Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine unleashed a wave of actions by Western governments and others to counteract Russian influence and cut off economic resources around the world. Russian state-owned media outlets such as RT and Sputnik were among the targets due to their role in spreading Russian state propaganda as well as mis- and disinformation related to events in Ukraine. However, sites like RT also produce articles that present straight-news reporting with minimal bias, which serves to obscure their role as a state-sponsored media outlet. So, how reliable is news from RT and how biased is its content?

Note: This analysis is specific to RT’s online written content, not any of its television or other media programming.

How Does The Factual Rate News Sources? 

The Factual analyzes more than 10,000 news stories every day to help readers find the most informative, least-biased articles. Our news-rating algorithm scores each article along four metrics: (1) cited sources and quotes, (2) publication history, (3) writing tone, and (4) author expertise. These scores combine in a weighted average we call a Factual Grade, which ranges from 0–100%. (See our How It Works page to learn more about our algorithm.)

For this study, we analyzed ~1,000 articles each from 240 news sources. The average Factual Grade for the entire dataset was 62.5%. Based on these averages, we can compare the performance of news sites across the media ecosystem. The entire dataset can be explored in greater detail here.

How Factual Is RT? 

RT scored an average Factual Grade of 41.8%, placing it in the 1st percentile of our dataset. This is the third-lowest score for any site that we analyzed.

With such low scores, it’s no surprise that RT rates poorly across all metrics tracked by The Factual’s news-rating algorithm. For starters, articles from RT generally have poor sourcing of information, meaning they sparsely link to relevant articles and evidence or link to unreliable sources. In terms of authors, RT often scores poorly for authors’ topical expertise, suggesting the authors rarely cover the same topics regularly or fail to deliver high-quality articles when they do so. Furthermore, many articles do not have an assigned author at all, belying a lack of transparency. Finally, articles from RT often incorporate biased language or headlines (see next section).

Like any news source, scores for articles from RT varied widely based on factors like author expertise and cited evidence. For example, some scored above 60%, while most scored below 40%.

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How Opinionated Is RT?

One of the metrics The Factual uses is the Writing Tone, which measures how opinionated the writing is in an article. For this metric, the algorithm looks for signs of subjective commentary (e.g., first person pronouns and unnecessary adverbs), as well as the emotional nature of selected words, and sees how prevalent they are for a given length of text. More neutral text receives higher ratings, with “0” being the most opinionated and “1” being the most neutral.

RT had an average Writing Tone score of 0.49, placing it in the 31st percentile in our dataset for this metric. This suggests that articles from RT often incorporate highly opinionated or loaded language. This indicates that the site’s articles are attempting to elicit an emotional response from readers rather than neutrally convey information. This can be seen in headlines such as “China beefs up nukes to deter US threat” and “Joe Rogan blasts CNN.”

What Is the Political Bias of RT?

The Factual classifies news sites by political bias as either Left, Moderate Left, Center, Moderate Right, or Right. This classification is derived from third-party assessments from media bias organizations such as AllSides and Media Bias/Fact Check. Based on this data, The Factual assigns RT a “Moderate Right” bias. 

AllSides rates RT as “Lean Right” based on an editorial review and independent research, though they admit the typical left-right spectrum is less appropriate in this instance since RT is an international source owned by the Russian government. The conservative leaning of the site is mainly attributed to overlap with conservative ideas on topics like globalization, critical race theory, and climate change. AllSides also notes that many people have accused RT of carrying conspiracy theories or using authors who have written such content, particularly climate change denialism. AllSides reviewed RT most recently in February 2022 in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ultimately decided not to ban RT’s content from its platform as some others have done, instead finding it “useful for people to know what the Russian government perspective is, or what messages they are currently publicizing.” 

Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC) classifies RT as a “Questionable” source due to “pro-Russian propaganda, conspiracy theories, numerous failed fact checks, and a lack of author transparency,” with a bias somewhere between “Right-Center” and “Right.” MBFC indicates that sources in the “Questionable” category tend to include at least one of the following: “extreme bias, consistent promotion of propaganda/conspiracies, poor or no sourcing to credible information, a complete lack of transparency, and/or is fake news.” MBFC further assigns RT the lowest possible rating for factual reporting, suggesting that content “may be very untrustworthy and should be fact-checked on a per-article basis.” While MBFC acknowledges that many articles cover actual stories, they are often spun to reflect a pro-Russian narrative.

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Who Owns RT News?

RT is funded by the Russian government and was originally founded in 2005 by the domestic news agency RIA Novosti. The site is widely regarded as a propaganda mouthpiece for the Russian government, including according to the U.S. government, and routinely carries mis- and disinformation, most recently showcased in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Following the first days of the invasion, the European Union, specific European governments, and large tech companies such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft began banning RT or removing its content from their platforms, citing the organization’s role in spreading disinformation. 

In the past, Putin has insisted on the site’s impartiality and independence, but while doing so, he implicitly revealed the site’s pro-Russian bias:

When we designed this project back in 2005, we intended introducing another strong player on the world’s scene, a player that wouldn’t just provide an unbiased coverage of the events in Russia but also … We never expected this to be a news agency or a channel which would defend the position of the Russian political line. We wanted to bring an absolutely independent news channel to the news arena. Certainly the channel is funded by the government, so it cannot help but reflect the Russian government’s official position on the events in our country and in the rest of the world one way or another. But I’d like to underline again that we never intended this channel, RT, as any kind of apologetics for the Russian political line, whether domestic or foreign.

Why Does It Matter?

News articles always have some bias because all authors have some frame of reference within which they describe a story. Political bias ratings and other factors are helpful in understanding this framing. However, it can be more beneficial to know how factual an article is based on quantifiable metrics that can be seen across the media ecosystem, such as cited evidence, author expertise, and writing tone. This is what The Factual ascertains. 

Reading several, highly rated articles from across the political spectrum helps counter the bias of any news source or story. To have the day’s most factual news stories delivered to your inbox every morning, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Article updated on September 22, 2022 to reflect new data.

Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. At The Factual, he leads research efforts that utilize the company's ever growing data on the media ecosystem. He is also a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.