Russia Today (RT), the Kremlin's English-language television news channel, is reporting that a series of provocative advertisements for the channel was rejected by major airports in the United States. One of the ads features images of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and U.S. President Barack Obama superimposed over one another next to the question "Who poses the greater nuclear threat?"
The ads promote the station's new "Question more" slogan. Another ad in the series juxtaposes a microphone and an automatic rifle with the question, "Which is the more powerful weapon?" A third asks whether climate change is "science fact or science fiction," while a fourth contrasts images of a soldier and a terrorist while asking "is terror only inflicted by terrorists?"
The RT ads, including one that compares a British police officer with a tattooed soccer hooligan, are being displayed on street ads in the United Kingdom. A spokesman for BAA, the company that manages the major U.K. airports in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and elsewhere told RFE/RL the ads had been declined at their facilities as well, although RT's story decries only the U.S. airport ban.
As is often the case with controversial ad campaigns, this one is getting a lot of mileage in the so-called alternative press. RT's version of the matter has been reproduced verbatim on websites as diverse as Irish Nationalism, Silobreaker, and something called the Global Europe Anticipation Bulletin.
Over at "The Guardian," Luke Harding puts the RT initiative into context, noting that "next year the Russian government will spend $1.4 billion (866 million pounds) on international propaganda – more than on fighting unemployment."
The Kremlin employs two major PR agencies, Ketchum and GPlus, and in London uses Portland PR. And then there are the angry bloggers – a shadowy army of Russian nationalists who are active on western newspaper websites, including the Guardian's Comment is free site. Anyone who dares to criticise Russia's leaders, or point out some of the country's deficiencies, is immediately branded a CIA spy or worse. "They [the Kremlin] are coming to realise that information matters and that control of information internationally matters even more," says Evgeny Morozov, a Yahoo! fellow at Georgetown University's institute for the study of diplomacy.
This is definitely something to keep an eye on. One can't help but wonder if there is a connection between these efforts and a startling op-ed that appeared in yesterday's "The Sydney Morning Herald," in which former Australian parliamentarian Ross Cameron celebrates the 10th anniversary of Vladimir Putin's power in Russia by lauding Putin as a free-market liberal who has been "entrenching the rule of law" in Russia and is the most popular politician "in the democratic world."
Cameron ends by saying, "it is hard for me to see how anyone of good faith could regret his continued influence in Russia and the world." Needless to say, the "shadow army of Russian nationalists who are active on Western newspaper websites" have been lining up to second Cameron's opinions. "Wow! I had no idea," one reader writes. "I just went along with the standard media line that Putin was Stalin-lite. I now agree -- Putin isn't perfect but maybe he is perfect for Russia today." Maybe the reader meant to write "perfect for Russia Today."
Harding ends his piece with a quotation from Margarita Simonyan, "RT's 29-year-old editor in chief," responding to whether RT can find an audience in the West. "People will be surprised at how much there is in the world that they haven't been told before," Simonyan said. If only viewers of Russian domestic television had any idea of how much there is in Russia that they haven't been told before.