U.S. Agency Contemplates Satellite Network Competitor to Russia Today

Moscow Russia Aerial View - H 2013
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Moscow Russia Aerial View - H 2013

"Good luck," replies Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-funded network

A U.S. federal agency is considering a proposal to seek funding for a satellite network targeting Russian audiences in a bid to counter the Kremlin-funded English-language network Russia Today, which has often been accused of biased coverage and disseminating pro-Russian propaganda.

The idea of a new network was floated at a board meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) on Aug. 13. The agency is in charge of supervising government-supported international media, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

"I think this is a time to go out," said Nenad Pejic, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interim manager, at the meeting in response to participants who suggested that a move toward a network for Russian audiences should be made. "It is not only for Russia, it's [in] Russian. That would be a game changer."

Andre Mendes, BBG's director of global operations, estimated that the costs of running a satellite network of that kind in HD quality would come to $750,000 a year, not including production of content.

"The subject of a possible TV channel in Russian was a topic that came up in passing in discussion at a meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors earlier this week. ... The board discussion closed with agreement to develop a proposal to seek funding for such a project," a BBG office of public affairs representative confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter on Friday. "Board members observed that a Russian satellite TV channel is an idea worth pursuing."

"However, I want to make clear, the idea will remain a proposal until approved by the administration and funded by the Congress," stated the BBG representative in an email.

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russia Today, was concise in commenting on the proposed idea. "Good luck [to them]," she told THR.

In the Aug. 13 meeting, BBG chairman (and chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment) Jeff Shell said that prospects of competing with Russia Today should also be studied.

Launched in 2005, Russia Today reaches over 600 million people in more than 100 countries. Several Western reporters working for the network have quit in the last few months over what they believed was slanted coverage of events in Ukraine, particularly the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Russia Today's annual budget is reportedly $300 million.

Alex Ben Block contributed to this report.