The Kremlin has chosen its messenger. Dmitri Kiselyov, the Russian news anchor known for his on-air tirades against Americans and homosexuals, was appointed on Monday to lead a new state-run media conglomerate, Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today). Even among the cynical ranks of Russia’s journalists, the news came as a shock. But it was not so much the fear of censorship that bothered them — the airwaves in Russia are already tightly controlled by the state. It was rather the standard-bearer President Vladimir Putin chose, one whose venom toward the West and its values would make all but the fiercest Cold Warriors recoil.
In April last year, Kiselyov stated on national television that homosexuals killed in automobile accidents should have their “hearts buried in the ground or burned” to prevent their transplantation into another human body. Though rights groups pointed out that this remark constituted hate speech under Russian law, Kiselyov was not reprimanded. In fact he was promoted a few months later to become the anchor of Russia’s premier news program, Vesti Nedeli, a platform he has used to deliver weekly diatribes against Russia’s enemies, both real and imagined.
In June, he accused the U.S. of forming an alliance with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in order to “spread chaos” and achieve “world domination,” while European societies, he said, are succumbing to a “cult of homosexuality” and a “betrayal of Christianity.” The only one who can beat back these threats to civilization, he argued, is President Vladimir Putin, whom Kiselyov holds up as a national savior. “From among his peers in the 20th century, Putin the politician is comparable in the scope of his efforts only to Stalin,” the anchor said last year. He meant this as a compliment.
In his new role, Kiselyov will answer directly to Putin in guiding Russian propaganda at home and abroad. His mission, he said, would not involve the objective presentation of the news — a practice he recently condemned as being “absolutely unwanted” — but the “revival of a fair attitude toward Russia as an important country with good intentions.”
That was roughly the same goal assigned to the Kremlin’s foreign-language news channel, RT, when it was launched in 2005. Since then, the channel has become an international vehicle for admiring coverage of the Kremlin that also airs some of Russia’s favorite conspiracy theories, like the recent RT report arguing a link between American security services and the bombing at the Boston Marathon. But RT’s coverage, which the Russian government has spent billions of dollars beaming into the homes of more than 600 million people in 100 countries, apparently did not go far enough. Its editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, said she was stunned on Monday to hear the news of the Kremlin’s latest media venture.
Even RIA Novosti, the state-run news agency being liquidated to make room for the new conglomerate, could not hold its tongue in reporting the news on Monday morning. “The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector,” the agency wrote.
Fighting back tears on Monday during a meeting with her employees, the longest-serving editor in the history of RIA Novosti, Svetlana Mironyuk, paid homage to her predecessors — “some of whom were executed, some of whom imprisoned” — during the frequent purges of journalists in the Soviet Union. “I’m sorry to all of those whom I could not protect,” she said, according to a video of the meeting leaked online. “It’s truly painful for me that this history has to end with me.”
And even though she was no stranger to propaganda and no friend to freedom of the press, Mironyuk’s ouster horrified the dwindling ranks of Russia’s independent journalists. On Monday, they rushed to defend her for at least avoiding dogmatism, if not fighting censorship. Under Kiselyov, they realized, things are about to get worse.