At RSF in Paris, Russian state TV journalist denounces Kremlin propaganda
Russian journalist Zhanna Agalakova spoke at the Paris headquarters of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) yesterday about her decision to resign as Paris correspondent of Russia’s state-owned Pervi Kanal (Channel One television) and about her experiences behind the scenes at the Kremlin’s No. 1 media outlet.
“This is an extremely powerful moment of truth at a time when we are very concerned about the situation in Ukraine and, in a different way, about the situation in Russia.” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said, introducing Agalakova at a press conference entitled “Behind the propaganda curtain.”
Referring to Pervi Kanal producer Marina Ovsyannikova’s live protest on camera during the channel’s evening newscast Vremya on 14 March, clips of which were shared on social media around the world, Deloire said: “We have seen unrest within the propaganda media in the past few days, a number of resignations, people who are weary, people who are saying to themselves, ‘this is too much.’” Zhanna Agalakova is one of them.
Facing a forest of international news media cameras and microphones, Agalakova described her reasons for resigning from this Kremlin-controlled channel after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. “It was not possible for me to call what is happening in Ukraine a ‘peaceful operation,’” she said. “It is war, it must be said clearly.”
She said she had already considered leaving her job several times because of the way the news is manipulated at Pervi Kana, as it is on all the state media in Russia, but that until now, she “didn't have the courage to leave.”
Describing Russia’s propaganda media from the inside, Agalakova referred to presenting the news in 2005. “It was the beginning of the current president’s second term and the media felt under pressure,” she said. “All the time on the news, we had to show only one person, whatever he was doing, we had to show him. No one knew him then, but three years later he became president.”
It was Dmitry Medvedev, who was going to win the March 2008 election and take over as president from Vladimir Putin, who had reached the constitutional limit of two terms as head of state. “We were the ones who forged this image,” Agalakova said, acknowledging her role in the artificial construction of a new president.
As another example of Kremlin control of the news media, she described what it was like to be a correspondent in New York in 2014 during the conflict in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine. “I had to look for bad news about the United States, children adopted by Americans who were being abused.” Slanted facts to create a negative vision of the “West.” She said: “Propaganda is not lies, it is a sum of facts that are juxtaposed in a certain way to give an incomplete vision of reality.” Of course, propaganda sometimes also consists of outright lies.
“The Russian media only report the Kremlin's viewpoint, and other viewpoints have no chance,” she said. “We only talk about one man, the country’s No. 1 man, what he ate, what he drank. We even saw him without a shirt. But when people do not see themselves reflected in the news, when their voice is not heard, it’s a sure-fire road to an entire country’s suicide.”
She added: “During all these past years, the government has tried to throttle independent media.”
After beginning her career as a journalist at the RIA Novosti news agency, Agalakova went to work for NTV, a privately-owned Russian channel in 1996, and joined Pervi Kanal (Channel One) in October 1999, anchoring daytime and evening news programmes as well as the main news programme Vremya. She was previously Paris correspondent from September 2005 to January 2013, and then special correspondent in New York until August 2019.
Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.