Malaysia Airlines flight 17

Reporter quits Russian TV channel over Malaysia Airlines crash coverage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:36am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:36am

A London-based reporter for Russia's state-owned English-language channel RT has quit in protest against its coverage of the Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine.

Sara Firth is the second person since March to publicly resign from RT, formerly known as Russia Today, over its coverage of the Ukraine crisis.

Hours after the crash that killed 298 people, Putin pointed the finger of blame at his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko, saying it would not have happened if Kiev had not ended a ceasefire with the separatists.

Since then, reporting from Russia's tightly controlled media, which has favoured the rebels throughout the conflict, has largely supported Putin's conclusions, sharply diverging from Western coverage of the tragedy.

"I resigned from RT today," Firth wrote on Twitter. "I have huge respect for many in the team, but I'm for the truth." The Kremlin-funded channel, which provides a staunchly pro-Russia version of events, said Firth "has declared that she chooses the truth; apparently we have different definitions of truth".

"We believe the truth is what our reporters see on the ground, with their own eyes, and not what's printed in the morning London newspapers," spokeswoman Anna Belkina said.

She said RT was "not surprised" by Firth's decision to leave, as she had spoken of plans to switch jobs.

Washington has said it was a missile from a rebel-held area that probably shot down flight MH17. RT's coverage, however, has focused on Russian claims that Ukraine had deployed surface-to-air missiles in the area, without mentioning that these systems were also controlled by the pro-Russian separatists.

An aviation source cited by RT also pushed the idea that Ukrainian forces may have fired a rocket at the Malaysian Boeing 777, mistaking it for Putin's jet returning from a summit in Brazil.

"The contours of the airplanes are in general similar, the linear dimensions are also very similar and regarding the colouring, from a sufficiently long distance, they are practically identical," the source said.

The pro-Kremlin news outlet's narrative could not be more different from that reported by Western media, which RT television criticised for "unleashing a post-crash factless blame game against Russia".

Russia's LifeNews online outlet carried a slightly different account, saying witnesses had seen a Ukrainian fighter jet behind the Malaysian plane, which was at an altitude of 10km - so high it would be barely visible from ground.

Russian reports supported their arguments with the alleged Twitter feed of a Spaniard believed to be an aviation dispatcher at Kiev's Borisypil airport.

"Two Ukrainian jet fighters were noticed next to the airplane before it disappeared from the radar, all of three minutes beforehand," the alleged dispatcher was quoted as saying by Interfax and pro-Russian Twitter accounts. On Thursday the account @Spainbuca had been deleted.

RT has been accused of biased reporting, particularly since the Ukraine crisis began last year.

In March a US-based presenter with RT, Liz Wahl, announced during a live broadcast that she was quitting over the channel's "whitewashing" of Kremlin's actions on the Crimean peninsula.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters