Today, Tuesday, April 17, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange debuted the first episode of The World Tomorrow, his new TV show on the RT — formerly Russia Today — network (more on this below). Still under house arrest in England, Assange interviewed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shia militant group Hezbollah, via video link. While an interview with Nasrallah was a “genuine coup” as the Guardian’s Luke Harding writes — the cleric last spoke to the media six years ago — it remains to be seen if Assange as talk show host is able to make the same kinds of waves as he has with the whistleblower site Wikileaks.
Wikileaks rose to fame and controversy after the site released thousands of classified government documents, diplomatic cables and other highly sensitive materials in November of 2010. Wikileaks first released the files to selected news outlets including the New York Times and the Guardian which, aware of the confidential nature of the contents, redacted them before publishing. In November of 2011, Wikileaks announced it would release release all 251,287 of the U.S. diplomatic cables it had acquired. Subsequent releases of files, most recently in February, have not garnered the attention that the first rounds did. Wikileaks has remained as much in the news due to Assange’s fight against an extradition order on charges of raping two Swedish women and the court martial faced by Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier suspected of leaking thousands of top secret documents.
Wikileaks says that twelve of the 26- minute programs have been completed with Assange speaking to an “eclectic range of guests, who are stamping their mark on the future: politicians, revolutionaries, intellectuals, artists and visionaries.” Edward Moyer says this about the RT Network on CNET:
RT, formerly Russia Today, is a global multilingual TV news network based in the Russian Federation and funded by the state. The Moscow Times has said of it: “For some, Russia Today is a mouthpiece that spreads Kremlin propaganda around the world. For others, the state-bankrolled channel is a vital voice that offers different political viewpoints in an ocean of media monotony.” And Slate has called it “Russia’s answer to Fox News and MSNBC.”
Assange’s own Quick Roll Productions has produced the films, in partnership with Dartmouth Films, which is based in the U.K. and produces independent films.
So far, while the first episode of Assange’s show will not have pleased the White House — Assange calls Nasrallah a freedom fighter who has “fought against the hegemony of the United States” — his performance as an interviewer lacks some bite. Harding describes him as become a “useful idiot,” noting that Twitter feedback on the show ranged widely: One viewer described Assange as “engrossing” but others said he was “like a robot,” “painful to watch,” and seen “nodding sagely while HN drones on.”
The real reason for raising eyebrows about Assange’s new venture is the RT network itself. RT is owned by Russian state and controlled by the Kremlin; its programming makes no reference to “top-level corruption, Vladimir Putin’s alleged secret fortune – referenced in US embassy cables leaked by WikiLeaks – or the brutal behaviour of Russian security forces and their local proxies in the north Caucasus.” A December 2010 cable released on Wikileaks describes Russia as a “virtual mafia state,” as Harding points out. Why, he asks, is Assange teaming “up with an opaque regime where investigative journalists are shot dead (16 unsolved murders) and human rights activists kidnapped and executed, especially in Chechnya and other southern Muslim republics”?
Is Assange so hard up for cash that he has signed himself over to the Russian propaganda machine? Are any of Putin’s critics, like the Russians who protested in the thousands and tens of thousands against Putin in the winter, among the guests on the upcoming eleven episodes?
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