A former reporter at RT in Moscow has revealed why he quit RT in protest following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Jonny Tickle, who lived in Moscow for five years and worked as a journalist for the English-language RT website for the past two, resigned on 24 February.
He told Press Gazette the “whole newsroom” was blindsided by the war in Ukraine and it led to a surge of journalists quitting in protest.
Tickle said: “I left RT on the day of the invasion, so it wasn’t a protest against RT’s coverage or anything along those lines, because it was before any coverage had really taken place.
“I resigned because the money for RT comes from the Russian government. I was happy working for the Russian media… It was just once the government decided they were going to invade a sovereign country, there was absolutely no way I wanted to receive a single rouble extra from the Russian government.”
He added: “It wasn’t just me who was blindsided [by the invasion]. The whole RT newsroom was blindsided by it. People in newsrooms all over Moscow were too, even Moscow correspondents at very prestigious British or American newspapers who have been in the country for a long time.
“Everyone thought it was posturing basically. That the troops on the border were like a chess piece in a bigger chess game. It was incredibly shocking. Everyone thought ‘I can’t believe he’s actually done it’.”
He went on: “When it did happen there was this immense shock that caused not only me to resign but some of my colleagues to resign. And more interestingly, it’s not just from RT in English, people have resigned from RT in Spanish, RT in French, even some people resigned from RT in Russian. So it’s not just like naïve Englishmen or naïve Americans quitting. It’s big from all over the board.”
On 3 March, RT was taken off air in the UK after an EU ban on the channel in response to its coverage of the invasion of Ukraine.
On the same day, Ofcom announced it had opened a total of 27 investigations into RT, saying there were multiple potential breaches of the Broadcasting Code in its TV output.
Anna Belkina, RT’s deputy editor-in-chief, said last week that there was not “a single grain of evidence” that the channel’s reporting since the invasion began had been false.
She added: “This collective ‘establishment’ seems to be terrified of a mere presence of any outside voice for the fear of losing their historically captive audience, if that audience encounters a different perspective. Yet what they fail to realise is that it is their own echo chamber that seeds the public mistrust that they have so long lamented. They will reap what they sow.”
The Russian government has since passed a “fake news” law that threatens journalists with up to 15 years in prison for any “fake” reporting about the invasion of Ukraine.
The move has led many independent Russian news outlets to shut down and several foreign news outlets (including Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Conde Nast and more) to either suspend coverage from the ground in Russia or anonymise journalists in any reporting.
At least 14 staff have quit RT in protest at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including Kevin Owen, a senior RT English anchor who had worked for RT for 15 years, and its Russian-language editor-in-chief Maria Baronova.
Tickle, who moved to Russia after studying Russian at university and has now left the country, said he was approached and recruited by RT. He explained that he chose to join because he thought it was reforming “to become a bit more of a Russian BBC”. Since leaving RT, Tickle left Russia and is now in Turkey.
He said RT employed more than 100 people in its Moscow office to support its online coverage, and suggested the outlet was often misunderstood and that journalists at RT were rarely “crazy Putin supporters”.
On the criticism of RT’s coverage, he said: “The problem is that everyone who works for RT has to work within Russian law. You have lots of young, ambitious, hard-working journalists who are looking for the next step in a career. And none of them came into journalism to have to pump out government propaganda.”
He went on: “The problem is, especially since the start of the war, the restrictions on journalistic freedom have become more strict… Now you see laws come in that could see journalists jailed for 15 years for fake news, which is anything about the war that didn’t come directly from the Ministry of Defence or Vladimir Putin.”
Tickle added: “You can’t talk about alleged war crimes, because the Ministry of Defence hasn’t spoken about it. So it’s these recent laws that have really affected the transparency of the coverage in a way that I never experienced.”
Picture: Reuters / Gleb Garanich