By Michael Averko
Yuri Mamchur's December 12 Russia Blog commentary "Russia Today Goes On, Then Off the Air" confirms my reservations about Russia Today (the just launched 24/7 Russian government funded English language television news network) which were stated this past June 10 in the Comments section of http://english.intelligent.ru. After hearing about RT's formation, my immediate responses were in this order: 1. It's about time. 2. It better not get screwed up. 3. It's something right up my alley.
Upon discovering RT's web site I contacted the network about employment opportunities via e-mail on October 10 (at about that time, its web site had apparently just appeared as it didn't seem to be available prior to September). In addition, I forwarded the below suggestions that were earlier submitted to a Russian consular official who came to my home to discuss RT and other related matters on September 21:
Must Need: Team oriented individuals, who fully understand how Russia is covered in Anglo-American mass media. These people must also understand the general North American psyche in terms of how to best communicate news and commentary to North America and those other areas where English is the dominant language. Such candidates are adept at knowing how to cover a breaking story (excellent research skills in addition to knowing what guests to have on and which questions to ask of them).
Proposed Russia Today Schedule:
Under the assumption that Russia Today is a nonstop 24 hour a day, 7 days a week operation, every hour could have a half hour news segment which is repeated at the top of each hour. The news segment should be updated 2 to 3 times daily. For example, the morning news edition can air from 6 am to 12 pm, the afternoon version from 12 pm to 6 pm and the evening session from 6 pm to 6 am. Of course, this can be preempted in the event of a major news story (war, natural catastrophe, death of a prominent figure). A half hour show covering a top news story of the day could be aired some time in the late evening hours. This show would air from Monday thru Friday (weekends are typically more relaxed for television news networks). Such a show would generally have a brief film background of the given news story followed by a panel of analysts and a host.
As for the remaining 30 minutes of broadcast time, a series of taped weekly shows (with a new edition of each show being made on a weekly basis) could be alternated after the half hour news broadcasts. Some show topic examples:
- Political pundits' roundtable discussion on key news issues of the week, where 3 to 4 guests exchange views with a host to serve as moderator.
- Interview a prominent figure on a one to one (reporter-interviewee) basis.
- Sports show, covering the week in sports. In this segment, highlights of the past week can be shown as well as a feature on a top athlete and a quick review of what to look forward to during the upcoming week in sports.
- Documentary, featuring an aspect of Russian life or a given area (republic or city) of Russia, or a history related feature.
- Culture show involved with art, music, cinema and dance.
- Nature show dealing with wildlife and the ecosystem.
- Business show analyzing the business climate in Russia.
- A sampling of what Russians watch. Top rated comedy, talk and soap operas are aired with English translation.
- A monthly show (as opposed to the others being weekly) where the Russia Today CEO addresses viewer comments.
In Anglo-American mass media, it often appears that political views reflecting 10% of the Russian population, receive 90% of coverage when Russia is discussed. Russia Today shouldn't censor opposing views of the government. However, it also shouldn't disproportionately represent minority views. An example of misinformation is shown by how The Wall Street Journal regularly features the views of Gary Kasparov, while omitting the perspectives of more mainstream thinking Russians like Intelligent.ru Editor Sergei Roy.
http://english.intelligent.ru is related to Russia Today's stated desire of accurately communicating Russia to the world. The former is an English language web magazine covering a wide variety of topics with mainstream Russian views evident. The Russia Today management team can't afford to exclude the qualified and well meaning sources seeking its success.
To one degree or another, everyone has his/her own biases. The idea is to be as fair as possible. Russia Today should correctly reflect the views of most Russians with other views in proportion to their popularity in Russia (this can be determined by already conducted public opinion polls and voting trends on the national and regional levels).
On October 28, RT CEO Margarita Simonyan announces in an interview (posted by Johnson's Russia List on October 31) a program format similar to the one I had forwarded. This could be coincidental given how the programming choices for such a network appear limited.
On the other hand, Mr. Mamchur, British journalist Julian Evans and two senior Moscow based media people I know all conclude that the RT staff appears (to be blunt) qualitatively limited. I concur.
What was the rush to create this network in less than one year's time?
Its promotion and accessibility in North America is near non-existent.
On a lesser scale and as a personal note, RT never replied back to my initial e-mail and follow-up e-mails. In the latter instance, I forwarded my articles posted since October 10th in Eurasian Home, JRL, Russia Blog and Rus Journal. Those articles provide Russocentric commentary on key issues involving RT's news coverage. The topics include the Middle East, Ukraine and Russo-American relations.
Those of you out there who know me well enough will confirm my sincere hope of Russia putting its best step forward. Nevertheless, a good part of me is pained that others might be receiving credit for some of my ideas.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst whose commentary has appeared in Eurasian Home, Johnson's Russia List, Intelligent.Ru, The Moscow Times, New York Times and Newsday.