Democratist

Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Should RT be banned?

Posted by democratist on November 11, 2014

11th November 2014

Democratist was present (as an audience member) at the King’s College London War Studies Society panel discussion, “On Holiday with a Tank: Russian Action and Ambition in Ukraine” yesterday evening.

The quality of debate, as one would expect of such an event, was excellent. This is not the place for a detailed précis, but suffice to say there was general agreement among the panel that Russian aggression looks set to continue in Ukraine, and that propaganda will play an important role in Russia’s strategy of “hybrid War.”

Afterwards I spoke to some of the forty or fifty Ukrainian students present at the discussion. They informed me that many of the young British people they have spoken to in recent months about this years revolution in Ukraine had replied by regurgitating Russian propaganda lines – conspiracy theories concerning the events during the revolution in February, or the crash of MH17, or unconvincing suggestions that the newly-elected government in Kiev is in fact a “fascist junta.”

This trend is testimony to an unpalatable truth; that RT’s disinformation is having a slowly corrosive impact on political discourse in the UK.

This is something that, after years of post Cold-War complacency, is finally becoming clear: The Russians are now spending $400 million per year just on RT (the overall propaganda budget is much higher). It is becoming increasingly difficult to get an accurate picture of what is going on in Russia without interference from the Russian state; even if you stick to Western media, you’ll face a barrage of (well-organized and paid) disinformation as soon as you turn to the comments section.

My worry is that we in the UK are in the process of permitting the creation of a generation of manipulated pseuds (on both left and right), who think that spouting this nonsense is cool and edgy, because it shows how super-informed and cynical/radical they are; adding a dark side to youthful rebellion in the service of authoritarianism.

RT is NOT the alternative to the “mainstream media” it likes to pretend (the one that wants you to “Question More”). It’s a propaganda channel whose main task is to produce manipulative noise, designed to confuse and misdirect. This has been clearly demonstrated and evidenced by the fact that OFCOM, the UK’s independent  broadcast standards watchdog, has judged that RT’s reporting has broken their code on bias TEN TIMES since they started broadcasting in the UK in 2005: RT regularly flouts UK rules on providing balanced coverage in broadcasting, and in its most recent report yesterday OFCOM detailed the latest such examples, which occurred in relation to events in Ukraine this spring.

With this latest OFCOM judgement, the time is fast approaching for decisive action. We must not give a hostile foreign power the right to repeatedly lie and propagandize on British television; just as we wouldn’t allow any domestic channel to continually broadcast from a single political perspective.

With the latest OFCOM ruling, we now have an opportunity to seriously consider taking the sort of firm action this situation demands: Unless it immediately takes a far more balanced approach, RT should be banned from broadcasting in the UK. To do anything else would be to effectively ignore our own rules.

Additionally, it is notable that the authorities in Canada may also be considering a broadcast ban on RT. If both the UK and Canada go for such a ban in the medium term, then that will provide a basis for action in other countries. Perhaps there is even scope for an EU-wide approach. Such a move would be well within the scope of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which allows for the curbing of freedom of expression for reasons of national security.

A broadcast ban would still leave RT available on the internet, and those who are absolutely determined will still be able to access it. But a such a ban, as part of a transparent judicial process, and based on clear evidence, would in itself be an important step forward in as far as it makes clear exactly how RT lies and manipulates, and why it is not to be trusted.

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