Missouri radio station continues to broadcast Kremlin-funded Radio Sputnik : NPR

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A Missouri radio station airs Russian state-funded programming. In a rare move, the National Association of Broadcasters called on stations to stop airing state-sponsored programming.



JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine rages on, a radio station outside of Kansas City continues its daily Radio Sputnik broadcasts. It is a Kremlin-funded news service that critics call Russian propaganda. Kavahn Mansouri of the Midwest Newsroom reports.

KAVAHN MANSOURI, BYLINE: Listen to AM radio stations across the country and you’ll likely hear a variety of political talk shows. But Liberty, Mo.’s KCXL airs a particularly controversial program.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, “FAULT RADIO LINES”)

JAMARL THOMAS: Live from the divided states of America, hastily perched on the edge of this resilient and exploited globe, welcome to your much-needed contextual lens for this American perspective.

MANSOURI: The show is called “Fault Lines,” and it’s featured on Russian state-funded Radio Sputnik, a Washington, DC-based news service producing news for Americans with a Russian slant. A recent episode spent a full 3 hours painting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the aggressor in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, “FAULT RADIO LINES”)

THOMAS: You make the decision not to negotiate. You are the one who dragged your country into this conflict and continually keeps your country in this conflict.

MANSOURI: Twice a day, “Fault Lines” and other Radio Sputnik shows hit the airwaves of KCXL for a three-hour block. In return, the radio station has earned more than $160,000 since 2020. Before receiving this money from Radio Sputnik, owner Pete Schartel said he was struggling and was considering closing the station.

PETE SCHARTEL: It sounded like something we could live with, especially if they paid us and helped keep the rest of the station on the air.

MANSOURI: The money comes from Rossiya Segodnya, a media arm of the Kremlin which critics say broadcasts Russian propaganda. Programming airs daily on KCXL and a handful of stations across the country. Since the invasion of Ukraine, Schartel has suffered backlash.

SCHARTEL: My wife and I really discussed whether to pull this lineup. If I did, we’d be doing exactly what we’re doing – the main thing we’re criticizing – well, the former Soviet Union for sure, and other communist regimes, where they don’t allow free speech .

MANSOURI: And Schartel insists that Radio Sputnik’s programming has value – offering a different perspective. Kevin Phillips has been listening to KCXL for 20 years. He describes himself as a conspiracy researcher and says he gets much of his news from Russian sources like Radio Sputnik. He says the Kremlin funding doesn’t bother him at all.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: If you’ve been following this Ukrainian case for the past 20 years, like me, you’re going to find a lot more truth on paid Russian radio than on American radio.

MANSOURI: The National Association of Broadcasters recently took the unprecedented step of urging broadcasters to stop airing shows like Radio Sputnik. NAB official Rick Kaplan says shows like Radio Sputnik are simply propaganda.

RICK KAPLAN: You know, it’s different from discourse, which is very important to have – open, all points of view on the table – but there’s a line between that and, you know, the direct propaganda of a – again, from a foreign government.

MANSOURI: But Pete Schartel argues that his station is under attack for offering a different perspective, even though it’s funded by the Russian government. He pledges not to take the service down, even if irate callers use words like betrayal when calling to complain.

For NPR News, I’m Kavahn Mansouri in St. Louis.

SUMMERS: The Midwest Newsroom is a collaboration between NPR and public radio stations in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

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