Russian propaganda channel: How RT succeeds in South America

Many states and platforms are pulling the plug on the Russian propaganda program. In South America, “Actualidad RT” positions itself as a left-wing alternative medium – and finds a broad audience that believes it.

A young woman sits on a gray couch and reads the riot act to Colombian President Ivan Duque: Spiced with an ironic undertone, she denounces the police violence last year during the social protests against his right-wing conservative government – with such scenes Inna Afinogenova hits not only in Colombia, but throughout Latin America a nerve.

Afinogenova, born in the North Caucasus, speaks accent-free Spanish and is something of Russia’s hip influencer in Latin America. Her YouTube channel is part of Actualidad RT, Russia’s TV channel for the Spanish-speaking world – it has nearly 30 million followers on Twitter and YouTube, more than any other channel of RT, the Kremlin’s propaganda mouthpiece.

In Latin America, RT has a completely different reputation, at least among large parts of the population, says Jorge, who used to work for RT himself. “When I came to Moscow, I had working conditions that simply do not exist in my country. A good salary, an apartment, but also the opportunity to report internationally, to travel, especially in our Latin America region,” says Jorge, his Name changed because he wants to remain anonymous today. “News about our region is mostly ignored by the national media or only reported from a perspective that leaves many voices outside. RT was different and therefore very attractive to us as journalists.”

RT’s style: “Rather the norm than the exception”

Historically, Russia is viewed in the region as an adversary to the United States, and Putin courted the region with state visits and the delivery of vaccines. Its mouthpiece, RT en Español, is now broadcast by around 70 national channels and enjoys a credibility similar to that of other foreign channels such as BBC World or Deutsche Welle.

That also has something to do with the crisis in journalism in Latin America, says Argentinian media scientist Martin Becerra: “We Latin Americans are used to media whose reporting is more like propaganda. Because there is hardly any objective reporting here. Our media system is characterized by concentration and commerce and polarization.”

Media are either loyal to the government or in the hands of a few families who use their influence to advance political or economic interests – “RT, which positions itself as an alternative to the left, seemed less the exception and more the norm.”

Ukraine determines the program

But in the meantime the war in the Ukraine has almost completely determined the program of RT en Espaňol. It’s about the alleged Nazi threat in Ukraine, the Bucha war crimes were declared to be deceptive maneuvers. Twitter and YouTube have since blocked RT.

The view in Latin America has changed, believes Martin Baña, who researches relations between Russia and Latin America at the University of Buenos Aires. “One thing was identifying as a left progressive with an anti-American, anti-Western discourse. It’s another to stand behind Putin invading Ukraine. That was a cut, much of the left criticizes Russia Attack clear.”

Afinonova is now “off air”

However, this has not harmed the success of Actualidad RT, on the contrary: the videos have been viewed five times more since the start of the war – now from alternative platforms. And time and again, regional media also adopt propaganda and false information from the Russian state broadcaster.

Influencer Inna Afinogenova alone has disappeared from the scene in the past few weeks: In one of her last programs, she said that a colleague took over her program. “It’s sad that everything turned out the way it did. Sad and terrible. War sucks… and there are no euphemisms for that,” she says. “But there is nothing in our reporting to be ashamed of. Our aim has never been to shape reality for everyone’s convenience. It has been to understand what is happening in the world from a critical and alternative perspective.” Instead of her, a colleague is now sitting on the gray couch.

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