WikiLeaks founder and controversy magnet Julian Assange has been driven off the Internet, deprived of funding and placed under house arrest. Now he will get his chance to strike back, courtesy of the Kremlin.
Starting in March, Mr. Assange will host a 10-part series of interview programs with "key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries" on Russia Today (RT), a state-funded English-language satellite news network which claims to reach more than 85 million viewers in the US alone.
According to a statement on his website, the new Assange series will explore the "upheavals and revolutions" that are shaking the Middle East and expose how "the deterioration of the rule of law has demonstrated the bankruptcy of once leading political institutions and ideologies" in the West.
Entitled "The World Tomorrow," the show will be filmed by an RT satellite crew at Ellingham Hall, the remote manor house 130 miles north of London. It's the same place Assange has been under house arrest since December 2010 awaiting a Supreme Court decision on his extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.
There is no word on which "key personalities" Assange will get to interview, but at least one British newspaper, The Guardian, has published its own wish list of people it would like to see go head-to-head with him, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"Through this series I will explore the possibilities for our future in conversations with those who are shaping it," Assange said in his statement. "Are we heading towards utopia, or dystopia and how we can set our paths? This is an exciting opportunity to discuss the vision of my guests in a new style of show that examines their philosophies and struggles in a deeper and clearer way than has been done before."
The network says the series could reach as many as 600 million viewers worldwide.
The six-year-old Russia Today, which seems far better funded than most media these days, has battled accusations that it is a Kremlin vanity project since its inception.
The station tends to tiptoe gingerly around the controversies of Russian politics, but aggressively applies its own slogan – "Question More" – in its coverage of Western affairs and particularly the global role of the US.
In 2010 it opened a full-time US TV channel, RT America, which produces independent content on US politics and economics from what it calls an alternative – critics say anti-American – point of view.
Hiring Assange would seem a perfect fit for RT. Worries that WikiLeaks might dump a lot of embarrassing material about the Russian government into Internet never panned out.
However, the thousands of US diplomatic cables that it did release proved to be the gift-that-keeps-on-giving for critics and rivals of Washington, including the Kremlin.
"We liked a lot of the WikiLeaks revelations. It was very much in sync with what Russia Today has been reporting about the Arab Spring, and about the duplicitous policies of the US and its allies all along," says Peter Lavelle, a senior journalist with RT and host of its Cross Talk public affairs program.
"I think the Russian government will be pleased [to see Assange working on RT]. It's a soft power coup for Russia," he adds.