News and Analysis

Russia’s RT America To Cease Production, Lays Off Staff
Vladimir Putin, President of Russia looks on during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on February 04, 2022 in Beijing, China.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Facing mounting financial pressures, Russia’s English-language TV network RT America will cease production and permanently lay off most of its staff, multiple media outlets reported on Thursday afternoon.

RT — which is owned by the Moscow-based TV Novosti and operated by T&R Productions — informed its employees via memo today: “As a result of unforeseen business interruption events, T&R Productions LLC will be ceasing production and, therefore, must lay off most of its staff who work at all its locations.”

“Unfortunately, we anticipate this layoff will be permanent, meaning that this will result in the permanent separation from employment of most T&R employees at all locations,” wrote T&R Productions’ general manager Mikhail “Misha” Solodovnikov.

The network offered affected employees two months’ severance pay, according to an employee who attended Thursday afternoon’s all-staff meeting.

The move came after one of the network’s two largest distributors, DirecTV, announced it was canceling the network’s coverage on Tuesday, government officials in the European Union formally banned the network, and Big Tech firms like Apple and Google blocked access to the network’s downloadable app. The state-funded network, which has long been accused of broadcasting Russian propaganda, had also been abandoned by many of its personalities and journalists since the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine.

DirecTV had considered dropping RT America, which is registered with the U.S. government as a foreign agent, before this month’s conflict in eastern Europe. “In line with our previous agreement with RT America, we are accelerating this year’s contract expiration timeline and will no longer offer their programming effective immediately,” the network announced in a statement, adding that its “thoughts are with the people of Ukraine.” Four of Canada’s major cable providers banished RT from their airwaves over the weekend.

On Tuesday, the European Union formally enacted a sanction prohibiting “operators to broadcast or to enable, facilitate or otherwise contribute to broadcast” for RT’s English, U.K., Germany, France, and Spain outlets, as well as another Russian service, Sputnik News.

“The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, and their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war,” proclaimed Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday. In 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin similarly signed a law fining outlets that repeatedly post “fake news” up to 1.5 million rubles.

Facebook’s Meta Platforms and China’s TikTok had announced on Monday that they would block those sites inside the EU. Apple, Microsoft, and Google acted in concert to remove the Russian media companies’ apps from their mobile stores. RokuTV also took the network, formerly known as Russia Today, off its streaming platform in Europe.

The U.S. response followed the encouragement of the National Association of Broadcasters. NAB said on Tuesday that, while it is “a fierce defender of the First Amendment and the critical importance of the ability to freely express views, both popular and unpopular,” it was asking broadcasters “to cease carrying any state-sponsored programming with ties to the Russian government or its agents” as proof of their “sound, moral judgment.” The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences — which awards the International Emmys — also removed Solodovnikov from its board of directors on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, RT America’s main production partner, OraTV (which was founded by the late CNN host Larry King and Carlos Slim), announced, “Given the invasion of Ukraine and the tragic humanitarian crisis, Ora Media has paused production of content we license to T&R Productions. Future business decisions will be made based on the evolving situation.” In addition to King’s last TV show, OraTV produced such RT America programs as William Shatner’s “I Don’t Understand,” and “Dennis Miller + One.”

Shatner and former Newsmax TV personality Steve Malzberg, who hosted RT’s “Eat the Press,” posted pro-Ukrainian messages on social media in the days before the network announcement. Malzberg called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “a hero.”

Multiple journalists and producers quit the network earlier on Thursday. Sources inside the network revealed that although most employees expected staff reductions, they did not foresee the network’s complete closure and wrestled with whether they, too, would resign.

“In an all-hands meeting Thursday (3/3) at noon, management spared remaining RT-ers the dilemma. We’ve been canceled, by cable/satellite/online distribution platforms,” wrote Holland Cooke, who replaced left-wing talker Thom Hartmann as host of the network’s “The Big Picture.”

Many corporate and left-of-center outlets believe banning “disinformation” warrants private, or potentially government, action in the U.S. “We believe that our nation must stand fully united against misinformation and for freedom and democracy across the globe,” NAB said.

Mother Jones raised the specter of censoring conservative networks, including top-rated Fox News, for allegedly being too pro-Russian. If President Joe Biden decides to “crack down on pro-Russia disinformation,” then “U.S. cable companies will also need to scrutinize media outlets like FOX News whose shows — Tucker Carlson in particular — have parroted pro-Russia talking points,” the left-wing magazine stated on February 27.

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