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. This is the case with Abby's commentary on the Ukraine. —Russia Today statement
WASHINGTON — An anchorwoman on a Kremlin-funded TV network said Wednesday that she is standing by her criticism of Russia's military incursion in Ukraine because she would rather risk her job and "go down on the right side of history."
Abby Martin, a Washington-based newswoman for Russia Today, said the network, which is supported by Russian public grants, has decided not to fire her for expressing her views in an on-air postscript to her show. Martin said she would continue to speak out against Russia for sending in troops to take control of much of the Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea where Russian speakers are in the majority.
"I think that, honestly, it would look really bad if I got fired," Martin told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I think they probably just weighed their options and just knew that keeping me on would be best. It's good. It's good to show that we have dissent. It would be really, really bad if they fired me and I really hope that they don't do that."
During the Monday broadcast of her show, called "Breaking the Set," Martin said she wanted to express something from her heart before she wrapped up the program. She blamed Russia for creating what she described as a "terrible situation" and pledged to keep "telling the truth as I see it" if it would prevent another Cold War.
"I can't stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation's affairs," she told her viewers.
"What Russia did is wrong," Martin said. "I will not sit here and apologize or defend military aggression."
She said her activist background has prompted her to engage in what she calls "adversarial journalism." Martin said she was compelled to express her opinion on Crimea, especially since she has often spoken out against military aggression. She once protested with the 9/11 Truth movement, which alleges that U.S. government officials might have been complicit in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — a theory to which Martin says she no longer subscribes.
The Russia Today website describes "Breaking the Set" as a show that "cuts through the pre-written narrative that tries to tell you what to think, and what to care about."
In response to Martin's criticism, RT issued a statement to several media outlets that stated: "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. This is the case with Abby's commentary on the Ukraine. We respect her views, and the views of all our journalists, presenters and program hosts, and there will be absolutely no reprimands made against Ms. Martin."
She said the network offered to send her to Crimea to report on the crisis, but that she declined because she feared her reporting would be vetted by the network. Martin said she told the network if it allowed her to make her own contacts in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, she would consider going later.
"As long as Russian troops are occupying Crimea, I'm going to keep speaking out against it," she said, adding that if the situation in Crimea is not resolved quickly she might have to reconsider working for the network.
Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, said that since the beginning of opposition demonstrations in Ukraine, media who have covered the events in a way that favors the protesters have been stifled or ousted.
"Just before thousands of international journalists descended on Russia to cover the Sochi Olympics, the state dismantled the 72-year-old news agency RIA Novosti, which had kept a moderate tone under its now-former management. It installed propaganda-spewing TV host Dmitry Kiselyov as the agency's new head, and renamed it Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today)," Ognianova said. "Bottom line: Russian authorities are unabashedly moving against even the remnants of independent media in the country in order to control the message inside the country."
Martin said she wasn't deterred by accounts of Russian government repression of journalists.
"It's definitely not something to be taken lightly, and it's definitely a lot of risk, but at the end of the day, I'd rather go down on the right side of history," she said.