Spiegel Online: Your network sees itself as a counterweight to the major US broadcasters. How did you manage to poach CNN legend Larry King, 79, of all people?
Simonyan: You’d have to ask him that question, but I do know that he is happy to get back into the game.
Spiegel Online: What can Russia Today offer King that others can’t?
Simonyan: I can quote him from an interview he gave recently: “I thought I could retire, but I love my job. I thought I wouldn’t miss it, but I do.”
Spiegel Online: Your network is funded by the Russian government. What is its mission statement?
Simonyan: If you tune in to CNN or the BBC on a regular day, 80 or 90 percent of the stories are identical. We want to show that there are more stories out there than the 10-a-day that you usually encounter. I’m not saying that you should watch only our program; I’m saying that you should also watch it.
Spiegel Online: The Russian media have a slightly more dramatic take on your objectives. Many are comparing the network to the Ministry of Defense. You said it yourself, when Russia goes to war….
Simonyan: …then we will join them in battle, yes. That goes for the country’s real, armed conflicts. Do you remember the August war of 2008? Back then, most Western media outlets acted as if they were Georgia’s ministry of defense.
Spiegel Online: In 2008, Russian troops invaded Georgian territory after President Mikheil Saakashvili gave the order to attack South Ossetia, a separatist republic with close ties to Russia.
Simonyan: All of the Western broadcasters gave only the Georgian side of the story. Saakashvili was featured on all the networks; his statements were broadcast on all the programs. According to the reports, Russia started the war when the country’s troops bombed a busy market in the provincial town of Gori. We immediately sent our correspondents out there, who found no trace of either shootings or bombings.
Western broadcasters focused their entire coverage on the suffering of Georgian civilians. There was no mention of South Ossetians, meanwhile, who were suffering nightly artillery attacks at the hands of Saakashvili. It was pro-Georgian propaganda, pure and simple.
Spiegel Online: It wasn’t that one-sided. SPIEGEL, for one, reported at an early stage that it was Saakashvili who had fired the first shot. A European Union committee came to the same conclusion.
Simonyan: Sure, afterwards! But how many people actually ended up reading the EU report? The majority of people to this day believe that Russia started the war totally unprovoked. The evil Russia pounces on poor little Georgia.
Spiegel Online: It is not uncommon to see Russia in the role of the aggressor.
Simonyan: Objection! Russia hadn’t started a war with another country in 20 years. How many armed conflicts has America engaged in in the same period of time? How many wars has Europe taken part in?
Spiegel Online: How do you explain Russia’s negative image?
Simonyan: The West never got over the Cold War stereotype. One thing that only few journalists understand is that Russia started dissolving the Soviet Union of its own accord. We were the ones to realize that Communism was a failure. We understood that it was wrong to impose our will on other nations. We released the Eastern bloc into freedom. We are a different country today, one with a different mentality – which is something that Western journalists sometimes find difficult to comprehend.