Russia Today, gone for good?

5th March 2022

Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, chokes back crocodile tears for the BBC

For those who like to get their world news from a variety of sources it has been a bad week. This is not the case if you want to access France International or Al Jazeera; one of the many news channels from the United States; or indeed the BBC.  However, if you want to compare and contrast information on the current situation in Ukraine from the Russian point of view, you will find that Russia Today (RT) had vanished from your TV channel options.

The withdrawal of RT from the airwaves is, apparently, a victory for free speech as it prevents Russian propaganda from polluting the living rooms of Europe.  The ban is EU wide but enthusiastically endorsed by the British government, not least by Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, who stated,

“It is my absolute position that we will not stop until we have persuaded every organisation, based in the UK or not, that it is the wrong thing to do to stream Russian propaganda into British homes.”   

Dorries shed crocodile tears in the House of Commons as she praised the bravery of BBC journalists ‘risking their lives’ to cover the conflict, in spite of Dorries herself being the biggest threat to the BBC, as she presses ahead with plans to abolish the licence fee and cut budgets.

Dorries’ zeal to stamp out the Russian broadcaster was matched by Labour leader Kier Starmer who backed the ban on the basis that Russia’s “campaign of misinformation should be tackled” and that RT must be prevented from “broadcasting its propaganda around the world.”

The fig leaf for the banning of RT, which it is not in the government’s gift, is that the regulator Ofcom must make such decisions and, having received a number of complaints about the channel’s coverage of events in Ukraine, Ofcom duly declared that,

“All licensees must observe Ofcom’s rules including due accuracy and due impartiality.  If broadcasters break those rules, we will not hesitate to step in.”

It is unclear as to whether Ofcom’s position includes omission as well as observance with regard to its definition of “due accuracy aand due imprtiality”. One of the issues RT has raised consistently over the past week is the failure of Western media to give the current conflict any context.  In particular RT coverage questioned why the West gave no coverage to the coup which took place in 2014 in Ukraine, resulting in a conflict in which 14,000 people have lost their lives in the past eight years.

The subsequent agreement in 2015, when the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France met in Minsk to sign an interim peace deal gets scant attention in the West.  At the heart of the deal was Ukraine’s agreement to give autonomy to the Russian speaking Donbass region, now the self declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.  The fact that the Ukrainian government failed to honour the Minsk agreement, and perpetuated an ongoing war against the Donbass region, is key to the two republics declaring independence and to the Russian intervention.

In the interests of “due accuracy and due impartiality” it would be reasonable to expect the BBC to provide some airtime to explaining this.  It may even be reasonable to expect the BBC to highlight the agreements made following the demise of the Soviet Union, that NATO would not impinge upon the borders of Russia or recruit East European states into the military alliance.  Agreements which NATO has flagrantly breeched.

While none of this is an excuse for the actions of nationalist oligarch, Vladimir Putin, in launching military operations against Ukraine it does at least help understand the Russian mindset and the security concerns which lie behind the decision.  In any conflict situation understanding the concerns and viewpoint of your adversary is part of the way towards knowing what may be possible by way of a negotiated settlement.

This is assuming that NATO is looking for a settlement in the short term.  Embroiling Putin and his cohorts in a protracted conflict in Ukraine may actually serve the longer term purpose of regime change in Russia, which NATO, the EU and the United States have clearly been building towards for some time, as troop deployments move ever closer to the Russian border and Eastern Europe states become absorbed in the EU.

US President, Joe Biden, concluded his State of the Union, speech this week with a peroration on the war in Ukraine which culminated in the proclamation, “Go get him!”, hardly a call to negotiate.  

Ukrainian President Zelensky is stepping up the demand for a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would draw the military alliance into direct conflict with Russia, potentially having to shoot down Russian aircraft, and escalate the conflict further.

The propaganda war is as much a part of the conflict as troops on the ground and missile attacks.  The characterisation of the war as one of good vs evil is firmly established in Western media and is reflected in the actions of much of the population.  In Britain alone buildings are lit in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, municipal buildings fly the flag itself and collections are being organised to support refugees from Ukraine.

Having previously attempted to build a steel ring around the EU when migrants fled NATO inspired conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria, even the states most hostile to migrants, such as Hungary and Poland, are prepared to admit any number of Ukrainians.  White Europeans appear to get an easier pass than anyone from the Middle East or North Africa.

The BBC and its sister stations across the EU continue to give such actions high profile coverage and, far from being duly accurate and impartial, take an active and clear side in the conflict.  The BBC has also launched two new short wave radio frequencies to reach Ukraine and Russia.

Which is not to say that RT would be completely impartial in its coverage from a Russian perspective or that its reportage of the conflict as it unfolds would be any more accurate.  It would be naive to think that the propaganda war does not cut both ways. However, it would appear that the much vaunted ‘freedoms’ of the West do not stretch to being able to access both sides of the debate.

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