- Russian Channel One’s coverage of Ukraine is often at odds with reports from the ground.
- Last month, a segment producer interrupted a live broadcast to call on the station to broadcast propaganda.
At the beginning of this year, if you turned on the Russian channel Channel One, you might find a Russian version of Sesame Street, Russian reality shows and Brazilian telenovelas, or even shows imported from the United States, like Boardwalk Empire.
Today, the channel airs global coverage of what broadcasters call Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, received enormous attention around the world, Channel One updates offered a flattering view of the news that is often in contradiction with reports from the field.
The Russian media covers the war relentlessly, but only in a sanitized and distorted way, in accordance with official Kremlin positions. Watching Channel One, the country’s most popular public station, is like watching another reality.
On March 25, Russian television cited the Kremlin’s official number of Russian soldiers dead as 1,351, with 3,825 injured. Around the same time, NATO estimated the Russian military death toll 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 their bravery. Most have missing limbs below the knee.
Channel One is airing a segment saying Satanists working for a private military contractor made up of former US Special Forces soldiers are operating in Ukraine and worshiping the devil. Text crawling at the bottom of the screen shows that the Russian Defense Ministry claims that tactical aircraft destroyed 83 military targets in Ukraine.
Videos on social media platforms from Twitter to Telegram show airport landing strips filled with burning Russian military vehicles. Clips of shattered tanks and helicopters on Ukrainian streets and farmers’ fields are everywhere. Ukraine’s intelligence agency is releasing what it claims are tapped phone calls from Russian forces telling relatives about the number of dead soldiers around them.
None of this is mentioned in mainstream Russian media.
A moment of reality, before a deluge of full-fledged conspiracies
The only interruption to 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 on the station to spread propaganda. Ovsyannikova held up a handwritten poster with the words “they’re lying to you here” written in Russian and managed to stay on screen for about 5 seconds, while host Ekaterina Andreeva continued to read from a teleprompter with only a slight adjustment in its delivery.
Andreeva, a fixture on Russian broadcasts since 1997 who has read news on Channel One’s evening show since Putin took control of the Kremlin in 2000, posted a live stream on her personal social media accounts a day later to defend Channel One.
“I will never agree with what this woman wrote about how we lie. We check every fact. Our correspondents are in all the hotspots, and the video material confirms everything that is going on there” , said Andreeva in a video clip published on Telegram.
The next day, Channel One repeatedly aired and covered President Vladimir Putin’s address to the nation, in which he baselessly claimed that Ukraine was committing genocide against Russians and wanted to build nuclear weapons. Putin told viewers that Ukraine had biological warfare labs bent on spreading deadly diseases, a piece of propaganda that has also circulated among far-right and QAnon conspiracy movements in the United States.
Between the constant broadcast of special military operations news and Putin’s scathing speeches, Channel One aired a show called “Bol’shaya Igra” – “The Great Game”. A Russian lawmaker hosts the show, with up to half a dozen panelists standing 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 clap a hand on the table for emphasis. They denounce traitors, prepare threats, and claim that the United States and Ukraine are training migratory birds to infect Russians with biological weapons that will cause victims to lose their Slavic identity and develop an aversion to traditional dishes.
This is what Russian state television broadcasts 24 hours a day, every day, and it shows no signs of stopping.