Russian RT fails to reach over 350 million of viewers

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RT, Sputnik, Russian television channel

While Russian television channel RT is facing cruel censorship and ban in a number of Western countries as well as on video-sharing platform YouTube, it has over 350 million Bengali-speaking population throughout the world and million Bengalis in Bangladesh and India. To almost all the television viewers in Bangladesh – for example, RT remains totally unknown, mostly due to two reasons – it does not have any service in Bangla, despite the fact, over 300 million people speak Bangla. Second reason is – although RT has its own set-up in India that targets Indian audiences, there is no content related to Bangladesh in RT’s India edition.

It may be mentioned here that Bangla, also known as Bengali is an Indo-Aryan language from the Indo-European language family native to Bengal region of South Asia with over 300 million native speakers and another 50 million as second language speakers as of 2024, Bangla is the sixth-most spoken native language and the seventh most spoken language by the total number of speakers in the world. It is the fifth most spoken Indo-European language. It is also spoken by the Bengali diasporas in Europe, the United States, Canada, the Middle East and other countries, while people in a number of African nations, such as Sierra Leone also use Bangla as their second or third language. According to the 2021 census, Bangla is the fourth fastest growing language in India, following Hindu in the first place.

Meaning, the size of Bangla-speaking audience for any international news channel is very high. For this reason, international media outlets such as BBC,

Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Radio Japan, Radio Peeking, Radio Tehran and many others have special Bangla chunks targeting Bangla-speaking viewers and audiences. Since its independence in 1971, although Bangladesh maintains extremely cordial relations with Russia and despite the fact – multilateral relations between Dhaka and Moscow is steadily growing, RT surprisingly ignores Bangladesh both in its Russian edition as well as its Indian edition, for reasons unknown.

It may be mentioned here that, relations between Bangladesh and Russia has reached newer height with ongoing projects such as Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, a project implemented by Rosatom, while during his recent visit to Bangladesh, Director General of Russia’s state agency Rosatom, Alexei Likhachev extended an enticing offer to Bangladesh, proposing the establishment of several small-scale nuclear power plants known as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in Bangladesh. These innovative reactors boast a maximum capacity of 300 MW, gaining traction globally for their streamlined construction processes compared to their larger counterparts. In addition to collaboration in the field of nuclear power plants, Dhaka and Moscow also are working on possible collaboration in a few more areas.

Following Russia’s special military operations in Ukraine, a number of Western nations have imposed ban on RT and Sputnik, although in November 2023, Luxembourg’s Tegeblatt newspaper called for “tighter restrictions” across the European Union on access to RT and Sputnik, stating the ban had failed in stopping Western audience in accessing both the media outlets.

Tobias Senzig, editor-in-chief of Tegeblatt in the editorial admitted that ‘pro-Russian narratives’ are becoming increasingly popular within audiences in the EU. Less than a week after Russian troops entered Ukraine, the European Commission announced sanctions on RT and Sputnik, suspending their TV broadcasting licenses and blocking both websites for readers across the EU. Similarly, YouTube also imposed a ban on RT and Sputnik from the video-sharing platform.

Despite these bans, Tobias Senzig wrote, “With just a few tricks – a simple change in the network settings of your computer is enough – you can easily access the RT and Sputnik websites”. It may be mentioned here that readers in the EU as well as the United States can easily access RT and Sputnik websites by using BPN, the Tor browser or the Psiphon censorship bypass tools.

But, in Bangladesh, neither RT nor Sputnik are banned. People can access to both the sites using regular internet connections, although, similarly as RT, Sputnik also does to give importance to coverage on Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in Bangladesh has formulated a law under which for uploading or downloading signals for any foreign television channel, cable operators or providers of DTH (Direct To Home) service shall be required to obtain license from the authorities concerned – Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). Same laws shall be applicable for the companies which are selling subscriptions of foreign OTT channels in the country. In my opinion, this is a very good decision. Once the law goes into effect, all foreign television channels and websites should be blocked from Bangladesh until they complete required formalities. Similarly, actions should be taken against illegal IP TVs as well as YouTube-based news channels. Moreover, YouTube authorities should be asked by the government to shut-down channels which are running vile propaganda against Bangladesh. If YouTube ignores such requests from the Bangladesh side, this video-sharing platform should be banned in the country. Similarly, foreign television channels such as Al Jazeera English, BBC, Deutsche Welle etcetera should also be asked to pull-down anti-Bangladesh propaganda contents, and if they do not comply with such a request – BTRC needs to refrain from issuing a downlinking license to these broadcast networks.

For Russian RT and Sputnik, this should be an excellent opportunity in widening the size of their audience in Bangladesh by immediately focusing on adding a significant volume of contents related to the country. They may also consider launching Bangla services.

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