polly Boiko said: “So much is made of how RT in funded. It's been cast as the Big Bad Wolf of the news media landscape. I think many of us here in the London team see the launch of RT UK as an opportunity to shake off the accusations levelled at the channel.”
RT, whose slogan is “Question more”, launched in 2005 and has since positioned itself as an alternative news source to western media channels, including the BBC and CNN. This summer, RT launched a controversial advertising campaign suggesting it could have prevented the war in Iraq, with one ad reading: “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 said: “In case they shut us down on TV. Go to RT.com for the second opinion.”
An important pro-Kremlin media outfit, RT is expected to receive around $400m from the Russian government next year, upping its 2014 funding by 30%.