Russia’s NTV state television channel is facing an unexpected backlash over a bit of its trademark anti-Western rhetoric.
After NTV accused a regional newspaper of doing Washington’s bidding, independent media have rallied to defend their peers and launched a nationwide campaign to denounce propaganda on state television.
On June 8, independent Russian newspapers began publishing warnings in their television listings cautioning readers against watching NTV.
“Beware!” the warnings read. “Under the guise of journalistic materials on the NTV channel you may receive distorted information or propaganda.”
The man behind the campaign is Valery Bezpyatykh, the editor in chief of Gorodskie Vesti, a weekly newspaper in the small Urals town of Revda.
“We are seeing a disquieting number of materials that are potentially disputable in terms of journalism,” he told RFE/RL. “I don’t think there can be any change without such campaigns.”
Like many journalists in Russia, Bezpyatykh was outraged by the accusations leveled in NTV’s March 4 program The State Department’s Debtors.
NTV alleged that Russia’s opposition media was “secretly funded” by the U.S. State Department and billionaire philanthropist Georges Soros.
It singled out several independent regional media including Yakutsk Vecherny, a popular newspaper in Siberia’s Yakutia region, and accused them of serving the interests of the United States because they received loans from a U.S.-based NGO.
On May 27, Yakutsk Vecherny protested by publishing a warning against NTV and Rossiya, another pro-Kremlin state channel, in its television listings.
The initiative has been widely shared on social media and has drawn applause from many Russians who see it as a bold act of defiance amid a deepening clampdown on critical reporting.
The Alliance of Independent Regional Publishers has thrown its weight behind the media outlets targeted by NTV, slamming the March 4 program as a “spurious denunciation.”
But Bezpyatykh said Yakutsk Vecherny still faces retaliation for its public protest and needs all the support it can get.
“It’s not OK to let one company fight the good fight alone,” he said. “They are our colleagues.”
Bezpyatykh has sent a letter to 100 media outlets, mostly members of the Alliance of Independent Regional Publishers, urging them to publish similar warnings in their television listings.
He said most editors reacted positively and pledged to participate.
“Not all of them have had time yet, many will publish it next week,” he said.
Bezpyatykh was unable to provide a figure for the number of newspapers who published the warning on June 8, the first day of the campaign. But several publications have already shared their unusual listings on social media.
While hoping the campaign will help shield Yakutsk Vecherny from unpleasant repercussions, Bezpyatykh said the campaign is about more than just defending embattled colleagues.
“In the end, we are protecting ourselves and our corporate interests with regard to the respect of journalism ethics, of the rules and concepts of journalism,” he said. “So yes, it’s a big deal.”
By Claire Bigg, RFE/RL
Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues.