WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hadn’t been seen in public for many months before he was arrested and hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday.
It was a moment that global news organizations were desperate to show their audiences. Yet it wasn’t captured by leading UK broadcasters like the BBC, Sky News or Independent Television News (ITN).
Instead, the only media organization with video of the controversial moment was an obscure outfit called Ruptly.
Ruptly, which has carved out a niche for itself by recording events around the world and selling the footage to other broadcasters, is a subsidiary of Russian state-backed media outlet RT.
Founded in 2013, the operation is headquartered in Berlin. The footage of Assange may be its biggest moment yet.
Laura Lucchini, deputy head of news at Ruptly, said the outlet has been shooting video outside the embassy 24/7 since at least April 5 with a rotating crew of five staffers It’s even been broadcasting a shot of the building’s front door on YouTube.
“For the last week, we closely monitored developments on this story while our team of producers worked in shifts,” Lucchini said in a statement. “On many of these days and nights, there were no developments. We saw camera crews come and go. But we stayed. We believe that these images hold great news value.”
According to the Guardian, after it started to seem in recent weeks that an arrest might be imminent, big UK broadcasters had formed a “pool” arrangement to take turns staking out the building. If something happened, the footage would be shared among the pool members.
That effort appeared to have been abandoned when the arrest failed to materialize. The BBC, ITN and Sky News did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
News organizations around the world are now crediting — and paying for the rights to use — Ruptly’s exclusive footage.
“We are happy to work with a young, ambitious and committed team who stayed on top of the story when all other media decided to leave,” Lucchini said.
Russia has long expressed support for Assange. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a Facebook post after the arrest that “the hand of ‘democracy’ squeezes the throat of freedom.”
But Lucchini said in an email that she does not feel influenced by the Russian government, saying “I wouldn’t have accepted this position if I wouldn’t have felt free in my decisions.”
“We don’t know why other camera crews left,” she said. “We decided to carry on staying there because the eviction was expected. And it happened this morning.”