Russian soft power for a globalized media ecology: Cross-front populism on the RT (Russia Today) network

Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody, The University of Manchester (European workshops on International Studies, Groningen, 6-9 June, 2018).

Since 2005, Russia’s state-funded international broadcaster RT (Formerly Russia Today) has represented Russia, and Russian perspectives on global politics, for international audiences. It has been extensively sanctioned for misleading coverage, but has also received awards for investigative journalism and pedagogical projects. RT’s outputs are designed to appeal to audiences across the political spectrum, by foregrounding populist tenets with cross-front appeal. This paper explores how RT TV packages its outputs in order to appeal to disparate sections of international audiences united in their skepticism towards the contemporary system of political economic organization. It conceptualizes RT as a consensus-building tool aimed at bolstering structural critiques of the international political-economic system. Through an in-depth analysis of the network’s output, this paper examines how populist tropes recur within RT’s coverage: repeated through carefully curated topics of focus; restricted modes of representation; and the foregrounding of favoured themes. The output of RT therefore consistently redefines the global political economy in ways appealing to those marginalized by current systems of political and economic organization, regardless of their political orientation or nationality. In promoting this cross front populism, RT’s content exploits existing predispositions to anti-Americanism; sympathy for Russia; and scepticism of the mainstream media.