/ 17 April 2012

Assange interviews Hezbollah chief in Russian TV debut

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange interviewed Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday in the debut of his The World Tomorrow talk show on Russia’s state-funded RT cable broadcaster.

Assange remains under house arrest and spoke to Nasrallah, who is considered a “terrorist” by both the US and Israel, from his study in London via a computer video link.

The English-language channel that is funded by the Kremlin and openly promotes Moscow’s views on global affairs with the slogan “Question More”, had boasted that the choice of guest would irritate many viewers.

Assange in his introduction called Nasrallah “one of the most extraordinary figures in the Middle East”.

“I won’t be surprised if after the first show the hawks want not just to shut down Assange but us as well,” wrote channel director Margarita Simonyan on her Twitter account, while stressing that Assange chose the guest.

Speaking from a “secret location in Lebanon”, Nasrallah beamed in a friendly-toned interview in which he laid out the group’s position on the conflict in Syria, flanked by the flags of Lebanon and Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington, with numerous other Western countries sharing that view, but Russia does not back the same position and has held direct talks with its leaders.

Nasrallah, in a comment he said he was making for the first time, said that Hezbollah, while supporting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in the conflict, had also contacted Syrian opposition groups.

He said Hezbollah wanted “to encourage them and to facilitate the process of dialogue with the regime, but these parties rejected dialogue”.

During the half-hour show Assange sat at a desk in a small room wearing a creased white shirt, with a cup of coffee and a glass of water in front of him. Books and recording equipment could be seen on shelves behind him.

Ahead of the show, the controversial founder of the whistle blowing website admitted he was bound to face criticism for airing his show on a Kremlin-funded channel.

‘Enemy combatant’
In a promotional interview to RT, he said he expected to be called an “enemy combatant, traitor [for] getting into bed with the Kremlin and interviewing terrible radicals from around the world.”

“But I think it’s a pretty trivial kind of attack on character,” he said in the interview published on the RT website, saying he chose the channel because it has higher penetration in the US than Al Jazeera.

“If they actually look at how the show is made: we make it, we have complete editorial control, we believe that all media organisations have an angle, all media organisations have an issue.”

The 12-episode weekly show is being produced by the Quick Roll Productions company that Assange set up after establishing fame with his site that leaked US diplomatic dispatches.

RT, which used to be known as Russia Today, has the right to the first airing of the episodes.

Assange has been under house arrest for almost 500 days, awaiting judgment from the Supreme Court in London on whether he can be extradited to Sweden for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault. — AFP