MPs defend fees of up to £1,000 an hour to appear on ‘Kremlin propaganda’ channel

Jamie Doward and Mika Hyman
The former Ukip leader Nigel Farage has appeared on the satirical show Sam Delaney’s News Thing, as has the liberal leader Vince Cable and the former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell. Photograph: Russia Today/PA

MPs who have accepted up to £1,000 an hour to appear on television shows broadcast on RT, formerly Russia Today, have defended their links to the station, classed by the US government last week as a Kremlin propaganda vehicle.

Analysis of the Commons register of interests for the last two years show at least 10 have been paid handsomely for appearing on the channel, which is now coming under acute scrutiny after both the US and UK governments accused Russia of meddling in elections and pushing fake news.

David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, who was paid £750 an hour plus travel costs for four appearances between last December and September, said he had no regrets about appearing on one of the channel’s shows, Sam Delaney’s News Thing.

“The News Thing has given me a fair chance to explain my opinions on Brexit immigration and transgender issues, for which I am grateful,” Davies said. “Sadly, I have not received the same courtesy from the British Broadcasting Corporation. Instead, on several occasions, its highly paid presenters have criticised me by name without giving me a right of response.”

Mike Freer, now an assistant government whip, who was paid £1,000 an hour for two appearances in January and April last year, told the Jewish Chronicle: “I appeared on Sam Delaney’s News Thing, an independent production that is satirical in nature. I went on to poke fun at [Vladimir] Putin, which I did.”

However, Labour’s David Lammy, who, according to his register of members interests was paid £1,000 for two hours of his time on two occasions, is understood to have ruled out further appearances, despite being asked on an almost weekly basis.

Many MPs appeared reluctant to discuss their appearances, including Labour newcomer Rosie Duffield, who was paid £500 for three hours for her appearance on the channel; Tory MP Johnny Mercer, a former soldier, who received £1,000 for three hours of his time on two separate occasions; and the former deputy speaker, Tory MP Nigel Evans, who was paid £750 an hour on two occasions.

Duffield defended her appearance on Twitter. Last month she tweeted: “Worked on Sam Delaney’s show in July, paid by production company, not RT.”

The biggest earner was the former Respect MP George Galloway, who, between November 2013 and February 2015, was paid more than £100,000 to front his own show on RT. It is unclear how much the former first minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, now hosting a talkshow on the channel, will earn.

Others who have appeared on RT include Nigel Farage and former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell. It is not clear whether either was paid.

More MPs may be inclined to distance themselves from RT now that all material broadcast in the US by RT will have to be flagged to viewers as “on behalf of” the Russian government.

The decision prompted former London mayor Ken Livingstone to urge the channel “to sail on telling the truth that you believe”.

But others are wary about its reach and influence. An unclassified version of a January US intelligence report said RT and a sister website, Sputnik, were key weapons used by Russia to interfere in the US presidential election.

The European Values thinktank, which has received money from the UK and US governments, as well as the European commission, recently published a report that listed more than 2,000 US and European politicians who have appeared on RT.

Monika Richter, the report’s author, said RT’s purpose was “to fundamentally pollute the information space”.

“People who don’t understand this issue very well might think it’s harmless to appear on a satirical show, but it’s a failure of judgment and a lack of imagination in understanding how insidious the whole machine is,” she said.

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