Russia to buff image with English news net

Satcaster aims to boost country's image abroad

MOSCOW — The Russian government is backing an English-language news satcaster, Russia Today TV (RTTV), to promote the country’s image in the West.

The state will provide most of the $30 million to get the channel running by year’s end, Mikhail Seslavinsky, head of Russia’s federal agency for print and media, told a Moscow press conference Tuesday. Eventually, it is supposed to run on ad revenue.

Satcaster already is being criticized as a Kremlin-managed propaganda tool that few will view. Seslavinsky maintained that President Vladimir Putin’s office backs the project but wouldn’t influence content.

The state-controlled Russian Information Agency is setting up RTTV to attract viewers worldwide, said Margarita Simonyan, the 25-year-old chief editor.

Her age is notable, as the network is recruiting staff younger than 30 because such people didn’t grow up on Soviet TV propaganda, according to general director Svetlana Mironyuk.

It will offer a Russian viewpoint on international and domestic events, differing from rivals such as CNN and BBC, Simonyan added.

Simonyan, who will oversee the news staff of 300, previously worked at state TV channel Rossiya. A native of the Krasnodar region in southern Russia, Simonyan speaks English fluently with a slight American accent after spending a year as a student in Bristol, N.H.

RTTV will have bureaus in Washington, D.C.; Jerusalem; and London. Anchors will mainly be foreign, as few Russian journalists can speak English fluently, Simonyan said.

Initial distribution is expected to be through cable networks in the U.S. and Europe, with satellite transmission through the likes of Russia’s NTV-Plus service.

Station looks like a pricey bid to change the international business world’s conception of Russia, which has been battered in recent years — most recently by the nine-year jail term for oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

(Bloomberg news service contributed to this report.)

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