Email Sent from Ruptly to NewsGuard, October 9, 2019
Ruptly response to NewsGuard comments:
Although Ruptly has published straightforward content from around the world, its videos and headlines of topics of interest to the Kremlin have repeatedly featured false or misleading statements from Russian government officials, including denials that Syria was behind chemical weapons attacks of its own citizens. Although the footage accurately quotes Russian authorities, NewsGuard has determined that Ruptly, as a government run outlet publishing the government’s false claims, has repeatedly published false content and does not gather and present information responsibly.
The claim that Ruptly is run by the Russian Government is factually false. It also implies that our team has its editorial direction set and directly managed for it. Our award-winning, multinational team of media professionals is completely independent. This includes both editorial and operational decisions.
Ruptly was founded by ANO TV Novosti to act as an independent, commercially-funded organisation under German law, and sister agency to RT. It has commercial relations with all its clients including RT.
Our coverage is based on relevancy to our clients and their audiences. It’s also worth noting that media reviewed by NewsGuard that does/did receive public funding is not referred to as “government-run” by the NewsGuard team, including: AFP, BBC, PBS, VOA.
In addition, the argument that by running statements made by Russian authorities (accurate or inaccurate) means that we repeatedly publish false content, is illogical and wrong. By such logic, one must arrive at the same conclusion regarding the BBC, given that it consistently covered a range of views and statements during the Brexit debate that turned out to be untrue, for example: claims of £350m per week going to Europe that could be spent instead on the NHS (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36048055). Covering statements made by government officials from whatever country is a standard practice. And, how they are labelled follows standard practices also: for example, a headline by CNN based on the same statement we offered to clients: “Putin: Sergei Skripal is a scumbag and traitor who betrayed Russia” (https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/03/europe/putin-calls-skripal-scumbag-intl/index.html) and Ruptly’s headline, mentioned by NewsGuard later: “Russia: ‘He’s just a scumbag’ – Putin on Skripal,”.
As a video news agency providing content to journalists, our role is to present raw footage that our clients ensure their journalists edit and use responsibly.
Moreover, it is our role to ensure that clients have access to video content that helps them in being able to best represent a variety of positions and statements in their coverage – particularly essential for their own compliance requirements with various regulatory standards the world over.
NewsGuard’s review of Ruptly’s coverage of the April 2018 chemical attacks against Syrian residents and of the March 2018 poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain showed that it cherrypicked video segments to repeat false or misleading statements that advanced pro Kremlin positions.
In general, this statement is unsubstantiated and provides no detail on how such a conclusion was arrived at.
It’s also a very subjective assessment, essentially saying that we should have chosen other video segments to provide to our clients.
Ultimately, we are a news agency that provides content to publishers. These publishers are able to select the material and interviews that we provide alongside that of other content providers. They can review the statements made by individuals in the segments and apply their own editorial perspective. We provide content that we believe is relevant and newsworthy for our clients and their audiences, and clients choose to buy that content.
The assertion that Ruptly has “cherry-picked” video statements to repeat false or misleading statements and to advance pro-Kremlin positions is equally completely inaccurate. We run statements from sources that reflect the entirety of what they have said, in the same vein as our fellow news agencies, and in no way leave out elements of those views (see Appendix 1 for examples).
Indeed, it is concerning that the implication of NewsGuard’s comments is that carrying statements of the ‘official position’ of Russia is something a news agency should not do, and that such video is not suitable for our client news teams to receive and responsibly use at their discretion. This is a worrisome conclusion, and appears as an attempt to assert an editorial judgement by NewsGuard on the very validity of such positions to even exist. We hope of course that this isn’t the case, and that NewsGuard does not intend to assert editorial judgement over Ruptly, or anyone else for that matter.
It is also asserted in your commentary on Ruptly that our content advanced pro-Kremlin positions, but no examples nor qualification for such an imputation are made. There is no example of how, or where, our supply of raw news footage to clients might have done any such thing, and we request that this is immediately retracted.
Several Ruptly clips published between April 2018 and June 2018 repeated Kremlin claims that the Russia-backed Syrian government did not use chemical weapons. Ruptly videos and headlines often included Russian officials’ claims that the attacks were “staged,” and quoted officials as questioning whether the attacks ever happened. Headlines of clips published between April 2018 and June 2018 include, “Netherlands: Alleged Douma hospital workers denying ‘any sign’ of chemical weapons,” and “Netherlands: ‘No symptoms of chemical weapons poisoning’ – Alleged Douma emergency worker.”
In October 2018, Ruptly published a video with the headline, “Russia: MoD warns of false flag chemical attack in Idlib,” in which the Ministry of Defence’s chief spokesperson alleged that volunteer members of the Syria Civil Defence, usually called the White Helmets, solicited Syrians to participate in staged videos of attacks in return for food.
The Kremlin’s claims that Syria did not use chemical weapons on its citizens in 2018 have been contradicted by first-person accounts, photos, and videos documenting the victims, and reports from the United Nations and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ruptly’s formatting of headlines is geared to best service its clients and industry standard working practices. The headlines factually relay the opinion or content within each clip.
Also, to simply disregard statements and not share content that may be considered controversial, dissenting, or contain views that some don’t agree with neglects the material role of a news agency, and would undermine the ability of journalists using a video news agency service to adequately report on events as they unfold. We believe it is our duty to ensure that our clients are able to make editorial judgements themselves as to their selection of footage to include in their final news items, and that the array of content provided from the various agency sources they may use is as diverse as possible.
This is no more important than in relation to the items NewsGuard references as points against the veracity of Ruptly content – for example, as can be seen in the recent case of leaked files (confirmed as genuine by the OPCW), it was revealed that information surrounding 2018 chemical attacks in Douma provided by official reports was, in fact, not accurately portraying expert analysis. Therefore, failing to take into account the counter reports of the Kremlin would have allowed the OPCW’s inaccurate information to circulate unchallenged, without an alternative view. Moreover, Ruptly would have done a disservice to its clients, and their publics, if it hadn’t offered them access to the video content that it did.
Similarly, applying our view/opinion on statements that are made by officials is NOT the format that we, as a news agency, should comply with, and nor will we. It would be a disservice to journalists if agencies like ours editorialised or added their own assessments. Instead, we provide statements from opposing sides, where the source of the statement has expressed it directly and on-camera.
To be clear, this is not a practice that we have invented, and most certainly not one that attempts to advance any particular position. News media buy clips from us, and use them in combination with their own content, or other clips sourced from us, or elsewhere, to create news items for the public. It is for news outlets to develop the news stories that their publics come to them for, and to suitably editorialise; not for Ruptly to do so.
In addition to the extended list of opposing opinions that we have already sent you with regards to this topic, below are similar examples from AP, to help show commonality in industry practice:
Again, if we follow the logic that NewsGuard have presented, AP has presumably “repeated Kremlin claims”, thereby advancing the Kremlin’s position. Clearly this isn’t the case: AP is simply applying the accepted industry standard approach to presenting news agency content, by providing the factual description of statements and positions expressed by news-generating government officials alongside appropriate attributions.
This is not affecting your credibility score attached to AP, and nor do we believe it should, yet we note that it shouldn’t affect Ruptly’s either, and hope that NewsGuard recognises the impropriety of concluding that it should.
Also in 2018, Ruptly published approximately 20 video segments about the poisoning of Skripal in Salisbury, England. NewsGuard found that the majority of the clips featured press conferences or interviews that repeated the Kremlin assertion that two suspects believed to be Russian military agents were not involved. Headlines included “Russia: Putin says Skripal poisoning suspects are civilians, not criminals,” “Russia: ‘He’s just a scumbag’ – Putin on Skripal,” and “Netherlands: Skripal suspects may offer ‘proof of spuriousness’ says Russia.”
This point is inaccurate, and highly misleading; highlighting clear issues with the conclusion reached and the research NewsGuard has conducted into the volume of our content during the period surrounding the news events mentioned. We have taken the time to exceptionally go through our video archive, as any of our clients can, to accurately clarify the reality of our output over the two-week period surrounding the height of this news topic. We hope that this provides a clear example of the diversity of our output, but also highlights issues with the manner of NewsGuard’s assessments.
During the two weeks surrounding the peak of news media interest in this story – 9-27 March 2018 – Ruptly carried 102 videos relating to the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury. This included 28 general informative videos, 42 UK and international community reactions (EU/USA), and 32 Russian reaction videos (links included in Appendix 1). In addition to these videos, we also made 20 live transmissions available to our clients, produced either by our teams, or others such as NATO, The House of Commons, and UNTV; covering a range of topics from the British Prime Minister visiting Salisbury, to footage of expelled diplomats leaving from Stanstead Airport in the UK.
It is also important to point out that by the logic presented in NewsGuard’s assessment of Ruptly, video news agencies like Ruptly shouldn’t cover opinions from individuals of relevance on international news stories when their view differs from the ‘established’ opinion.
It’s incongruous as an international video news agency, with access to Russian government officials, that we wouldn’t provide the statements that they make on newsworthy subjects to our clients to review and use as they wish. And, given our access, surely it stands to reason that we would have a significant number of video segments from these individuals – as that is what is expected by our clients – and is also a competitive advantage of Ruptly, similar to that which our peers may enjoy in other parts of the world.
For example, looking at data from Tubular Labs,the access that naturally enables us to present positions and activities of various Russian government offices/public institutions more than other outlets, is not dissimilar from our competitors’ advantageous positions of access to other seats of power. For example, that of AP to the White House and AFP to the Élysée Palace. Ruptly delivers content volumes in line with its competitive advantages in the same way as these competitors do – which can easily be seen when comparing their cross-platform social media output:. Search results for “Trump” show AP carries 4,929 items compared to AFP’s 2,444; whereas, conversely, search results for “Macron” are: AP – 62 / AFP – 520.
However, it’s also worth noting that when looking at publicly available results for the search term “Skripal” on AP’s Archive YouTube Channel, around a third of the materials are segments featuring the Russian position. Headlines, such as: “Russia: Skripal poisoning is UK/US plot”, “Kremlin doubts Yulia Skripal issued statement of her own free will”, “UK could have poisoned Skripal to cover Brexit difficulties” and many more were all made available by AP to its clients (see below).
Between 2014 and 2018, Ruptly published a handful of videos showing Russian officials denying the country’s involvement with the July 2014 crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine. A Dutch-led investigation concluded that the plane was shot down by a Russian-made military missile launched from a region controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists, an assertion that Russian officials have repeatedly challenged.
In September 2018, Ruptly published a Russian-language video with a headline airing Russia’s claim that video evidence was “falsified” to implicate the Kremlin in the airplane crash. Another September 2018 video titled, “Russia: Missile that downed MH17 was owned by Ukraine – MoD” covered a press conference in which the Russian Ministry of Defense said the missile that shot down the plane was owned by Ukraine. In 2015, Ruptly posted videos with headlines such as: “Russia: MH17 crash caused by Kiev’s ‘greed and carelessness’ – Rosaviathon deputy head” and “Malaysia: Some Western nations use MH17 tragedy for ‘political purposes’ – Lavrov.”
Ruptly also published multiple videos that provided alternative perspectives on the crash, featuring officials from the Netherlands, U.S., and Ukraine who stated that Russia was responsible.
Russia: Missile which shot down flight MH17 was Ukrainian
This video report was uploaded by AP roughly 7 months ago. Headlines like this are not a reason for NewsGuard to doubt AP’s credibility. They cannot serve as testament of whether a news agency is credible or not.
We have not, and will, not deny journalists the ability to access factual content, even if it features an official position that opposes other official positions or is regarded as controversial. This is not a matter of endorsement or opinion: this is what news agencies do to enable adequate research and reporting.
While NewsGuard found that Ruptly provides more balanced coverage of some events, such as the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it found that Ruptly skewed the proportion of its coverage to favor Kremlin positions in other events, including the Syrian chemical attacks and Skripal poisoning. Because its overall coverage of topics of interest to Russia have predominantly featured the positions of its government and owner, NewsGuard has determined that the site does not handle the difference between news and opinion responsibly.
As mentioned throughout our response, our content is in line with widespread industry standards for news agencies and, in particular, it is what is expected and demanded by our clients.
Having a well-organised presence in Russia provides us with a competitive advantage over our rival video news agencies and we will continue using it to provide more information from Russia with faster editing and faster translations. This is the same as any other news agency with a strong presence in specific countries or skill with languages. For example, when AFP reports on topics related to Francophone nations, they will have more content from these territories compared to other agencies, and will likely have more clients turn to them for that specific coverage. And, it’s not surprising to anyone.
With the cases mentioned above (Skripal, Syria, MH17), aside from having clarified Ruptly’s ownership structure to show such a statement to be materially wrong, it would be remiss to not point out the fact that it is simply illogical for us to reduce the amount that we cover the Russian official position on these matters – as it is directly connected to the news in question. This explains why we, and other agencies, had provided content featuring those statements.
Also, at no point does NewsGuard make any evidentiary note relating to failure by Ruptly to handle the difference between ‘news and opinion responsibly’. In itself, this is a rather bizarre claim given that the core of our business as a news agency is to provide video clips that cater to our clients’ needs for raw footage of news events. Therefore, our video news clips, by their very nature, do not contain any opinion from Ruptly journalists or contributors whatsoever. Given this renders inaccurate a statement such as “NewsGuard has determined that the site does not handle the difference between news and opinion responsibly”, we would appreciate this apparent inaccuracy addressing and explaining.
Asked about Ruptly’s choice of coverage topics, Toktosunova told NewsGuard that the service has covered multiple perspectives on major news events. “Ruptly provided objective and impartial materials showing the position of the opposite sides in the same disputes,” she said.
Headlines on Ruptly videos are generally straightforward and describe what people are saying in the footage, but there are multiple instances where they repeat false information in the video segments, which is why NewsGuard determined that the site publishes deceptive headlines.
Our industry-standard headlines do not substantiate a claim that we publish deceptive headlines. We caption our headlines accurately to reflect the subject matter and the core elements of the newsmaker(s/ing) within the videos in line with common practice across the news agency world.
In early 2019, Ruptly also launched the Ruptly Verification Unit, bolstering an already-robust editorial verification practice to undertake in-depth analysis of content that appears on our platform; including the verification of sources, accuracy of information and, importantly, verifying the provenance of any footage that we, and also other news agencies, have received – leading the industry.
Additional points from the 19th July meeting at NewsGuard’s offices in London:
It appears within your assessment of Ruptly that there has been a material misunderstanding surrounding the nature of Ruptly’s output as a news agency. In each of the points and examples above, this is a common thread that builds to form an inaccurate portrayal of both Ruptly and its content by NewsGuard, which we hope to redress.
Within our meeting, some additional background on Ruptly was requested, and we have ensured to include this herein. Within Appendix 2, you will also find a selection from an array of items on the platform that you had expressed a desire to receive. All of these examples, and more, are of course openly available within our archive to all clients.
Ruptly currently works with over 1,400 clients spanning 111 countries worldwide, across a wide spectrum of media entities, from large scale networks such as CBS News, NHK, RAI, C-SPAN and Al Jazeera to high-profile digital publishers such as The Mail Online, The Sun, South China Morning Post, Tencent, Yahoo, and Ladbible, to global production houses, OTT platforms and documentary institutions, as well as fast-rising independent vloggers on Facebook and YouTube producing the next generation of news media output.
Ruptly also introduced new subscription models to adapt to the ever-changing consumption habits of media licensing clientele across the world, namely the groundbreaking new product within the news industry called “Ruptly Pass”, a digital-first subscription option which provides unlimited Ruptly content access to qualified emerging media operating on low budgets, at a price-point of 12.50 euros per month. This business model enabled Ruptly to capture and expand the volume of its subscriber base towards an increasingly fragmented digital market, reaching clients operating on web and social media across 21 countries since the service’s launch in September 2018.
This year also saw the increase of exclusive footage production to enable new client uptake and increase subscriber base renewals, an increase in live event usage utilising the new “Ruptly Live” delivery platform and multiple-language translations of content, resulting in increased sales to major broadcasting networks, independent digital creators and high-profile international online publishers across web and social platforms. The company also consolidated its rising industry reputation with numerous awards and recognitions.
The Drum Online Media Awards – winner of Commercial Team of the Year 2018
German Stevie – Video Platform for Media and Publishers 2019 Ruptly Live. Gold Award
Shorty Awards – Best Live News Coverage 2019 – Yellow Vests. Gold Distinction
Digiday Awards – Europe 2019 – The Best Use of Live – Ruptly Live
The Drum Online Media Awards 2019 – Breaking News Story of the Year – Kemerovo mall fire. Finalist
Nominated: Diplomatic Council Introduces Nominees for DC Global Media Innovator 2018 – Ruptly Live Platform
Ruptly plans to further develop its video-on-demand platform “Ruptly.tv” with localisation of its language offerings in Russian, Spanish and Arabic in 2019, alongside development of a dedicated archive and long-format documentary partner section.
APPENDIX 1 – Skripal video items
09.03.2018 UK: New specialist medical teams arrive at ex-spy Skripal’s house