Russian News, English Accent

By Beth Knobel, Moscow correspondent for CBS News.


Tired of American TV? Then the Russians have news for you.

"Russia Today" is a new satellite channel, presenting round-the-clock news about Russia – in English.

The Kremlin already controls domestic television. Now, it's going after the International audience – to repair a national image tarnished by war, corruption and assaults on democracy.

"We hope that we can win people by what we're showing," says Margarita Simonyan, the channel's editor-in-chief, "by interesting documentaries, interesting stories, by some new information about the interesting country that Russia actually is."

Interesting stories like the Russian art scene, reported by John Kluver, one of the few Americans working for "Russia Today." A former cameraman-turned-correspondent, he's still trying to learn the ropes.

And he has no illusions about his employer.

"When I talk to friends and they say, 'Hey John, what are you doing there? What's with the new project?' I usually describe it in English or in Russian as a propaganda tool for the Russian government."

And that's why the government is financing "Russia Today," to spread the good news about Russia around the world. But critics point out that there's also plenty of bad news about Russia coming from other sources.

Bad news the Kremlin to play down, like the ongoing war in Chechnya, or the crackdown on the free press.

Mikhail Fedotov, of the Russian Union of Journalists, says, "The Kremlin's inside advisors believe professional propaganda might form the splendid and shiny image of modern Russia, without Chechen war, without Khodorkovsky's case, without corruption."

The new channel may remind people of Soviet television, where reports were designed to put a shiny veneer on the hardships of life.

But "Russia Today's" young staff claims its coverage of Russia will be fair and balanced, and that the Kremlin will not dictate what it can or can't say.

"Censorship by government in this country is prohibited by constitution," Simonyan says. "Like in yours."

The Kremlin's already spent at least $30 million to launch "Russia Today," and will need to spend millions more to keep it on the air.

But there's one thing it can't buy – viewers. And unless people tune in, it'll be "Russia Today," gone tomorrow.

By Beth Knobel
  • Bob Bicknell

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.