“It was embarrassing when the partnership was signed two years ago,” a Reuters reporter told POLITICO. “Now that’s just plain wrong, and the silence from the summit is disturbing and possibly the worst.”
According to two Reuters reporters who spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity to candidly discuss internal issues, some staff have sought answers from senior officials about why Reuters continues to distribute Tass through its Reuters B2B service. Connect, which allows news organizations that pay for the news service to access and share content from Tass.
Reuters staff specifically expressed concern over Tass’ uncritical reporting of Russian government information, which critics and media pundits call propaganda.
The Brookings Institution, a left-wing think tank, reported that Tass repeated Russian government claims that Ukrainians killed civilians in the Donbass region and dumped their bodies in mass graves, a claim that security agencies press and experts say false. Tass also reported that Ukrainian forces fired on Russians during a ceasefire and that neo-Nazis used Ukrainian civilians as “human shields,” a claim that The New York Times said “helped create an alternate reality.
The news agency’s ties to the Russian government have not always been of a purely journalistic nature either. The Daily Beast and The Washington Post previously reported that US law enforcement officials believe Tas was working with Russia’s foreign intelligence service to try to gather sensitive information about markets and finance in New York.
On Sunday, Reuters still listed Tass as one of its partners on its website advertising Reuters Connect.
Asked about the deal with Tass, Reuters played down its ties to the Russian entity, noting that the Reuters newsroom “operates independently of any Reuters Connect deal”.
“Reuters Connect is a business-to-business marketplace that provides access to Reuters news content and content from more than 90 third-party providers, including TASS,” a spokesperson said. “The Connect platform allows users – typically other media – to view content, including videos, images and graphics, from around the world. All third-party content is clearly labeled and carries a disclaimer. -disclaimer stating that Reuters “does not guarantee the accuracy of, nor endorse the views or opinions expressed in this asset”.
When the distribution deal was initially announced, Reuters management gave it an enthusiastic assessment. According to a press release announcing the deal in 2020, the partnership with Tass was intended to “offer media clients access to the latest news and exclusive videos from TASS; videos about the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as background videos and general news.
“I am delighted that TASS and Reuters are building on our valued partnership by having TASS join Reuters Connect,” Michael Friedenberg, then Reuters chairman, said in a statement at the time. “Their addition shows our continued commitment to bringing additional value to Reuters Connect customers. Alongside the extensive production of Reuters’ own world-class Newsroom, we continue to provide clients with content of unparalleled breadth and depth.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, some outside observers and critics took notice of the Reuters-Tass partnership.
“Why exactly would we trust @Reuters? You are a partner of Russian TASS,” said John Sipher, a former CIA official, entertainment consultant and Twitter personality. tweeted earlier this month.
At least one other Tass-linked news organization has taken a different approach. Earlier this month, Getty Images ended its relationship with Tass for violating the photo service’s editorial policies, saying it planned to remove all Tass content once their current deal ended.
“We have been watching Russian state news agency Tass closely since Russia invaded Ukraine,” a Getty Images spokesperson told Forbes. “To ensure the integrity of the content we distribute, we require partners and contributors to comply.”