The most popular TV channel in the Kremlin and the war in Ukraine
- The coverage of Ukraine by Russian Channel One is often at odds with ground-based reporting.
- Last month, a segment producer interrupted a live broadcast to call the station to air propaganda.
Earlier this year, if you activated Russian Channel One, you may find a Russian-language version of Sesame Street, Russian reality shows and Brazilian soap operas, or even programs imported from the United States, such as Boardwalk Empire.
Now, the channel broadcasts global coverage of what broadcasters call Russia’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine.
While the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, has attracted tremendous attention around the world, Channel One’s updates have offered a flattering view of the news that often runs counter to the news from the ground.
The Russian media relentlessly cover the war, but only in sterilized and distorted ways that adhere to the official positions of the Kremlin. Watching Channel One, the most popular state station in the country, is like watching an alternate reality.
On March 25, Russian TV cited the Kremlin’s official number of dead Russian soldiers at 1,351, with 3,825 wounded. Around the same time, NATO estimated the number of Russian military deaths in Ukraine to be between 7,000 and 15,000.
Instead of coffins and funerals, Channel One shows a line of eight soldiers in hospital robes in Moscow receiving medals for bravery. Most are missing limbs below the knee.
Channel One broadcasts a segment saying that Satanists working for a private military contractor made up of former US Special Forces soldiers operate in Ukraine and worship the devil. The scrolling text at the bottom of the screen shows that the Russian Defense Ministry claims that the tactical aircraft destroyed 83 military targets in Ukraine.
Videos on social media platforms from Twitter to Telegram show the airport runways filled with burning Russian military vehicles. Clips of ripped-up tanks and helicopters in the streets and fields of Ukrainian farmers are everywhere. The Ukrainian intelligence agency publishes what it claims are wiretapped phone calls from Russian forces telling relatives about the number of soldiers dying around them.
None of this is mentioned in the main Russian media.
A moment of reality, before a flood of full-blown conspiracies
The only break in Channel One’s carefully planned programming was when state television editor and segment producer Maria Ovsyannikova cut a live broadcast in mid-March to denounce the war and call the station to air the 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 about 5 seconds, while host Ekaterina Andreeva continued reading from a teleprompter with only a slight adjustment in the its delivery.
Andreeva, a Russian broadcast fixture since 1997 who has read the news on Channel One’s evening broadcast since Putin took control of the Kremlin in 2000, posted a live stream on his personal social media accounts the next day defending Channel. One.
“I will never agree with what that woman wrote about how we are lying. We check every fact. Our correspondents are in all hot spots and the video material confirms everything that is happening,” Andreeva said in a video. clip published on Telegramma.
The next day, Channel One broadcast and repeatedly covered President Vladimir Putin’s speech to the nation in which he groundlessly claimed that Ukraine was committing genocide against the Russians and wanted to build nuclear weapons. Putin told viewers that Ukraine has biological warfare laboratories intent on spreading deadly diseases, a piece of propaganda that has also circulated among far-right conspiratorial movements and QAnon in the United States.
Amidst the constant broadcast of news about special military operations and Putin’s violent addresses, Channel One spoke on a television program called “Bol’shaya Igra” – “The Big Game”. A Russian lawmaker hosts the show, along with half a dozen speakers standing around a video map showing the invasion of Ukraine.
Each speaker offers their own experience and analysis, often with increasingly loud and angry voices. Sometimes they clap a hand on the table for emphasis. They denounce the traitors, issue threats and claim that the US and Ukraine are training migratory birds to infect the Russians with biological weapons that will cause victims to lose their Slavic identity and dislike traditional dishes.
This is what Russian state television broadcasts 24 hours a day, every day, and shows no sign of interruption.