UK

Alex Salmond Defends 'Useful Idiot' Accusations Over Controversial New Show On RT

'Be ashamed Alex, be very ashamed.'

10/11/2017 12:23 GMT | Updated 10/11/2017 14:54 GMT

Alex Salmond has been forced to defend his decision to host a new chat show on controversial Russian news channel RT after being described as “cretinous”, “duplicitous” and a “useful idiot” by commentators.

The Alex Salmond Show will air each Thursday beginning next week and will mix current affairs discussions with “friendly exploration” into invited guests.

His choice of channel to host the show sparked a heated reaction as RT is funded by the Kremlin and is widely seen as a propaganda tool for Vladimir Putin.

Speaking on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, the former First Minister said people should actually watch The Alex Salmond Show before deciding whether or not it is “Kremlin propaganda”. 

Salmond argued he has “full editorial control” of the show but was then asked by host Kirsty Wark if his presence on the channel would “lend credibility to RT regardless of the content of his show.

He replied: “It would be a great idea if people watched the show and if it’s a good show and it has high production values and has interesting guests with interesting things to say they should say it’s a good show.

“And if it turns out to be Kremlin propaganda then people can slate me but why don’t they watch the show first and then decide.”

People did not appear to be convinced.

WHY IS RT SO CONTROVERSIAL?

The channel is funded by the Russian Government and its defenders, particularly those in the West, will point out that the BBC is also part-funded by the UK Government and as such the two are somehow comparable.

But to understand the role of RT you have to look at the wider media landscape in Russia. Whereas the UK is a thriving democracy in which dissent and opposition voices flourish, Russian media is tightly controlled and those who oppose the Government of Vladimir Putin are routinely jailed, found dead in mysterious circumstances or forced to flee abroad.

MLADEN ANTONOV via Getty Images
The Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower.

Upon the establishment of RT’s new parent organisation, Rossiya Segodnya, in 2013, Putin’s spokesman said: “The tool of propaganda is an integral part of any state. It is everywhere. And Russia should use it as well. Propaganda in the good sense of the word.”

PRESS FREEDOM IN RUSSIA

Russia consistently ranks amongst the lowest countries in the world for press freedom and has been heavily criticised by Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the US State Department, the International Press Institute, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and Freedom House, to name just a few.

DEATHS OF JOURNALISTS

38 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992, all but five were investigating corruption, politics, crime, business, war or human rights abuses.

Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters

In many of the cases, most notably that of Anna Politkovskaya, the suspects behind the killings are Government-linked and have never been brought to justice.

For context, only one journalist has been killed in the UK during the same period, four in the USA, two in China even in Afghanistan, a country that has been at a near-constant state of war since 1992, the total is only 13.

WHAT THEY DO AND DON’T REPORT

The extent of the Kremlin control over the media aptly summed up in a report from the European Council of Foreign Relations which states:

“Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov meets the editors of the main government media platforms in the Kremlin each Friday to outline the expected – demanded – lines and topics for the week ahead.

“These are supplemented by written secret guidance memoranda known as temniki. Likewise, specific tasking is given to other agencies.

The ‘troll farms’ receive daily and weekly targets and talking points. Telegrams from MID guide the activities of Russia’s embassies abroad.”

As such RT, whilst claiming to show viewers what other channels won’t, omits narratives that could damage the Kremlin whilst helping to propagate others that are beneficial even to the extent of pushing conspiracy theories.

Novaya Gazeta and Amnesty International, interviewing some of those who managed to escape, earlier this year documented the detention, torture and murders of gay men in Chechnya, a federal subject of Russia.

Despite testimonies from a wide variety of sources in Western media, RT simply ran with stories denying the allegations quoting solely Kremlin sources.

RT also played a central role in smearing the White Helmets in order to bolster the Russian-backed regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

WHO ELSE HAS APPEARED ON RT?

Salmond joins such company as George Galloway and John Pilger both of whom have helped push the debunked While Helmets conspiracy theory, and Julian Assange.