WASHINGTON — When Anya Parampil was attending George Washington University and saw her peers trickle into the university’s well-entrenched State Department pipeline, she knew that the path most commonly walked by her peers wasn’t for her.
Eventually, life led her away from a career in international diplomacy toward one in journalism, but not your average corporate-outlet journalism. Parampil did not want to toe the official line with her reporting; she wanted to use journalism to “question our ruling class and expose its abuses,” she told MintPress in an exclusive interview.
She soon found herself working first as intern, then as a reporter and a producer at RT America, a network that often gives voice to under-reported and alternative perspectives on important international and domestic issues, providing — as Parampil notes — “a valuable service to Americans who have been deprived of critical history and context on existential issues of war and peace.”
RT America’s reputation as an outlet that challenges government and mainstream narratives has resulted in the vilification of RT America by the U.S. corporate press, as those more traditional outlets rarely support the type of reporting that holds the powerful accountable. Indeed, as Parampil told MintPress, “as soon as I started looking closely at the inner workings of American foreign policy, I was forced to conclude my approach to producing and consuming news would never be welcome in the mainstream press.”
The attacks on RT have been amplified by worsening U.S.-Russian relations and by the U.S. power structure’s broader effort to silent alternative and independent media. As a result, Parampil fears that RT America is “one of the ultimate targets of the campaign to remove dissenting media from platforms like Facebook and Twitter.”
In September, RT America debuted its first original daytime news program, In Question, with Parampil as its host. The program — which airs at 12 p.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. ET on RT America’s network — has sought to cover under-reported stories from within the United States and around the world in areas like politics and international affairs. as well as developments in science and technology. The program’s approach fulfills Parampil’s ambition to use journalism as a check on the powerful rather than for their exclusive benefit.
Despite having been on the air for only a few months, In Question’s coverage has already won it a considerable following, racking up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and social media. According to Parampil, who recently spoke to MintPress about her time at RT America and her experience hosting In Question, the show’s fast-growing audience is the result of the program’s goal of “challenging power at its source” as well as its “heavy focus on international stories that scarcely reach the American public.”
By filling in the gaps in the most important stories in the U.S. and beyond, In Question’s team — led by Parampil — is needed now more than ever.
MintPress News (MPN): You’ve been working at RT America since 2014. What brought you to the network?
Anya Parampil (AP): In 2014, I was living in DC and studying International Affairs at George Washington University, feeling pretty unsatisfied with my direction in life. I realized the IA school there basically functions as a pipeline to the State Department, and I didn’t think a future in service to the empire was right for me.
Watching foreign media, including RT, at the time helped expand my worldview in a way that made me more critical of U.S. foreign policy. I had no clear career path ahead, but I sent resumes out to different non-profits and media organizations, including one to RT. When I went in for an interview and learned it was for a spot on Abby Martin’s show, I was in shock because I was a huge fan of “Breaking the Set” and looked up to her so much. I started as an intern on “Breaking the Set” and never looked back.
MPN: Did you ever consider working in mainstream media? Why, or why not?
AP: Because of my interest in international relations, I considered putting myself on a career trajectory to be involved in diplomatic affairs. But I was forced to take a hard lesson from WikiLeaks’ “Cablegate” and “Arab Spring” releases, which was that for the United States there’s no such thing as “diplomacy,” at least not in the sense that I understood the term. The U.S. wields power through its military, various soft-power manipulations, and control of the international financial system.
So, I decided that until I live in a country I’d be proud to represent officially, the most important work I could do was to question our ruling class and expose its abuses. As soon as I started looking closely at the inner workings of American foreign policy, I was forced to conclude my approach to producing and consuming news would never be welcome in the mainstream press.
MPN: As I’m sure you’re aware, mainstream voices have claimed that American journalists at RT and their reporting are affected by the fact that RT receives funding from the Russian government. Has RT ever tried to interfere with your reporting in any way? What do you say to people who accuse you of being a “Kremlin puppet” because you work for RT America?
AP: RT has never done anything other than offer me incredible support, resources, and opportunities to grow as a journalist. So far, I have worked as an intern, producer, reporter, as well as host; anchored live presidential election coverage; and traveled to several countries and occupied territories to produce breaking news and documentaries. Not once have I been told what to say or experienced any serious editorial disputes.
Having said that, it’s absurd to assume that any news organization’s editorial line is entirely independent from its funding source — whether it’s owned by a corporation, state, or tech billionaire.
MPN: In general, do you think RT as a network is compromised by its Russian government funding? What biases, if any, do you see RT as having and do you think they are related in any way to its funding?
AP: Let’s use the case of Syria, because I am often accused of toeing the Russian line when commenting on or covering the situation there. Yes, the Russian government has a clear interest in preventing the collapse of the Syrian state. But as an American who grew up protesting the Iraq invasion — having watched the media lie us into war time and time again, and seeing the catastrophic consequences of regime change in that country — I recognize the value of Russia stepping in to prevent that from happening in a country next door. I am not afraid to admit this and I’d feel that way no matter who paid me.
I am proud to work for a major international network that provided one of the only platforms for analysts and journalists to expose the horrors produced by U.S. meddling in Syria. As an American who would like to see her country doing less damage to the world, I believe RT provides a valuable service to Americans who have been deprived of critical history and context on existential issues of war and peace.
MPN: Why does the U.S. media landscape need a show like yours?
AP: Where in U.S. media are reporters able to earn a living wage while challenging the official narratives about countries like Ukraine, Syria, or Venezuela, for example? Just look at the well-funded outlets like Democracy Now! and The Intercept that have marketed themselves as adversarial and “independent” while actively and enthusiastically participating in bogus regime-change PR campaigns against virtually every country targeted by U.S. imperialism. If that’s what “progressive” or “adversarial” media in the U.S. has to offer, then no wonder so many who think like me have had to turn to state media, whether it’s RT or teleSUR.
Besides the freedom we enjoy to challenge empire, In Question’s format allows us to place a heavy focus on international stories that scarcely reach the American public. For example, we recently did headline stories on Saudi Arabia’s execution of Tuti Tursilawati, a migrant worker who killed her employer after he tried to rape her. While the mainstream was constantly talking about Khashoggi, which we’ve also covered quite a bit, you’d never hear about Tursilawati’s case on the major networks.
We are trying to fill in gaps and take fresh angles on stories people are talking about. We feature a daily interview with George Galloway, who I think is one of the most incisive and sharp-witted commentators in the business.
Watch | Galloway: Israel Can’t Keep Millions Caged Forever
MPN: Some people have compared In Question to Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set. What makes your show different from similar shows that have been hosted on RT in the past or the present?
AP: There would be no In Question without Breaking the Set. First, Abby’s show made me and countless others realize we weren’t alone in this country. Before Breaking the Set, no one with a national presence in U.S. media spoke for the “Occupy Wall Street Generation,” at least as I understood it. But once her show ended, there could never be anything like it again.
So while there are some natural similarities in the content and the editorial angles that our shows have taken, In Question is different because it’s a straight news show produced from a critical internationalist perspective, while Breaking the Set was a fierce editorial show that was only possible thanks to Abby’s unique flair and unmatched dedication.
MPN: What segment (or segments) that have aired on your show are you most proud of and why?
AP: In recent weeks, we’ve focused heavily on how sanctions levied by the U.S. are slowly pushing the world away from dependence on the U.S. dollar. For example, even the European Union is seeking a way to subvert Iran sanctions recently re-implemented by the Trump administration. I’ve done several segments with one of In Question’s super-smart producers, Kei Pritsker, explaining the history behind the world financial system’s reliance on the U.S. dollar and how alternatives to that system are emerging.
These segments included a breakdown of which countries have dumped holdings of U.S. debt in recent months while simultaneously increasing gold reserves. We’ve aimed to document how the U.S. has been able to maintain international dominance not only through military force, but by fostering international dependence on its currency, and how countries like Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela are challenging that hegemony out of necessity thanks to Washington’s addiction to sanctions.
Watch | Will Iran Sanctions Force World to De-dollarize?
MPN: In Question started just a couple of months ago in September. What impact do you think the program has had in its relatively short time on-air? What do you hope its impact will be going forward?
AP: Our alternative economic segments and explainers are in demand, racking up over 100,000 views at a time. I am hoping that as we move forward, the show becomes a go-to source for people like me who want to keep up on under-reported international news, particularly developments in Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America.
MPN: Independent media is currently under attack on social media and in the U.S. in general. Do you have any thoughts on the so-called social media “purges,” and what does this trend say to you about the importance and effectiveness of different media perspectives in the West?
AP: We’ve covered social media’s coordinated censorship campaign extensively on In Question, including in segments with Mintpress’ Editor in Chief, Mnar Muhawesh, and RT America correspondent Rachel Blevins, whose Facebook page was purged in the latest crackdown.
Considering [that] RT America (and specifically Breaking the Set) was accused of fomenting “radical discontent” by the Director of National Intelligence in its January 2017 report on “Russian Activities” in U.S. elections, I fear we are one of the ultimate targets of the campaign to remove dissenting media from platforms like Facebook and Twitter. RT America is a threat because of the reasons described in the DNI report: we cover issues like third-party politics, the struggle against the ruling class in the U.S., the surveillance state, and police brutality. The fact we frighten the establishment so much reaffirmed the importance of our work: we’re challenging power at its source.
MintPress similarly fills a void with its coverage and has already had content censored on Facebook and Instagram. This experience should tell us how crucial it is for those of us in alternative media to support and promote each other, because at the end of the day all we have are the websites and platforms we develop independently from Silicon Valley and their national-security-state overlords.
Top Photo | Anya Parampil poses for a photo on the set of RT’s In Question. Photo | In Question
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.