- By Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
This is what it looks like when a cog in Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine comes loose.
On Monday, Abby Martin, a presenter on the Kremlin-funded RT cable network, signed off with an unscripted and emotional tirade "from [her] heart" against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and her station’s rosy coverage of the conflict. "Just because I work here for RT doesn’t mean I don’t have editorial independence, and I can’t stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation’s affairs," Martin said, pacing around the studio and gesticulating with notes in hand. "What Russia did is wrong."
After making a sweeping denunciation of military intervention — that "it is never the answer" — Martin came out swinging against her own network, which in recent days has offered a staunch, often propagandistic, defense of Putin’s decision to deploy troops to Crimea. "I will not sit here and apologize or defend military aggression. Furthermore, the coverage I’ve seen of Ukraine has been truly disappointing from all sides of the media spectrum and rife with disinformation," Martin said. "Above all, my heart goes out to the Ukrainian people, who are now wedged as pawns in the middle of a global power chess game — they’re the real losers here."
RT management had a simple response to Martin going off the reservation: they decided to ship her off to Crimea, a potential war zone. "Contrary to the popular opinion, RT doesn’t beat its journalists into submission, and they are free to express their own opinions, not just in private but on the air." the network said in a statement. "This is the case with Abby’s commentary on the Ukraine." The station offered that there would be "no reprimands made" against Martin.
"In her comment Ms. Martin also noted that she does not possess a deep knowledge of reality of the situation in Crimea," the network said, referring to Martin’s statement on-air that "I admittedly don’t know as much as I should about Ukraine’s history or the cultural dynamics of the region." As a result, the network said it would exile her to the turbulent region: "We’ll be sending her to Crimea to give her an opportunity to make up her own mind from the epicentre of the story."
On Tuesday, Martin tweeted that she wouldn’t be going to Crimea, despite the network’s statement that it wanted to send her there:
Hi @Josiensor, thanks for your article. But I am not going to Crimea despite the statement RT has made. Please update accordingly.
— Abby Martin (@AbbyMartin) March 4, 2014
With Russia having deployed thousands of troops on Ukrainian territory, RT has come under withering criticism for its slanted coverage of the crisis, which it has portrayed as an earnest effort by the Russian government to protect the rights of Ukraine’s persecuted Russians. That coverage has occasionally devolved into outright farce: Earlier this week, the network invited the American actor and Putin-pal Steven Seagal on air to offer his take on the conflict.
According to its website, the official mission of RT, which is the world’s most-watched online news channel with an audience of 1.1 billion, is to acquaint an "international audience with the Russian viewpoint." It’s a shame she won’t be broadcasting any viewpoints from Crimea.