Russia’s War on Ukraine
The far-right video sharing outlet has become a last refuge of sorts for Sputnik podcasts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is pictured at an event. | Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
By Hailey Fuchs
03/24/2022 05:15 PM EDT
Forced off mainstream platforms, a number of radio shows associated with Russian state-run media have found a welcome home on Rumble, the video-sharing platform favored by conservatives and the far right.
Over the past few weeks, four shows on Sputnik, a news agency and radio broadcaster controlled by the Russian state media group Rossiya Segodnya, began broadcasting on Rumble, which has become popular with the far right and Donald Trump-supporting crowd. Their adoption of the venue has come following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after which platforms like Google and DirecTV booted Russian programming off their services.
The moves underscore how the far right and self-professed open speech sites continue to provide havens for Russian state information. But it also illustrates how limited the reach of those news sources has become in the wake of the Ukraine invasion as they face dissent from within their own ranks over the war.
Rumble reported 36 million average monthly users in the third quarter of 2021, a number massively dwarfed by YouTube. Used by the likes of Steve Bannon and — albeit infrequently — former President Trump, Rumble has taken on the posture of an anti-cancel-culture YouTube. The company boasts a “mission to protect a free and open internet.” But it’s become a home for far-right conspiracy theories and conservatives booted from mainstream sites. Rumble did not return a request for comment.
At least four Sputnik shows —“Fault Lines,” “Political Misfits,” “By Any Means Necessary” and “The Backstory” — appeared to begin posting their content on Rumble on March 14, around the time that Google moved to ban Sputnik. As of mid-March, “Fault Lines” was booted from YouTube. The show’s Twitter account told followers, “Fault Lines has been banned by Big Tech, but that won’t stop us.” It included a link to its Rumble page. In what appears to be its first video on the site, one of the show’s hosts, Jamarl Thomas, explained to listeners that the programming was in need of a new home.
“As you guys know who are waiting for the YouTube feed to take place, Sputnik has been taken off of YouTube, not just in Europe at this point but also in America,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to find other means to basically give you guys the show: um, Rumble and some of the other apps. We’re also thinking about doing the show, um, basically unlisted and sending the link out to our various supporters either on Patreon or otherwise.”
The Sputnik shows push criticism of mainstream Western media and government, especially around the war in Ukraine. The hosts of “Fault Lines” have questioned President Joe Biden’s description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal,” disparaged media coverage of the ongoing conflict, and defended Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine. On the show “By Any Means Necessary” streamed on March 14, hosts claimed the U.S. was the true “aggressor,” bemoaned the “anti-Putin hysteria,” and suggested the U.S., in fact, wanted Russia to invade Ukraine to sway public opinion in favor of America and the West.
In one episode that aired prior to the expulsion from YouTube, John Kiriakou, a host of “Political Misfits” and a former CIA officer convicted of leaking info to the media, warned listeners and viewers that if the show was ever booted off of the platform, they would be able to find the show on Rumble.
“Political Misfits” and “By Any Means Necessary” continued to maintain YouTube channels, despite the fact that Sputnik had been banned by the platform. However, after this reporter approached Google, which owns YouTube, about their accounts, a YouTube spokesperson said that it had blocked both of their channels.
Later in the day, the “By Any Means Necessary” show tweeted out a screenshot of its blocked account, saying, “This is what ‘democracy’ looks like in the US, folks,” and linking to its Rumble page. The account added, “No matter how hard they try to silence us, we’ll keep on rockin, and #TruthWillWin!”
“The Backstory” remains on YouTube as of Thursday afternoon. A YouTube spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The producer of the four shows is a limited liability company known as Ghebi. According to filings under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, Ghebi has reported payments for services of about $2.7 million from the Russian state media group Rossiya Segodnya, along with $3.8 million in expenses. The four shows air on Radio Sputnik and are featured on SputnikNews.com. In its registration with the Department of Justice, Ghebi said it has “independent editorial control over its production.”
Though they remain active on Twitter, the platform has said it would reduce Russian-state media content’s visibility and identified each of the shows as “Russia state-affiliated media.” But on Rumble, no such disclaimer exists. The platform also continues to host RT News, including a live feed that the website claims is concurrently watched by thousands. In a statement, RT deputy editor in chief Anna Belkina vowed that the news organization would “continue to deliver our content to millions of viewers and readers around the world that want it, via the platforms available to us.”
“These bans are quintessential corporate censorship in cahoots with the government’s political agenda; our voice is being blocked not for what we say but for who we are,” the statement read.
As of Wednesday, Sputnik also continued to operate a page on the podcast platform Simplecast, which is owned by SiriusXM. However, when approached by POLITICO, Simplecast also removed Sputnik’s programming.
“As soon as the Simplecast team was informed of Sputnik’s use of the company’s hosting services, the decision was made to immediately remove all related content, RSS feed, and accounts associated with the organization,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “Any digital content referenced inside that feed was also purged.”
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