Editor’s Note, Correction: On Monday, Polygraph reported RT and Sputnik did not cover the Russian protests. This week, RT sent an e-mail to Polygraph.info detailing its coverage of the January 28 “Voters Strike” on the Web and its television programs on Sunday and Monday. On the day of the protest, some of RT’s audience members complained they were not seeing the government news organization’s coverage. This story corrects the record. RT filed one news story under Russian Politics on its Web site as well as TV and editorial coverage.
Demonstrations nicknamed “Zabastovki Izbiratelei” [Voters’ Strikes] calling for a boycott of the nation’s presidential elections on March 18 were staged in 84 cities, which included isolated clashes with police and the detention of 371 protesters.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Putin critic banned from running against President Vladimir Putin, was arrested while he was walking toward the protest on Moscow's Pushkin Square. The Kremlin says that Navalny is not a political threat.
The same day as the protests, Navalny’s TV crew reported live as the police seized a television studio in Navalny’s Moscow offices and detained the hosts.
While the “Voters’ Strike” rallies and Navalny’s arrest made headlines internationally and trended on Twitter, but not seen by many readers.
In an e-mail to Polygraph.info pointing to RT coverage on its Web site and television program in Russian and English, RT’S press office wrote: “On the day of the protest, RT.com published a large piece on the subject.” The e-mail linked to a five paragraph article that indicates it was initially published 12:35 p.m. Sunday and updated at 1:35 p.m. The story still is up under Russian News.
The story omitted overall crowd estimates and only said rallies were staged in “dozens of cities.” Other reports on Sunday estimated 100 cities. Polygraph.info established that rallies were held in 84 cities.
The general News sections on RT and Sputnik, did not include coverage of the protests.
In contrast, the Moscow Times covered the developing story with a “live blog” that continuously updated the developing story using information and graphic material, such as tweets and photos. The online newspaper included estimates of the number of arrests and crowd sizes, as well as information on speakers at the rallies.
The RT story did include footage of Navalny’s arrest and pointed out he was released that evening. Later, RT ran an editorial that was highly critical of Navalny.
The RT press office did not explain its editorial decisions on coverage. In another instance, March 2017, Sputnik included a statement from its editor-in-chief criticizing “Western media” for coverage of an anti-government rally that attracted an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people.
“I think opposition and particularly Western media have blown this story out of proportion,” Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan was quoted as saying. She added that rallies in the U.S. and France with much larger crowds had received less attention.
According to the RT & Sputnik government charter: “The Agency has been created and acts according to the following goals – overseas coverage of the government policy of the Russian Federation and public life in the Russian Federation.”
The Putin government apparently measures RT and Sputnik performance by the positive image the two news organizations project abroad. The 2016 annual report for the Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication stated the agency’s “subordinate entities” acted in accordance with Putin’s “directions.” This includes “propagating and promoting the formulation of Russia’s positive image globally.”
The Kremlin said on Monday, it did not regard opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a political threat to the upcoming presidential election and claimed that protests he had organized on Sunday had been sparsely attended in places.
Here are the links to RT's coverage:
English Web site.
Editorial in Russian.