A Russian journalist who for years was senior foreign correspondent for state-run television on Tuesday lashed out at the propaganda broadcast by pro-Kremlin media after dramatically quitting over the invasion of Ukraine.
Zhanna Agalakova, a familiar face in Russian households from two decades work as a correspondent from postings including New York and Paris, had earlier this month announced she was leaving Pervy Kanal (Channel One) due to the invasion.
Speaking in public for the first time since she quit, Agalakova told reporters at a news conference in Paris organised by press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that she could no longer be involved in the “lies” and “manipulation” of Russian state TV.
“I want the people of Russia to hear me and learn what propaganda is and stop being zombified,” she said.
With tears in her eyes, Agalakova said she had hesitated a lot before speaking out in public but then decided “there was no other choice”.
Agalakoa, who most recently worked as Paris-based Europe correspondent for Pervy Kanal, admitted that she had “made many compromises in my career” but she described the invasion of Ukraine as a “red line”.
There has been intense focus on Russian TV since an editor on the Pervy Kanal barged onto the set of its flagship Vremya (Time) evening news last week, holding a poster reading “No War.”
Marina Ovsyannikova was detained and a Moscow court rapidly fined her 30,000 rubles (260 euros). But despite being freed she could face further prosecution, risking years in prison under draconian new laws.
Ovsyannikova said she was quitting her job but not accepting an offer from President Emmanuel Macron of asylum in France, saying she wanted to stay in Russia.
Agalakova announced she was leaving her channel in an Instagram video posted last week, symbolically cutting a Pervy Kanal band around her wrist and saying she had already written her resignation letter on March 3.
She described a media system that “just gives the point of view of the Kremlin”.
Agalakova pointed to how state television covers President Vladimir Putin with exhaustive coverage of his macho holiday activities but with no scrutiny of his private life which is an absolute taboo.
“Our news does not show the country, we do not see Russia,” she said.
“We only see the first man of the country, what he ate, who he shook hands with, we even saw him shirtless. But we don’t know if he’s married, if he has children,” she said.
She lambasted the state media for its repeated description of Russia’s opponents in Ukraine as “Nazis”, a term that touches a particular nerve in a country still scarred by the sacrifices of World War II.
“When, in Russia, we hear the word ‘Nazi’, we only have one reaction — destroy. It’s a manipulation, a huge lie.”
Justifying her long career as correspondent in New York and Paris, she said: “I thought that by reporting on life in Europe — and in particular in Paris — I could avoid being propagandistic.”
“I didn’t lie, every fact was real. But take real facts, mix them up and you’ll end up with a big lie,” she said.
Press freedom activists outside Russia accuse its state television of painting a severely distorted picture of the war in a bid to maintain support for what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation.”
Russian lawmakers on Tuesday approved legislation imposing jail terms of up to three years for the publication of false information about Russia’s actions abroad.
Agalakova is not the only prominent Russian TV journalist to have quit over the invasion of Ukraine, but so far there has been no mass exodus.
NTV channel news anchor Lilya Gildeeva, who has worked for the channel now owned by energy giant Gazprom, since 2006, said she had left Russia and resigned from her job.
The longstanding Brussels correspondent of NTV, Vadim Glukser, has also said he had handed in his notice.
“Many journalists, producers or people who work in the media think like me,” Agalakova said.
“It’s easy to accuse them, to ask why they don’t resign, don’t protest. But those who stay have families, elderly parents, children, houses to pay for. They are hostages of the situation.”