Kremlin’s Most Popular TV Channel and the Ukraine War

  • Coverage of Ukraine from Russia’s Channel One is often at odds with reporting from the ground.
  • Last month, a segment producer interrupted a live broadcast to call out the station for airing propaganda.

Back at the start of this year, if you turned on Russia’s Channel One, you might find a Russian-language version of Sesame Street, Russian reality shows and Brazilian telenovelas, or even shows imported from the US, like Boardwalk Empire.

Now, the channel broadcasts blanket coverage of what broadcasters call Russia’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine.

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began Feb 24, has garnered huge attention across the globe, Channel One’s updates have offered a flattering take on the news that’s often at odds with reporting from the ground.

Russian media slowly covers the war, but only in sanitized and distorted ways that adhere to the Kremlin’s official positions. Watching Channel One, the country’s most popular state-run station, is like looking at an alternate reality.

On March 25, Russian TV quoted the official Kremlin number of dead Russian soldiers at 1,351, with 3,825 wounded. around the same time, NATO put the number of Russian military deaths in Ukraine at between 7,000 and 15,000.

Instead of coffins and funerals, Channel One shows a row of eight soldiers in hospital gowns in Moscow receiving medals for bravery. Most are missing limbs below the knee.

Channel One airs a segment saying Satanists working for a private military contractor made up of former American special forces soldiers are operating in Ukraine and worshiping the devil. Text crawling across the bottom of the screen shows that the Russian Defense Ministry says tactical aircraft have destroyed 83 military targets in Ukraine.

Videos on social media platforms from Twitter to Telegram show airport landing strips filled with Russian military vehicles on fire. Clips of tanks and helicopters blown to smithereens in Ukrainian streets and farmers fields are everywhere. Ukraine’s intelligence agency posts what it claims are tapped phone calls of Russian forces talking to relatives about the number of soldiers dying around them.

None of this is mentioned in Russia’s mainstream media.

A moment of reality, before a flood of full blown conspiracies

The only break in Channel One’s carefully scheduled programming was when state television editor and segment producer Maria Ovsyannikova interrupted a live broadcast in mid-March to denounce the war and call out the station for airing propaganda. Ovsyannikova held up a handwritten poster with the words “they are lying to you here” written in Russian and managed to stay on screen for around 5 seconds, while host Ekaterina Andreeva continued reading from a teleprompter with only a slight adjustment in her delivery from her .

Andreeva, a fixture on Russian broadcasts since 1997 who has read the news on Channel One’s evening broadcast since Putin took control of the Kremlin in 2000, posted a livestream to her personal social media accounts a day later defending Channel One.

“I will never agree with what that woman wrote about how we are lying. We check every fact. Our correspondents are out in all the hot spots, and video material confirms everything there that is happening,” Andreeva said in a video clip posted on Telegram.

The next day, Channel One broadcast and repeatedly covered President Vladimir Putin’s speech to the nation where he baselessly claimed that Ukraine was committing genocide against Russians and wanted to build nuclear weapons. Putin told viewers that Ukraine has biowarfare labs intent on spreading deadly diseases, a piece of propaganda that has also circulated among far-right and QAnon conspiracy movements in the United States.

In between the constant broadcast of Special Military Operation news and Putin’s blistering addresses, Channel One broke to a panel show called ‘Bol’shaya Igra’ —’The Great Game’. A Russian lawmaker hosts the show, together with up to a half dozen panelists who stand around a video map showing the invasion of Ukraine.

Each panelist offers their expertise and analysis, often in increasingly loud and angry voices. Sometimes they pound a hand on the table for emphasis. They denounce traitors, whip up threats and claim that the US and Ukraine are training migratory birds to infect Russians with bioweapons that will cause victims to lose their Slavic identity and grow to dislike traditional dishes.

This is what state television in Russia is broadcasting around the clock, every day, and it doesn’t show any sign of stopping.

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