RUSSIA Today should not be banned from British or American airwaves.
This may seem like a bold statement in light of Vladimir Putin’s recent invasion of Ukraine, but democratic societies must defend media freedom.
RT is, like the BBC and CBC, state-funded. A major difference between the channels, however, is that the Kremlin also directs the news line.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that he ordered his country’s military to conduct a special operation in the Donbass region after the leaders of the breakaway republics asked Moscow for military assistance in response to what they claim is an increase in ‘Ukrainian aggression’“, an introduction to RT’s article on the invasion this week said.
One can argue that the BBC is also biased towards the ruling party of its own country – but at least there’s a semblance of accountability when it comes to reporting.
It’s not atypical of the line RT takes. It could be described as more ‘KGB than BBC’, as a New York Times article one put it.
There have been some notable exceptions, of course – such as when prominent presenter and journalist Abby Martin spoke out against Russia’s actions ahead of the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The channel also hosts numerous unorthodox shows in a bid to provide an ‘alternative perspective’ on world affairs.
And to be fair, it has achieved this in many spheres.
As well as Martin, you’ll have seen Alex Salmond and George Galloway host their own shows. Chris Hedges and Lee Camp are also regular presenters.
This is by no means a defence of RT, of course.
The channel propagates dangerous lines which often skirt the truth in the name of being alternative or appearing anti-imperialist on the surface. But it fails to hold the Kremlin to account when most needed.
Having said this, the current Ofcom review into the situation with Russia Today broadcasting in the UK is a threat to free speech and media freedom.
The BBC, of course, is guilty of parroting pro-government lines a little too often for an impartial broadcaster. CNN is a safe space for Democrats, while Fox News – set to relaunch in the UK as a streaming service – is often a spew of right-wing nonsense.
Yet we keep a range of channels on the air – whether sponsored by the Japanese, French or Chinese states – because the demos requires a range of views to be fully informed.
The Spectator, a UK outlet, perhaps put it best: “As a democratic society with a vibrant broadcast media and a sceptical public, we should be confident that one blatantly biased channel has no hope in distorting our national debate.”
RT can be criticised, held to account and perhaps boycotted by politicians and guests alike. But banning it would put censorship on a dangerous path.
Bradley Bernard is Redaction Report’s chief leader writer.
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