Google caved to "unprecedented political pressure" by removing a Russian government-backed outlet from a premium package of Youtube channels, an editor at the channel protested.
Google reportedly removed RT, a Kremlin-run outlet formerly known as Russia Today, from a package of YouTube channels bundled together for advertising sales. The channel remains on Youtube, but an RT official said they were not notified of the advertising change directly. The decision follows a U.S. intelligence assessment that RT was part of a Russian disinformation campaign designed to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
"This speaks to the unprecedented political pressure increasingly applied to all RT partners and relationships in a concerted effort to push our channel out of the US market entirely, and by any means possible," RT deputy editor Kirill Karnovich-Valua said Thursday.
U.S. intelligence officials maintain in a post-election report RT played a role in an "influence campaign" ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sought to "undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process" and "discredit" Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The report dubbed RT "the Kremlin's principal propaganda outlet" and noted the channel "has actively collaborated with Wikileaks." RT also published stories promoting "Pizzagate," the conspiracy theory that alleged Clinton and her aides were part of a pedophilia ring based in Washington D.C., which had no basis in fact.
RT has protested such findings and denounced a new requirement that they register as foreign agents as an attack on freedom of speech.
"Those who invented [freedom of speech], have buried it," RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said in September. "I wonder how US media outlets, which have no problems while working in Moscow, and that are not required to register as foreign agents, will treat this initiative."
U.S. policymakers have grappled for years with the question of how to confront such media outlets without setting precedents that undermine press freedoms. The question arose acutely after Wikileaks published thousands of classified diplomatic cables. CIA director Mike Pompeo, who was appointed to lead the agency by President Trump, promised a crackdown on such activity.
"It's time to call out Wikileaks for what it really is: a non-state, hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia," the former Kansas Republican lawmaker said in April.
If Congress and the Trump administration develop a policy response that doesn't infringe on the First Amendment, they will still have to consider how Russia might respond. When a State Department spokesman clashed with an RT reporter last year, the Russian Foreign Ministry was quick to threaten a retaliation.
"If our TV channel faces the same attitude in Washington once again, American journalists will have a special place set aside at the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson's briefings," Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in November.