EXCLUSIVE: The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on Tuesday said it has booted Mikhail Solodovnikov off its board of directors. Solodovnikov runs T&R Productions, the Russia-owned media company that operates RT America.
In 2017, the U.S. Justice Department ordered T&R Productions to register as a “foreign agent” of Russia under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.
The Academy, which hands out the International Emmys, said it has also suspended Solodovnikov’s general membership, and that of Elizaveta Brodskaya, head of news at the Moscow-based RT International, RT Russia. Their names, and those of several other Russian members, were stricken from the Academy’s membership list today.
“Due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the International Academy is suspending Mikhail Solodovnikov’s membership and board position, as well as the membership of Elizaveta Brodskaya,” a spokesman for the Academy told Deadline.
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The moves come after Deadline made inquiries into their roles at the New York-based Academy, and as more and more countries are taking action against RT – formerly Russia Today – the state-controlled Russian television news empire that the U.S. DOJ has labeled a “propaganda outlet” for the Kremlin.
Earlier Tuesday, the National Association of Broadcasters called on U.S. stations to stop carrying Russian state-sponsored programming. “While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, it does not prevent private actors from exercising sound, moral judgment,” NAB president Curtis LeGeyt said. “To that end, given the unprovoked aggression exhibited by Russia against the free and sovereign people of Ukraine, NAB calls on broadcasters to cease carrying any state-sponsored programming with ties to the Russian government or its agents.”
DirecTV dropped RT America today, saying it “will no longer offer their programming effective immediately.” Viewers tuning in to RT America’s channel 321 were greeted with a message from DirecTV saying: “This channel is no longer available.”
On Sunday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “We will ban in the EU the Kremlin’s media machine. The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our Union. So we are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe.”
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On Saturday, Australia’s satellite operator, Foxtel, suspended RT’s broadcasts “in view of concern about the situation in Ukraine.” Last week, Poland banned all Russian TV channels, including RT, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a review of RT’s license to operate there. Russian TV channels, including RT, have also been banned in Finland, and earlier this month, Germany’s top media regulator upheld a ban on RT’s broadcast in that country. French regulators have also opened an inquiry into RT France, and Roku said Monday it was removing RT from its offerings in Europe, as well.
Solodovnikov, T&R’s general manager and chief creative director, identified himself as RT America’s news director when the Justice Department forced his company to register as a foreign agent five years ago. “Since August 2014,” the DOJ said at the time, “T&R has operated studios for RT, hired and paid all U.S.-based RT employees, and produced English-language programming for RT, which is both shown on cable networks across the United States and available on RT’s website.”
According to tax records filed by the International Academy, Solodovnikov, who works out of the Washington offices of RT America, has served as an unpaid member of the Academy’s board of directors since at least 2018 – a year after his company registered as a foreign agent of Russia.
The International Academy’s directors, who elect its president, are themselves elected for two-year terms, and “may be invited to serve any number of consecutive two-year terms,” according to the Academy’s website. “Prospective Directors must be nominated by either two existing Directors or one Director and one Fellow or Member.” The site also notes that “the annual Directorship fee is $3,500 USD per year.”
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Founded in 1969, the International Academy was created “to promote excellence in international television,” and awards International Emmys to the best television programs produced outside the U.S. The International Academy is a division of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; but operates under its own board of directors with a global focus.
News shows produced by RT News Russia have been perennial favorites of the International Academy. They’ve never won an International Emmy, but they’ve been nominated eight times since 2010 – most recently last September.
RT America entertainment programs include I Don’t Understand with William Shatner and Dennis Miller +1. Last July, when Shatner’s show first aired, he tweeted: “I have a contractual obligation to promote my new show I Don’t Understand, which is on RT America. You don’t like that network? Fine. Don’t watch. Attack me about that and you’ll be blocked. Am I clear? Good.”
Ora Media, the company that produces those shows, said on Tuesday that it would suspend their production. “Given the invasion of Ukraine and the tragic humanitarian crisis, Ora Media has paused production of content we license to T&R Productions. Future business decisions will be made based on the evolving situation,” Ora Media CEO John Dickey said in a statement.
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Deadline reached out to Solodovnikov and to RT America but got no response.
Shatner on Monday tweeted out his prayers to Ukraine as the Russian invasion was building.
In its 2017 letter to Solodovnikov, the Justice Deptartment noted that when Vladimir Putin visited RT’s new offices in Moscow in June 2014, the Russian president said that RT “is funded by the [Russian] government, so it cannot help but reflect the Russian Government’s official position on the events in our country and in the rest of the world.”
In that letter, the DOJ said that “RT is owned by TV-Novosti, a news organization designated under Russian law as an autonomous non-profit organization. According to the plain language of one of the contracts provided by counsel for RTTV America, Inc., TV-Novosti is a ‘legal entity registered in due form under the laws of the Russian Federation,’ with its principal place of business in Russia” – which makes it a “foreign principal” under FARA as well.
Read the full DOJ letter here.
Shortly after the DOJ ordered T&R Productions to register as a foreign agent, Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, complained that “In the U.S., the country that has always been lecturing the world about the value of freedoms – of freedom of speech, of everyone’s right to speak up — the U.S. has now become a beacon, a leader, in this movement to shut everyone up. That’s so disappointing.”
Russia, in turn, has forced numerous Western news organizations to register as foreign agents there, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the U.S. government-funded news organization that broadcasts in 23 countries, which reported last August that “To date, 43 entities and individuals have been designated as foreign agents in Russia, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and several of its Russian-language news sites, including its flagship Russian-language channel, Current Time.”
Since registering as a foreign agent in November 2017, T&R Productions has reported receiving more than $104 million from its parent company, ANO TV-Novosti, according to public filings reviewed by Open Secrets, the Washington-based transparency organization. According to Open Secrets, no other foreign agent operating in the U.S. has received more funding from a foreign country during that time.
“We assess that T&R is engaged in activities that require registration under FARA,” the Justice Department told Solodovnikov in a letter dated August 17, 2017. “Since at least August 1, 2014, T&R has been producing content in the United States carried by RT America, a television channel based in Washington, DC. T&R provides this service pursuant to contractual arrangements on behalf of TV-Novosti, a Moscow-based organization.
“According to the contract, management of U.S. operations, including creative services, was transferred to T&R in 2014 from RTTV America, at the direction of TV-Novosti. We understand that after the transfer of United States-based production functions from RTTV America, TV-Novosti paid T&R for operations formerly conducted by RTTV America, while exercising control over programming content.
“As noted, under its 2014 contract with RTTV America, T&R produces RT America content for TV-Novosti. According to RT’s own website, part of RT’s mission is to ‘acquaint … international audiences with a Russian viewpoint on major global events,’ and a sample of RT’s programming reflects a demonstrable Russian government viewpoint.
“Indeed, the Intelligence Community has concluded that RT is ‘a messaging tool … [used] to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest.’ In a 2012 interview, TV-Novosti general manager Aleksey Nikolov noted that content from RT America and other foreign bureaus ‘only becomes [RT] content after the corresponding editorial work is performed on it here, in the Russian office.’
“RT’s broadcasts consistently mirror the opinions of the Kremlin, which, together with the state funding and other indicia of agency described above, indicate that both T&R and TV-Novosti act as alter egos of the Kremlin in ensuring dissemination of the Russian Government viewpoint on key political events. Therefore, the Russian Government itself should be construed as a foreign principal on whose behalf T&R is engaged in political activities in the United States.”
The DOJ also told Solodovnikov that “Two additional factors bolster our belief that T&R is engaged in activities requiring registration under FARA. First, T&R operates out of the same office suite in Washington, DC, as RT America, which is part of the RT network, a global multilingual television news network based in Moscow and funded by the Russian government. Second, in your LinkedIn profile you describe yourself as ‘News Director of RT America.’ Hence, it appears that the operations of T&R and RT America – and, by extension, the RT Network – are one and the same.”
That’s why shows that air on RT America come with an on-screen notice that says: “Material produced by T&R Productions LLC on behalf of ANO TV-Novosti, Moscow, Russia. Additional material is on file with the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.”
The 2017 letter to Solodovnikov, written by Heather H. Hunt, chief of the FARA Registration Unit, concluded by saying that “to be clear,” registration as a foreign agent “would not require T&R to alter the content of its programming in any manner; indeed, if registered as required, T&R would be free to facilitate the dissemination of any content it chooses. Rather, registration would simply allow media outlets purchasing RT America programming, produced by T&R, and American viewers watching such programming, to be fully informed regarding the foreign influence behind the content on the network.”
On October 5, 2017, six weeks after the DOJ letter, Bruce Paisner, president and CEO of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, speaking at the Lincoln Center during the presentation of the International Emmys for news and current affairs, said that “A free and committed press corps is the most important bulwark against repression and tyranny.”
RT news programs weren’t nominated for any International Emmys that year, but they would be in each of the next four years.
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