People working for Russia’s state television “understood perfectly” that they were selling misinformation to the public and told journalists about to go on air, “Now it’s your turn to lie,” a former camera operator in Russia revealed in a sweeping interview.
“In the first years of my work at Rossia-24, I was shocked by the cynicism that people had toward their work. They all, of course, understood perfectly that they were misinforming the viewers,” Leonid Krivenkov, a camera operator who worked for the broadcast news channel Rossia-24 for nearly a decade, told Radio Free Europe in an extensive interview.
“On the in-ear talk-back channel, you can hear discussions about how best to present some bit of news—often you’d hear the most fantastic, mutually contradictory versions. It was a favorite joke of directors and moderators that ‘now it’s your turn to lie.’ That’s exactly what they said to the correspondents right before they went on the air,” Krivenko added.
Russian misinformation and propaganda has received widespread attention in the U.S. due to Moscow’s use of fake news and online trolls to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. But less attention has been given to the ways in which Russian state TV spreads propaganda among Russian citizens and ensures that Russian President Vladimir Putin remains in power.
Controlling television channels has been one of the main weapons in Putin’s arsenal to maintain support among ordinary Russians. In 2013, he famously told reporters at an annual press conference that only “patriotically minded people” should head state news agencies.
In his interview, Krivenko describes how the state-run channels control who goes on air and provide lucrative incentives for praising the government and by firing people who tell the truth on air.
“But the official VGTRK salaries are pathetic, even by Russian standards. In 2015, the official salary for a camera operator was 6,860 rubles ($120). That’s per month, not per day,” Krivenko told Radio Free Europe. “Of course, no one is going to work for that money, so VGTRK has a clever system of bonuses that might be paid or might not be paid depending on whether the employee behaves ‘incorrectly.’”
“There were some guests who acted ‘appropriately’ during the preliminary interviews but then began telling the truth when they got on the air live. There was one big scandal about a guest who was invited to a program about the use of chemical weapons by the forces of [Syrian President and Putin ally] Bashar al-Assad. The guest began telling the truth about the production and use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces. The editor, Aleksei Kazakov, was screaming at the moderator on the in-ear channel: ‘Don’t you hear what he’s saying? Shut him up immediately!’” the cameraman described.
“The moderator immediately interrupted the expert and said there was no more time. Later, the Kremlin called, and there was a scandal. That expert never appeared on television again,” Krivenko added.
Several American broadcasters for the Russian state-owned channel RT quit on live television, citing censorship and claiming that the channel “whitewashes” Putin.
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