Kremlin Journalist Who Quit Over War Tells Russians 'Stop Watching TV'

A renowned Russian journalist who quit her job in protest at Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine has urged people in her country to stop watching Kremlin propaganda on television and "find other sources of information" about the war.

Zhanna Agalakova's last report on Russia's Channel One, where she had worked for 23 years, was broadcast on February 17, a week before the invasion.

She resigned from the channel on March 3, officially leaving it two weeks later. At the time, she gave a press conference where she condemned Russian state propaganda. She had been based in Paris but after her resignation, went into hiding, fearing reprisals.

In an interview in Amsterdam with BBC's Newsnight, she described an increasing feeling of unease at presenting a Russian point of view for stories such as Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea. She said that watching Russian television coverage of the war in Ukraine, which is only called by the officially approved term "special military operation", was like living in "two worlds"

On the one hand, there was the Ukrainian war of ''ruins" as well as, ''total disaster, death and tragedy". On the other hand, there was the Kremlin narrative of the "Russian military that was cheered by the local population with flowers...and there is only something positive and great."

"How they brainwash their population," she said, "is incredible"

She also described the pressure at her channel to follow the Kremlin narrative that the war was a necessary conflict to "demilitarize" and "denazify" Ukraine. She said that staff members who did not toe the party line faced a pay cut and would be removed from covering certain topics.

Asked what advice she would give her fellow citizens in Russia who are fed a diet of Moscow's messaging about the war, she said, "Switch off (the) TV, because it is a brainwashing machine. Just don't listen. Find other sources of information. Look at the internet and open your heart."

"The war is an evil, the war is death," she said. "Stop watching TV." Newsweek has contacted Channel One for comment.

Agalakova is not the only former staff member at the channel to take a stand against Kremlin rhetoric. On March 14, a senior producer at the channel, Marina Ovsyannikova ran onto the set shouting "Stop the war. No to war" as she held up a sign.

She was detained by police and questioned for 14 hours before being fined 30,000 rubles ($290). She has since been hired as a freelance journalist for German newspaper Die Welt.

Guests and hosts on another Kremlin-backed channel, Russia-1, have been pushing anti-Western rhetoric and boasting about Moscow's missile capabilities.

Olga Skabeyeva, the host of 60 Minutes, said this week that the U.S. would cross "a red line" with the proposed supply to Ukraine of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) which would result in a "very harsh response" from Russia.

Russian journalist Zhanna Agalakova
Russian journalist Zhanna Agalakova poses during a photo session in Paris, on March 22, 2022. In an interview with the BBC, she urged Russians not to watch the propaganda about the war in Ukraine. JOEL SAGET/Getty Images