Russian TV man defies state 'propaganda'

NTV Image copyright NTV Russia
Image caption "Bye, Kostya!" - NTV fired Konstantin Goldentsvayg after his interview with a German TV channel

Reporters on Russian state-controlled TV channels regularly tell viewers that the US wants to destroy Russia, Ukraine has been overrun with fascists and the West is drowning in sexual decadence.

But for Konstantin Goldentsvayg, until recently the Berlin correspondent for Gazprom-Media's NTV, the compromises of conscience involved in broadcasting things like this have proved too much.

Goldentsvayg was sacked last week after giving an interview to German TV in which he suggested that President Vladimir Putin had felt "insulted" at being excluded from the G7. He also referred to the president's "well-known cynicism" and accused him of wanting to prolong the instability in Ukraine.

It was an assessment wildly at variance with his own report on the G7 summit, which he had dismissed as an "expensive talking-shop".

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted other heads of leading industrialised nations in Bavaria last week.

'Propaganda madness'

As Goldentsvayg later explained on Facebook, he had in fact already decided to leave NTV after working for the channel for 12 years. The interview with German TV merely hastened his departure and made it more sensational.

Writing on Facebook, he also apologised for the part he had played in the "general propaganda madness".

A few days later, Goldentsvayg gave an interview to liberal website Meduza, in which he described in detail the pressures he was subject to as a reporter on one of Russia's three main TV channels.

Image copyright AP
Image caption State TV gives much airtime to Mr Putin and squeezes out dissent

A couple of years ago, he said, he had tried to keep propaganda in his reports to a minimum by concentrating on non-political stories, usually with a cultural slant.

But as the Ukraine crisis developed that became virtually impossible. He was bombarded with instructions on what stories he should cover and how he should cover them - President Putin is the victim of a "dirty campaign", Chancellor Merkel is an "American puppet" and so on.

Some of these messages appeared to come right from the Kremlin, he said.

At the same time, more and more of his reports were altered to keep them on-message.

"Gradually, I learnt to compromise with myself," he told Meduza, describing how he soon found himself self-censoring his reports because he knew they would be cut or revised in any case.

But, eventually, enough was enough. "It's simply that you were trained for one trade - journalism - and you find yourself at times doing something completely different. And you realise that the longer you do this rubbish, the harder it will be to get out of this rut," he said.

Image copyright RT
Image caption Last year RT correspondent Liz Wahl quit on-air, causing a sensation

According to Goldentsvayg, he is by no means alone in facing this dilemma. Yes, he said, there are people at NTV who sincerely believe that fascists have seized power in Ukraine and that Russia "saved Crimea from destruction". But there are also a "large number of thoughtful and sound people still at the channel", he told Meduza.

Goldentsvayg's exit from NTV has not been as dramatic as Liz Wahl's on-air resignation from the Kremlin's English-language channel RT last year. But it is the first time that a frontline journalist on one of Russia's main channels has broken ranks since the start of the Ukraine crisis.

It is an act that has won him both praise and criticism. His critics include Kremlin loyalists, but also those who think it took him far too long to get out.

Meanwhile, his future and that of his young family are uncertain.

Before the scandal over his TV interview, Goldentsvayg had hoped to get a job at another channel, perhaps on a non-political show.

This now looks unlikely.

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