A London-based correspondent for Russia Today resigned Friday over what she called the Kremlin-funded network's "total disregard" of the facts surrounding Thursday's Malaysia Airlines crash, saying RT is "spreading lies" for Vladimir Putin.
Sara Firth said in her resignation announcement that while she has respect for "many on the team," she's "for the truth."
Firth told BuzzFeed she believed RT was “disrespectfully” trying to blame the crash on the Ukrainian government.
“When this story broke I ran back into the newsroom and saw how we were covering it already and I just knew I had to go,” she said. “It was the total disregard to the facts. We threw up eyewitness accounts from someone on the ground openly accusing the Ukrainian government (of involvement in the disaster) and a correspondent in the studio pulled up a plane crash before that the Ukrainian government had been involved in and said it was ‘worth mentioning’.”
“It’s not worth mentioning. It’s RT all over, it’s flirting with that border of overtly lying. You’re not telling a lie, you’re just bringing something up. I didn’t want to watch a story like that where people have lost loved ones and we’re handling it like that," she said. “I couldn’t do it any more, we’re lying every single day. Every single day we’re lying and finding sexier ways to do it.”
She added a quip on Twitter referring to RT's "style guide":
Firth's resignation came about two hours after she said on Twitter that RT anchors "do work for Putin" and spread "lies" in a conversation with RT London correspondent Polly Boiko, the Huffington Post noted. Firth alleged that the network asks its anchors to "obscure the truth."
RT made similar headlines in March when anchor Liz Wahl resigned live on air, saying she could not "be part of a network that is funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of (Vladimir) Putin."
Firth said inexperienced RT staffers would be assigned to important stories so they wouldn't veer away from the company line.
“The way it works with a story like this is first of all the people who are assigned are the very obedient. The second you start to question or report honestly then you’re a problem," she told BuzzFeed. “The first thing that happens is they assign the usually least experienced in RT, the second is everyone else who’s involved [starts] phoning guests that have a particular viewpoint and are going to say a particular thing.”
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She insists she never lied in any of her reports but became concerned about the airtime given to her journalism and was concerned her reports were “lending credibility” to the channel’s other output. She alleges she was pulled out of Syria by channel bosses the day after filing a report highlighting the suffering of civilians in areas opposed to the Assad regime, which is backed by President Putin.
Firth said she had immense respect for her “talented” colleagues and said the vast majority of journalists at the channel were working hard to tell the truth but the management “ignore that and push the rubbish."
“It’s great team, so talented. But at the heart of that organisation it’s rotten. Until they have people operating at the top level who want to tell the truth and tell the facts then it’s not going to change.”
Russia Today spokeswoman Anna Belkina said in a statement to TheBlaze that Firth had "recently informed us that she was likely to take an offer from another firm."
"The plane crash is an absolutely terrible tragedy, there are a lot of questions that surround it and everybody is looking for answers. More than 15 RT journalists are working on this story – from Moscow, from the Russian-Ukrainian border, London, Berlin, Washington. RT Spanish journalist Francisco Guaita was one of the first TV correspondents to get to the scene late last night. Our reporters are in the Netherlands and Malaysia. Sara was never involved in reporting on this event," Belkina said.
"Sara has declared that she chooses the truth; apparently we have different definitions of truth," she continued. "We believe that truth is what our reporters see on the ground, with their own eyes, and not what’s printed in the morning London newspaper. In our coverage, RT, unlike the rest of the media, did not draw conclusions before the official investigation has even begun. We show all sides of the story, even if everyone else has already decided which side is to blame."