Russia Today Director General – on sanctions, western values and true liberals
Russia Today Director General, author as well as anchor of “News of the Week” became the only journalist in the world sanctioned under political motives. The European Union included the famous TV presenter in the list of Russians, who are prohibited from entering the EU as well as owning any real estate or bank accounts. One of the leading organizations defending the rights of journalists – World Press Freedom Committee – expressed its support for Dmitry Kiselev, affected by EU sanctions. However, according to Kiselev himself, sanctions against him are not just a limit on freedom of speech for one journalist – but for international journalism as a whole. In contemporary history, as head of Russia Today clarifies, it is now Russia standing up for democratic principles and freedom of speech.
Q: You are the only sanctioned journalist. In a way, you are like Yury Gagarin of modern journalism. Did you see this coming?
DK: This affects all journalists. This is the very first time, on my memory, that a journalist has been sanctioned on an international scale. I’m just journalist X. And it was Europe who initiated the sanctions, which demonstrates that EU politicians openly neglect the value of freedom of speech. This is a highly unpleasant and dangerous precedent – betrayal of European values, in fact. If the precedent is legalized, and the journalistic community – be it European, American, or that of any other country – does not react, does not give its assessment, then we can conclude that journalists believe this to be justified. And that is a fundamental, civilizational shift – we don’t need freedom of speech, and it is no longer a value. More than that – this EU stance isn’t just propped up by European bureaucracy, but by the decision of The Storting in Norway.
Q: Even Norway, which you relate to, considering you studied Scandinavian philology, supported the sanctions…
DK: I did, in Leningrad State University. I broadcast in Norwegian on Moscow radio for 10 years. The person, who is a 100% friend of Norway, is affected by Norway sanctions, which aim to limit freedom of speech. Swell! I don’t believe it has been properly processed mentally yet, but that we are dealing with a civilizational shift remains a fact. I am accused of being a propagandist. But the word ‘propaganda’, when translated from Greek – is a distribution of information, ideas, thoughts, world outlook angles. It’s interesting how the West uses the word as an insult… Propaganda isn’t a certified category. Freedom of speech is – in international law as well as in constitutions of all countries. Factually, this is a formalized, state approved, inter-state, above national, bureaucratic sanction, which has legal (meaning it is fixed in legislation), but not lawful character. It is directed against freedom of speech.
Q: The wording the EU uses is strange. As a citizen of Russia, you are prohibited from entering, but as a journalist you can visit EU countries…
DK: I don’t know whether that is actually the case. It wasn’t explicitly announced anywhere. If I am allowed to enter Europe in professional capacity, it means Europe is backtracking. Perhaps they understood that the sanctions limit journalistic professional activity, which is ferocious. Europe might have sensed it is stuck in an uncomfortable position, a provocative posture, that it will need to explain itself and motivate its decision. But if we allow that in professional capacity I can still go there – while they accuse me of professional propaganda – then Europe puts itself in a laughable paradox: I am allowed to propagandize in professional capacity – come to propagandize, but do not come on vacation. Is this not schizophrenia?
Q: If logical reasoning is visible broken here, then what do you think is the point of these sanctions?
DK: I don’t understand the point. It’s laughable, absurd. Sanctions do not affect me as a person. Their goal is to force me to change my behavior. Arresting my real estate, my bank accounts – I don’t have any of this in the West. These aren’t sanctions against my freedom of speech only, but against freedom of speech as a whole. I am just a symbol, a case-in-point.
Q: Sanctioning has become sort of a trend these days, and it’s always initiated by either the US or the EU. You are the only journalist who was chosen thus far. Are you queasy?
DK: I just think it’s strange. They accuse me of being the propagandist in chief. Which is either lunacy, or distorted perception of reality.
Q: If US and EU do not understand the reality, but include leading statesmen on their lists, perhaps these names, yours included, have been suggested to them?
DK: I even know who made the suggestions. Sergei Parkhomenko and Aleksei Navalny made those lists. They aren’t even hiding it. But if Europe is going to lean on the opinion of people supported in Russia by a disappearing minority, then of course it will be difficult for them to make sober grounded decisions in this world, especially where Russia is concerned. There is a multitude of issues in the world, which, without Russia’s input, are difficult to resolve – including matters of war and peace in different regions. This behavior of the West borders on schizophrenia. We are back to schizophrenia once more. Schizophrenia – is a disintegration of consciousness, life in parallel worlds propped up by secondary characteristics, secondary factors. When we choose to lean on something that is insignificant, but try to make it significant, when we act based on the opinion of insignificant people, cultivating it, even trying to make it hypertrophic – we enter the kingdom of distorted mirrors. I believe that great powers, which make up the backbone of the EU, simply can’t afford it, because greatness presupposes a corresponding level of responsibility. Otherwise they find themselves in stupid situations, eventually harming their own citizens. After all, what becomes of freedom of speech inside Europe itself after it sanctions a journalist? Are they going to legalize taboo topics or bans on journalism? If you support this stance in regards to a foreign journalist, then why don’t you apply the standard the decision is based on inside the EU itself?
Q: Working for state media, a journalist is automatically labeled a “propagandist”. Your program has high ratings, hardly anyone is indifferent to it. Are you the propagandist in chief?
DK: Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed me as head of the new international information agency Russia Today by his decree from December 9th. Myself and our news agency were caught by sanctions during reorganization stage, when Russia Today had not yet shown itself in the world from the point of view of “propaganda”. At that time we had not yet released a single new brand, and our main product – news stream in English, French and Spanish languages – appeared on April 1st, way after sanctions were imposed. But let’s look at it this way – maybe sanctions are a preventative measure? To prevent me from propagandizing? But all western news agencies literally impose their viewpoint. For example Reuters or AP. They are truly propagandists – they form the dominant agenda, tell you what to think about and in which order. They interpret history, today’s events, the future; they establish a system of values, world outlook, political prerogatives.
Q: Your agency, most likely, will also have its dominant agenda?
DK: Of course, but we haven’t had the time to do it yet. This is what all agencies do – each of them has a leader, who pursues legal professional objectives. Should we sanction them too? They propagandize as well… In the modern world information, its selection, analysis, interpretation, the way it’s processed – starting with social media and all the way to films – all of this facilitates a system of values, notions of good and evil, production – if you will – of certain attitudes towards events. In this case we conclude that EU countries are allowed to have such agencies, but Moscow isn’t allowed to under any circumstances. Without a doubt, Russia wants to be a competitor in the field of international information because information wars became normal practice of today’s life, as well as key method of conducting wars. Bombs follow when one side wins an information war. For example in Syria Americans lost the information war, and failed in general. In Crimea they lost the information war, and failed as well. You used to prepare artillery before an attack – now it’s information.
Q: So it doesn’t seem like you were sanctioned over the news agency that is still in the works?
DK: I am positive that the annoying factor here is “News of the Week” – it’s a famous information product, a weekly analytical program with an author’s perspective. It’s popular, it’s famous, it’s loved. That’s confirmed by public opinion polls based on last season. We come in 1st under a lot of criteria. “News of the Week” has become influential in Russia and we, I’m not afraid to say so, propagandize healthy values, healthy patriotism. I am confident I was sanctioned because of “News of the Week”.
Q: There are similar analytical programs in other countries as well. But their authors aren’t sanctioned. Perhaps this had to do with a particular phrase?
DK: Every anchor, who carries weight – as a rule these are older people like me (I’m turning 60 soon), with experience and strong background, long history in journalism, like me. Professionals of such stature are well within their right to have an opinion and express it, and they do just that. The society listens to them, because people have had a chance to observe such a person for many years, see how they evolved, form a clear opinion about them. Finally, people trust them. And it’s worth mentioning that in every such case the trust is measurable, through public opinion polls. The higher the level of trust – the more opportunities the anchor has, but also the more responsibility is on his shoulders. In any case, people like this – who in great world powers present programs of this type – there is only a few dozen of them. They are rare. All of them, with various degree of success, do the same thing – present information and interpret it. Doing this they always formulate national interest. So what – some are allowed to, and others aren’t? Is that the message the EU wants to send?
Q: Insiders are allowed, but not outsiders, it seems. Could it have been their adverse reaction to what you said about gay people – “burn or bury the hearts” of gay people, who die in automobile accidents?
DK: This is betrayal of freedom of speech. As far as gay people go, I have a clear stance here. Gay culture can absolutely exist in Russia, and de-facto it does. But this is the culture of a minority, and it will remain such. Because the culture of a minority must not be imposed on the majority, especially forced upon them through propaganda. I don’t think that homosexuality is a disease. I don’t even think that it is outside of physiological norm; but I am convinced it is outside of social norm. Every country has a right to its own social norm. Our social norm is family. The Russian state is obligated to support its social norm because for us it is of existential importance. Family means the birth of children. And we have a demographic crisis. Spreading gay culture in Russia equals self-liquidation. This is what we are being offered. But we are within our right to disagree, are we not?
Q: You believe this is being imposed on us?
DK: Yes, they try to impose things that are alien to us. There are plenty of examples. My phrase about burning the hearts of gays is used as a hostile meme. Evil minded opponents can continue to do so. I do not go back on my word, and will explain myself again and again. You also have to understand the context. It was a conscious provocation. It was a controlled fuse, said on purpose to ignite the polemics – when conflicting opinions are a foundation from the perspective of dramaturgy. At that time there was a debate around introducing fines for propaganda of homosexuality among teenagers, which in fact is defilement. You have to understand that gay people do not reproduce, they recruit. Gay parades are an invitation campaign. Everyone is wearing bright feathers and laughing, see, how great we’ve got it. The realities of gay community are completely different. Research shows that their average life expectancy is lower. Statistically, there is more violence in their relationships. They have to reach out for psychological help more often. They commit suicide more often. Gay community is a recognized risk zone for AIDS and hepatitis. Therefore, because our modern science can not guarantee 100% that AIDS inflamer is absent from blood or donor organ, US, Canada and EU prohibit gay people to be donors. In the US, for instance, this has been the case since 1977. In some places, there is a quarantine, counted from the last homosexual encounter. You can study the details of the motivation on the official website of FDA even. It’s the American equivalent of Роспотребнадзор.
Having said that, Dmitry pulled out Freud’s Theory of Sexuality. He opens the bookmarked page and points to the line “Final decision, pertaining to the choice of sexual behavior, comes only after puberty.”
This is the phrase, which lies in the foundation of the ban on propaganda of homosexuality among those who are underage. Their self-identification isn’t solid yet. I do not deny that for some homosexuality is predetermined. The goal is to shield those for whom it’s not.
Q: Do you think we should introduce a ban on donor organs from sexual minorities in Russia?
DK: In Russia there is no such ban. What stops us from following the example of the United States? The bodies of gay people, say in case of an automobile accident, are either cremated or buried, at the same time burning or burying rather viable healthy hearts. Those organs aren’t considered to be material that could prolong somebody else’s life. Yes, in some other countries you have time frames, counted from the latest homosexual encounter. But homosexuals are known to have up to 1,500 partners during their lifetime, 500 is the standard that doesn’t surprise anyone. This is the data cited by credible American and Western European sources. This is a whole other life style, a different rhythm. So de-facto, gay people can’t be donors. In Russia, the state assumes responsibility of the risks of contracting AIDS during a blood transfusion or an organ transplant. The risk is similar to that of dying in a plane crash. I don’t think it’s right. It’s better to follow the example of countries that have already studied the issue at greater detail than we have. And in those countries the hearts of homosexuals are turned into ashes, as they can’t serve the purpose of prolonging the lives of others. That’s what I support. Not cutting out and burning the hearts of living people, as everyone portrays it.
Q: Do you have friends who are gay? What sort of relationships are those?
DK: I have colleagues too. As a rule they are calm, quiet people who prefer remaining in the shadows. They don’t let their sexuality stick out. I’ve never encountered hostility from someone who was gay. And I’m not homophobic. The West simply doesn’t like Russia on the ascending trajectory. That’s the heart of the matter. We are the ascending trend, even if the economy at the moment isn’t as persuasive as we’d like it to be. But economy is cyclic. And another high always comes after a low. But if there is a TV program, which supports the ascending trend of Russia, which helps it recover from the trauma of the 20th century, its author is sanctioned by the West. And on top of that they say Kiselev is homophobic, anti-Semitic, claims America should be burned and so on. Not that sophisticated all this noise.
Q: So, in your opinion, who is drawing the iron curtain at the moment? Which side?
DK: We’ve exchanged missions. Russia stands for freedom of speech, the West no longer does. This is a tectonic shift, civilizational. In Russia, you can say anything you like, there are various TV channels, Internet isn’t blocked, there are all sorts of radio stations and newspapers. There isn’t a single work of literature that’s banned. They’ll print anything. You are limited only by what the Constitution explicitly prohibits. In light of all this, the scope of information that’s available to a Russian person is vast – limitless from up till down. Some people even turned the word “patriotism” into an insult. Ksenia Larina, from Ekho Moskvi, for instance, says that patriotism makes her “vomit up worms and cherry pits”. And nobody prevents her from saying that. Of course, Ksenia, keep at it. EU, sanctioning this person and rewarding that person – giving the European Parliament floor to Tolokonnikova and Alekhina [Pussy Riot], who also call for expanding the sanctions – shows very clearly who Europe encourages and what it rejects. Sacrilege in a Russian cathedral for Tolokonnikova and Alekhina – that’s wonderful and needed, but freedom of speech personally for journalist Dmitry Kiselev, for the leading analytical program very much enjoyed by the people – that’s bad and inadmissible. Someone’s “vomiting up worms” – great; but our correspondents who are on the ground in Kiev reporting on Ukrainian fascism – that’s bad. That’s a marvelous hierarchy of values. But actually, for Russia it’s all the better. Reveals to us who is who.
Q: Russian MFA stated that it is not going to introduce any bans on Western journalists. We aren’t responding in kind.
DK: We are above that, clearly. We’ve seen this all before, when freedom of speech was violated in the USSR. During Stalin times, for example. We’ve left the iron curtain far behind. And at this moment, as strange as it may seem, the roles have changed. Russia is the protector of freedom of speech. Someone might laugh, like Ksenia Larina, but she will do so on air, and won’t be concerned about sanctions from either Russia or the EU. Because here, on air, you can use unrestricted and even abuse the freedom of speech, you can even act against the state. And for that very reason, EU sanctions don’t clobber me or someone else in Russia – they clobber European values inside Europe itself. EU is making a statement that it no longer considers freedom of speech to be a value. That’s what’s significant.
Q: Were you planning on a trip to the EU in the near future?
DK: After sanctions were announced I got a call from Japan with an invitation to come visit them. I appreciate it. But we were planning to take the kids and drive to Northern Norway from Murmansk. We already made arrangements to rent a fisherman’s hut in the most Northern Viking settlement Gesver, where there are only about 150 residents. We wanted our kids to see the sun that doesn’t set, bird markets, northern fishing and sea lions. We’ve already made the deposit as well. But now the owner, Bjern Ensen, and his wonderful family are also in an awkward position. He’s been sanctioned as well, if you will. Because his fisherman’s hut might remain empty now, as they usually ask people to book way in advance, up to year even. Perhaps someone will visit, but it’s additional trouble for him regardless. This whole story, in my view, is absurd. It’s a pity Norway won’t show itself to my kids. But Japan will.
Q: US hasn’t sanctioned you, by the way. What does that mean?
DK: No, US hasn’t. They just nudged the Europeans to do it, putting them in an awkward position. That lines up well with the US steps towards the destruction of Europe. The same sort of industrial spying, much like eavesdropping on Angela Merkel… Europe is a competitor for the States. Nobody’s hiding that.
Q: What do you think journalism is – is it propaganda or not? Some people claim journalism as such is dead.
DK: Journalism is more than just a profession. It’s a whole environment within the society. Environment where information, ideas, values, notions of good and evil circulate, and it can not die. Especially professional journalism. Don’t confuse a blogger who, without getting up off of their chairs, clicks something on the keyboard, with a professional journalist. A professional journalist always acts within the frames of ethical standards, he doesn’t lie, he checks his facts. Mistakes? Mistakes do happen. What’s important is how you act when they do. For example, in my “News of the Week” which was aired on December 8th, I myself confused Ukrainian Presidential Administration building with the Ukrainian Government building. Which made it look as though the first violence by the radical groups, with broken helmets and blood, was committed when the Administration was being stormed. In fact, it happened on November 26, when the Government was being stormed. Now, in hindsight, we understand it was the “Right Sector” (they showed the trophy – a broken Berkut helmet). Next time we were on air, on December 15th, I apologized for the confusion, without anyone’s prompt; reestablished the exact flow of events once more and clarified that the logic, according to which the very first violence in Kiev was not committed by Berkut [Ukraine riot police], remains. So the point is, everyone makes mistakes. Take Barak Obama – last week during the US-EU summit in Brussels he stated that Kosovo broke away from Serbia after a referendum. In reality, there was never a referendum on independence in Kosovo. I haven’t heard him apologize… That goes toward what you do when mistakes happen – you either acknowledge them or you don’t. That’s why people tend to trust professional editorial offices and media. Their role will continue to grow. After all the trauma we’ve been through in the 20th century – repressions, collapse of the state, wars, terror that we lived through – the destruction of the church, extermination of our nation – there is a certain atmosphere of distrust, absence of values. They have to be born again. This value vacuum is known as anomy. For a human being this type of condition is considered to be a suicide precursor. Russians are suffering from societal anomy, and we have only just begun to crawl out of it. And the world basically tells us: don’t!
Q: Judging by your words, there is anomy in Ukraine now too?
DK: Absolutely. This vacuum can also be filled with something poisonous. The mission of the journalist is to facilitate the birth of healthy values. It can be done by the church as well, family, education, but there is huge responsibility on journalists as well. A professional editorial office always has a purpose. State media must create, not destroy. That’s the reason professional journalism is in demand – and I mean decent journalism, creative, thoughtful, where explosive impulses directed at the State aren’t a sport.
Q: So, according to you then, Rain TV isn’t professional journalism?
DK: That’s self-evident. And they don’t seem to position themselves as such. What journalism? What are you talking about? That’s not even the hospital. That’s playing the hospital. Their activity is all about trends, about destroying hierarchy of values. I do not think Rain TV should be shut down. Various people should have the opportunity to find their niche. They have their rights. But we aren’t losing our audience to them either. 88% of the population gets their news from central channels, which are associated with the state as a rule. For instance, Izvestia, it’s not a state newspaper, but people associate it with the state because in their mind it corresponds to normal values, which support the state and generate more trust. We aren’t losing. If we were losing, we wouldn’t have a state. We wouldn’t have a social environment. We’d have what took place in Ukraine. That’s why we can not lose, and we compete honestly.
Q: Have you worked out the strategy for Russia Today yet? The Kremlin, didn’t they partner with an American PR firm Ketchum? How appropriate would you say it is – to have foreign professionals in charge of Russian propaganda?
DK: I don’t know whether that contract is still in force. Let’s assume it is. First, I can’t judge how effective it is, but let’s assume it is very effective. We live in a global world, and Russia should not isolate itself. We aren’t in favor of autarchy, are we? There is quite a good number of foreign journalists working for Russian news channels. They understand that this dominance of Anglo-Saxon viewpoint in the information arena is destructive towards their countries as well. You are going to deal with openly totalitarian states if there isn’t a counterweight like Russia, representing an alternative viewpoint. I have colleagues who have been with BBC for 25 years and they are asking to come work for us now. They just can’t take any more of anti-Russian lunacy, the hate, the censorship. My friends from Paris tell me that in France there is a whole stop-list of people who aren’t to be featured on TV, and they are people who used to be on-screen in the past, they used to dominate French culture.
Q: Can you feature them?
DK: Absolutely. And there you have it – western journalists openly admit they are being censored. So it’s quite normal that people want to work with Russia – they see it as an alternative, as a balancing counterweight, not just nuclear – informational too. That’s their way of standing up for their freedom. Meanwhile, total self-reliance, inwardness – that’s not effective. And this isn’t what Russia is pursuing. We are an open country. Russia, for example, openly states that we are ready to cancel EU visas tomorrow. But EU isn’t ready. The roles have changed. In the USSR you used to apply for a visa to exit the country – that way USSR cut itself off, and now we know we live in the most wonderful country in the world.
Q: And everyone else is envious?
DK: Something like that! Of course we have wounds, problems, we aren’t hiding them – we expose them. But even in these conditions, even when the economy is sluggish, we are still the ascending trend.
Q: For your agency, are you going to hire only a certain kind of people, or anyone who’s willing can work for you?
DK: Willing-unwilling have already resigned on their own. I make it very clear that if someone is going to pursue explosive impulses – that isn’t part of my plan.
Q: Rumor has it that previous editor of RIA Novosti, Svetlana Mironiuk, suffered for being too liberal.
DK: Let’s not discuss Svetlana, let’s discuss our liberalism. You see, there is liberalism, and then there is explosive activity. Western liberals do not act against their state, country, people. But if I read in a newspaper, say, The Moscow News, a headline that goes: “They Did Not Know What They Went to War For” And that is about soldiers of the first Chechen war. I call this explosive activity. Even if the soldier said that he doesn’t know what he had gone to war for – it’s evidence that he is psychologically traumatized, what’s known as PTSD. It’s evidence that our society, including this very newspaper in fact, has abandoned him. Instead of helping him find meaning, it’s robbing him of what little he’s got left. You could’ve titled it: “Heroes are Facing Challenges”, and clarify in the article that the soldier said he doesn’t know what he’d gone to war for. I do not advocate brushing these sorts of things under the carpet, on the contrary, I am simply against clawing them bloody, speculating and devaluating a soldier’s very real heroic act. Which he acted out on the battlefield; not on the Internet where everyone is so brave. Soldiers like this need our support. You need to explain that this is common, that this is post traumatic, that the soldier needs professional psychological help, that people close to him need to pay more attention, and ultimately, that we need to think of ways to help them.
Q: So you don’t think Ksenia Larina is a liberal then?
DK: She does not tolerate any point of view but her own, mine especially. I tolerate her viewpoint, I don’t sanction her. They – people like Parkhomenko, Navalny – they are intolerant, they make lists. What kind of liberal is that? These are absolutely totalitarian creatures. Entirely. I am a liberal, because I tolerate them. I say, okay, let’s listen to them, let’s take a look. Don’t shut anyone or anything down. But turning reality upside down – no. Not especially at the expense of the state.
Q: In 2003 you founded a jazz festival “Jazz Koktebel”, is it going to continue its existence?
DK: Yes, this year it’s going to be our 12th.
Q: As far as I know your partners are Ukrainians? What is the atmosphere like right now around this event?
DK: Our Ministry of Culture has already pledged its support. The organizers in Kiev are in a difficult spot, because Verkhovnaya Rada passed a law, in its first hearing, according to which a trip to Crimea is a crime, punishable by 3 to 5 years of prison. Even more if the trip is arranged in advance and involves a group of people. Any sort of activity in Crimea, even if you do it from your chair in Kiev, is also to be punishable by law. But this is the first reading of the law, I don’t know whether they will pass it in the second hearing as well, but if they do, my friends won’t be able to participate. I was the organizer during the first 3 years – when I used to live in Kiev, then I passed it on, preserving the title of founder. This festival has since become the largest one of its kind in post-Soviet space. We’ve had visitors from all over – Japan, Canada, Hungary, Norway. There was a singer from our Tuva – he sings with this traditional deep throat voice, he is popular among jazzmen. We asked him once what he thinks about when he sings like that. He said he thinks of his father burning inside his tank… During WWII.
Q: It’s difficult to watch what’s unfolding right now in Kiev. We fought against fascism together – Russians and Ukrainians…
DK: We won. We are proud. People who deprive themselves of their history end up living with nothing but negativity. They become a nation of losers. Golodomor is the only thing they remember, that they were occupied.
Q: A lot of people say: “We are fighting for freedom”, but shouldn’t a human being defend, first and foremost, his family and his soil?
DK: No doubt. Precisely why, when you ask us to reject traditional family by enforcing acceptance of non-traditional values, it equals destruction of our country.
The interview was first published by Izvestia on April 4th, 2014. The original in Russian can be found here. Translation is mine.
Featured image borrowed from http://www.inforos.ru