MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian government-funded TV channel RT was at the centre of a new controversy Thursday after taking an American journalist off air for launching into a diatribe against Russia's anti-gay legislation.
In solidarity with Russian gays, journalist James Kirchick had snapped on rainbow-coloured braces in the colours of the gay-rights movement for an appearance on the RT channel, where he condemned the "horrific environment of homophobia in Russia".
He was speaking by video-link from Stockholm along with other panelists on a live show Wednesday afternoon discussing the case of WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning ahead of his sentencing by a US military court.
After Kirchick argued with RT's studio anchors about the anti-gay legislation and denounced the channel as a "Kremlin-funded propaganda network", the broadcaster switched to another speaker and the video link to Kirchick disappeared from the screen.
A controversial law signed in June by President Vladimir Putin banning the dissemination of "gay propaganda" has prompted international protests, including a call by British actor Stephen Fry for Russia to be denied the right to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year.
"A comrade decided to troll us on a show about Bradley Manning. Of course we listened to him but we decided he had nothing to do with the topic," RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan wrote on Twitter.
"Next time we will invite him to discuss gay rights. But for the moment, good-bye," she said.
The hosts on the English-language channel, which is funded by the Russian government, looked bewildered as Kirchick used his air time to take Russia to task over the legislation.
"Being here on a Kremlin-funded propaganda network, I'm going to wear my Gay Pride suspenders and I'm going to speak out against the horrific anti-gay legislation that Vladimir Putin has signed into law," said Kirchick, who writes for publications including the New York Daily News.
The RT hosts tried to interrupt Kirchick and draw him back to the topic, but he refused, saying: "I'm not really interested in talking about Bradley Manning, I'm interested in talking about the horrific environment of homophobia in Russia right now."
Fry praised Kirchick on Twitter, posting a link to a YouTube video of the exchange to his six million followers and saying, "This is truly magnificent!"
RT has been frequently criticised by Western commentators over alleged unobjective reporting, particularly on the conflict in Syria, and for avoiding topics that might discomfort the Kremlin.
The channel insists it is not a Kremlin mouthpiece and is merely giving a different point of view to an audience tired of a news environment dominated by Western media organisations.