A state-controlled TV channel in Kazakhstan has waded into a fresh scandal involving a famous Russian interviewer that has seemingly led to the departure of one of its best-known anchors.
Late last week, effete First Channel Eurasia newsreader Ruslan Smykov breathlessly told viewers that he had a startling announcement to make — his colleague Aimira Shaukentayeva had been interviewed on an illustrious Russian news show. As sensations go, it was a decidedly unimpressive intramural media affair, but state media in Central Asia unashamedly relishes in the attention of outsiders.
In the purported interview, Vladimir Posner, best remembered in the West for his involvement in a landmark series of televised discussions in the 1980s between audiences in the Soviet Union and the US, appears, courtesy of some editing trickery, to be flattered by the opportunity to finally meet Shaukentayeva.
This was the first clue something wasn't quite right. Shaukentayeva may be well known in Kazakhstan for her arch news-reading style, heavily accentuated pouting and near-Kabuki-level makeup, but she is a nonentity beyond the country’s borders. The brief trail of the interview set up by Smykov shows Posner and Shaukentayeva exchanging some generic niceties and little else.
The faked interview looks at worst like an oddly pointless prank perpetrated, like most of First Channel Eurasia’s news output, at the expense of the unwitting viewers and for the amusement of its creators. Sources at First Channel Eurasia confirmed to Today.kz that the interview was indeed a “joke” — not that this was made at all clear from the outset.
All the same, the forgery provoked howls of indignation.
News website Kazday called up Posner to ask if he could confirm whether the interview had occurred and they received a suitably barbed riposte.
“This is a complete fake from start to finish. This fakery clearly reflects the levels of reliability of information coming out of Kazakhstan’s First Channel, a fact upon which I must compliment the president of Kazakhstan, Mister Nursultan Nazarbayev,” Posner commented sarcastically.
When a journalist on Russian state television is being called out by a state-backed broadcaster in a friendly neighboring nation for being fibbers, you know matters have come to a bad pass.
First Channel Eurasia has already established a reputation for being purveyors of decidedly fake-looking news, and to much more serious ends than whatever the Posner interview was supposed to achieve, so the prank defense looks threadbare. In May, the channel broadcast a news report purporting to show footage of participants in land protests earlier this year being paid money for their involvement.
The fake interview scandal prompted Information Minister Dauren Abayev to call the episode an “unsuccessful joke” that would “damage the reputation of First Channel Eurasia.”
“Unfortunately, this could lead to a situation when the channel reports real and confirmed news, but the people will think it is fake news,” Abayev remarked.
The light slap on the wrist came with a renewed dollop of endorsement.
Abayev said that a “substantial” portion of the channel’s funding comes from the government and that the authorities had no objections to how its money was being spent.
Following the Posner debacle, Smykov suddenly announced that he was tendering his resignation, citing a difference of opinion with management at First Channel Eurasia. This is a rare scalp in Kazakhstan, and it may signal a slight shift of emphasis in how state media crafts its message — an initiative likely being driven by former Nazarbayev’s spokesman Abayev, whose ministry was created only a few months ago. There is no indication there is to be any reversal on the rah-rah propaganda that Kazakhstan’s state media has long practiced, but in order for this to be fully effective it needs to be more subtle and less liable to be subjected to out-of-hand dismissal and mockery as the antics of Smykov and friends.