The Russian state-funded international TV channel RT has lashed out in an unusually violent manner at the Paris-based media freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The verbal attack on RSF by RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan reflects a concept of journalism far-removed from professional standards, RSF says.

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The attack comes just as RT (the former Russia Today) is preparing to launch a French-language version of RT in Paris at the end of the year after signing an agreement with France’s High Council for Broadcasting (CSA). It is currently recruiting 100 employees, including 50 journalists.

In articles published on the Russian, French and English-language websites of RT and the Russian international news agency Sputnik, Simonyan called on RSF to “quietly self-dissolve, so as not to disgrace true human rights defenders.”

Her comments were in response to an interview by RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire for the French cultural weekly Télérama on 22 August in which he referred to the letter Simonyan sent him in November 2016 after the European Parliament adopted a resolution on propaganda media.

Although she is Vladimir Putin fan and heads a TV channel that toes the Kremlin line, her letter sought RSF’s support, invoking such international documents as article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the Télérama interview, Deloire said: “We have reached a point where the enemies of journalism are using the very same principles as those used to defend it. Confronted by these challenges, international law is no longer fit for purpose.”

Deloire referred to the many new, often heavily-funded propaganda media outlets that naturally take advantage of freedom of expression but often fall far short of meeting the standards of independent and honest journalism. He did not say that RT in its entirety consists of enemies of journalism. But RSF deplores its submission to the Russian government and its frequent violations of journalistic ethics and standard verification methods.

“Calling for the closure of a media freedom NGO known throughout the world for its independence, and using her own media outlets to do so, reflects a concept of journalism that is, to say the least, somewhat distant from the profession’s ethical principles and standards,” Deloire said today.

“We obviously stand by our claim that, in the new propaganda era we are entering, some people are exploiting internationally established standards to defend perversions of journalism. RT’s editor in chief can nonetheless count on RSF to continue making a noise in defence of free and independent journalism.”

In recent years the British broadcast media regulator Ofcom has repeatedly accused RT of failing to satisfy impartiality standards.

In the convention signed with France’s High Council for Broadcasting (CSA) in September 2015, RT France has undertaken to respect “pluralism in the expression of currents of thought and opinion, and honesty in the provision of news and information.”

Its journalists must ensure “honest presentation of issues liable to be controversial and the expression of different viewpoints.” Article 2-3-6 says that the requirement of honesty applies to all programmes and that editors must be “rigorous in their presentation and handling of news.”

Launched in 2005 and initially called Russia Today, RT is now Russia’s leading international TV broadcaster and Internet media outlet. Simonyan is editor in chief of both RT and the Rossiya Segodnya media group, which includes the Sputnik network and is disseminated in 34 countries. The Russian state funds both RT and Rossiya Segodnya.

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Updated on 31.08.2017