by Ella Whelan
Wednesday, 2
March 2022
Debate
07:00

Banning Russia Today sets a dangerous precedent

It's rarely a good sign when Big Tech and Western leaders agree
by Ella Whelan

It’s been a good few weeks for Nick Clegg. In the middle of February, Sir Nick was promoted by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to President of Global Affairs for the newly rebranded Meta. And not long into his job, Clegg has made his first significant decision — banning Russian outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik from Meta’s platforms.

In a tweet posted this week, Clegg announced that he had been petitioned by “a number of governments and the EU” to “take further steps in relation to Russian state controlled media”. Indeed, several countries and institutions have already made moves to limit Russian-state media in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. On Sunday, the European Commission’s president Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference she intended to “ban the Kremlin’s media machine in the EU” and develop the “tools to ban their [Russia’s] toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe”. Last week, Labour leader Keir Starmer called on the government to lean on Ofcom to tackle RT’s “campaign of misinformation”. Culture secretary Nadine Dorries seems to have listened, writing a letter to the regulatory body this week voicing concerns about the channel’s ability to ‘spread harmful disinformation’.

Whatever your view of Russian state media, the cosy cooperation between Big Tech and governments (or supranational organisations) should give us pause. Meta isn’t the only tech giant to intervene in what European punters have access to — just yesterday, YouTube has announced that ‘due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, we’re blocking YouTube channels connected to RT and Sputnik across Europe’. Meanwhile, Twitter has declared it will ‘label all posts containing links to Russian state-affiliated media outlets’ and Telegram, the messaging app, has threatened ‘to shut down channels related to the war because of rampant misinformation’. Rather than trusting citizens in Western nations to decide for themselves, Western leaders and unelected tech bosses have decided to turn off the switch, Kremlin-style, on viewpoints they deem to be ‘harmful’.

We need to know what is going on in Russia. Having access to the unfiltered Moscow line is vital when trying to understand Putin’s next steps. A prematurely published article celebrating Russia’s ‘victory’ over Ukraine was available on state-owned RIA-Novosti news agency and Sputnik’s site before being removed — a piece of journalism that revealed the extent of the Russian state’s disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty. By labelling this as dangerous ‘misinformation’, Dorries, von der Leyen and Clegg are preventing European citizens from getting the full picture on the political machinations coming out of the Kremlin.

Perhaps more importantly, the precedent set by such bold action as banning foreign news sites should make us worried. Press freedom has taken a bashing recently; during the pandemic, YouTube and other sites censored TalkRadio for alleged Covid ‘misinformation’, while a recent BBC Stephen Nolan podcast revealed the extent to which Ofcom was willing to silence gender-critical views labelled ‘hate speech’. When it comes to interpreting foreign conflicts, the British government has proved itself to be similarly light on principle. While British citizens who left to fight against ISIS with the Kurds were labelled terrorists and prosecuted on return, the foreign secretary Liz Truss announced her support for British citizens to fight with the Ukrainians against Russia during a broadcast round this weekend.   

Unlike Russia, Western liberal democracies are supposed to trust their citizens to have access to alternative and even controversial news outlets. Unlike the Kremlin, we do not ban or penalise journalism that does not fit with our world view. And unlike Putin, we do not sequester ourselves away from difficult or conflictual information. Press freedom is never easy to defend, but it is what differentiates us from the oppressive regime we find ourselves coming face to face with today.

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Paul K
Paul K
4 months ago

Unlike the Kremlin, we do not ban or penalise journalism that does not fit with our world view. And unlike Putin, we do not sequester ourselves away from difficult or conflictual information.’
If this was ever true, it has certainy not been since at least the start of the pandemic.

Leto McAllister
Leto McAllister
4 months ago
Reply to  Paul K

Or in regards to the “gender critical hate speech”.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
4 months ago

Free speech is one of the supposed fundamentals of Democratic Societies.
But this seems to only include opinions acceptable to our leaders.
Lest we forget, social media switched off a sitting President of the United States. I may not agree with many things Trump said but he has a right to say them and if POTUS is cancelled then that says a lot about those that run social media.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
4 months ago

I still look at the RT website. It is mostly rubbish. I am well able to tell what might be true and what is a load of nonsense. And no, I am not going to click through to read “Oliver Stone’s take on the Ukraine Crisis”. Most people are savvy enough to take the RT news/propaganda with a gigantic lump of rock salt, never mind a pinch. But our governments and tech overlords don’t think we are grown-up enough to do this.

Iris C
Iris C
4 months ago

RT comes under the jurisdiction of Ofcom and will be obliged to apologise and alter a news item which was shown to be incorrect, or, no doubt, face the consequences. That makes them wary of overstepping the mark but gives us another point of view..
This does not apply to the BBC. I have several times questioned items on the BBC with Ofcom, giving verifiable evidence, but have got nowhere. Most notably with Brexit.
Propaganda is not just voicing something which is incorrect but selection, and also the choice of whom to interview in the studio and on the street. This “economy with the truth” was very much to the fore during the Covid epidemic.
I have watched RT for many years and believe that it gives me a rounded picture of events which affect my life and those of the family.
Thankfully the Prime Minister has not succumbed to pressure from the Labour Party and the LibDem former Deputy Prime Minister, who is now wielding power on Facebook.
From writing this and turning on the tele, I see that RT has been banned
I paid my licence fee to get a full schedule of programmes so object strongly to not getting what I paid for.
.

Last edited 4 months ago by Iris C
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago

Most people are savvy enough to take the RT news/propaganda with a gigantic lump of rock salt

And people became savvy by free exposure to RT propaganda.
Banning it not only increases its credibility by making people suspect that “truth is being hidden” by the authorities, but worse , IMO, and more insidiously, lowers our exposure and therefore our immunity to such nonsense.

Leto McAllister
Leto McAllister
4 months ago

Russia and China have such a terrible record at free speech, that our Advanved Liberal Democratic Goodwill World Government shall not allow their terrible misinformation to be heard by our citizens. Curtain falls. 1984.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago

Yes, banning RT is stupid, as is banning the Bolshoi, cancelling Gergiev’s contract in Edinburgh, and terminating all sporting contact. Putin is not Russia, it is a great people with a great culture, we need them. Did the world ban US and British culture and sport when we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
4 months ago

No, our governments shouldn’t ban RT.
We are not (yet) at war with Russia.
This proposal is more ineffective performative nonsense to look like we’re doing something but will create bad law along the way that we’ll be stuck with .

Anyway, we’ve coped with the presence of Russian propaganda for years without going totalitarian on it. Governments banning it now will harm us, not them.

And what about poor George Galloway and Alex Salmond losing their RT gigs? Won’t somebody think of the pollies?

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
4 months ago

‘We need to know what is going on in Russia. Having access to the unfiltered Moscow line is vital when trying to understand Putin’s next steps.’
I personally would like to listen to what Lavrov actually said in the video at the UN in Geneva. I caught a couple of phrases which were chilling in their implications but I have seen no comment. The press is only covernng the walkout by many if not all member nations. Not helpful.

Malcolm James McKillop
Malcolm James McKillop
4 months ago

The west is doing a very good job of weaponizing the press and social media by censoring. You can’t talk the talk unless it is the approved talk. All else is mis and dis information unless it is fake news.
The west are doing a very good job of weaponizing the monetary system. In Canada it was invoking the non emergency emergency act to justify freezing bank accounts. For Russia it is blocking them from accessing the Swift system. Simply because of a refusal to acknowledge the validity of the ‘other’ point of view.
Never mind that you might have a legitimate complaint. Canadians have an incompetent government. The Russians are bothered by NATO on their doorstep much like the Americans were with Russia trying to send ballistic weapons to Cuba in the sixties. For Canada it was horns. For Russia it is tanks with guns. I wonder what China will bring to the party when it is their turn.
Perhaps China will bring the west to the negotiation table by not supplying Amazon with our mail order toys.

Last edited 4 months ago by Malcolm James McKillop
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago

This is a reasonable argument, but I really wonder how consistent most people are in this. What about pro-Islamist broadcasts – perhaps promoting Sharia law. Should they be allowed? And if not, why not?

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Yes they should be and are. Sharia Law is a fundamental part of Islam, a religion openly practised all over the world. In every Mosque, Sharia is advocated.

David McDowell
David McDowell
3 months ago

We ban paedos and racists. Why should RT be treated differently?

Gilles Ward
Gilles Ward
4 months ago

This is not an attack on this particular writer, just a general point about the articles and comment appearing on this website in the past few days in relation to the crisis in Ukraine. Too much is written here that either exhibits the paranoid, anti-West, populism of the type currently displayed by Tucker Carlson or Eric Zemmour, who are so far gone in their twisted visions of the world that they and their fellow travellers are unable to express normal responses to the events in the Ukraine, or constitutes rank bad faith defences of Putin disguised as ‘reasonable’ doubt/uncertainty/caution. Both are despicable. Any person, of whatever political persuasion, who adheres to the fundamental Western value of an empirical and sceptical engagement with the truth (which I had understood this publication to espouse as its core principle), must conclude that the current actions of the Russian president are heinous, that his behaviour and reasoning are irrational, and that the only proper response is absolute resistance deploying all peacful means possible whilst aiding the Ukrainians materially in anything short of direct war with Russia. The current culture wars have clearly affected capacities to apprehend the truth and left too many stuck in warped understandings and repulsive prejudices (on both sides of the divide). It is now time to move ahead and beyond this parochial nonsense and embrace again the splendour of our democracies and democratic processes.

Last edited 4 months ago by Gilles Ward
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Gilles Ward

Very well said; the reaction of far too many on both sides of the culture war divide looks like pusillanimous ‘whataboutery’ verging on outright apologia; I have yet to hear any of these people say why Putin’s aggressive expansionism is in essence any different from that of Hitler 80 years ago. It is so easy to condemn the latter and luxuriate in self-righteousness without cost, because we know how that (eventually) turned out.

Last edited 4 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
4 months ago
Reply to  Gilles Ward

Excellent comment, amazed by the downticks.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

The reason for the downticks is really very simple. Putin is not Hitler. Putin may be an autocrat and a bully, but he is not evil incarnate. But, if you folk want to push this thing to WWIII and consequent nuclear annihilation go for it, because that’s what you are really proposing.
And let’s be even more honest here just to show up the hypocrites. If this particular conflict involved something in the middle east or in Africa, nobody would care. It’s only because it involves two European countries with people who look like native Europeans and who share a common culture with us (the western literary, artistic and musical cannon).

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Any man that is willing to sacrifice thousands of his own troops and those of his neighbour in an unprovoked war is evil in my book

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Well I guess every country from the 19th century and prior was evil then. Is that right. Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, the Persians, the British, the French, etc. etc. etc.
And by the way the current situation in Ukraine, despicable though the Russian actions may be, was certainly provoked by both Ukraine and the West. That’s what red lines in the sand are about. The Russians reiterated those red lines more than enough times over the last 15 years concerning NATO, the EU and Ukraine. Moreover the Ukraine Government has been shelling the Donbas region for the last 8 years. So we don’t have a situation where one side is all virtue and lightness, while the other side is all evil and darkness.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Like Bush, Blair, Obama, Cameron and so on…

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago

Whilst I’m not usually one for censorship, I’d actually argue that a national government is well within its rights to ban the propaganda of a hostile foreign nation. To me it’s completely different to a government censoring opinions it doesn’t agree with in matters concerning domestic policy

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I usually agree with you but I’m not sure this time. Censorship is everywhere and has become a normal part of our lives – could this action (by governments) be a final step in the game of controlling everybody’s lives?
I have been watching a Scandi cop show where the hero was a woman, who had to stop the action every few minutes to make a speech about how badly women were treated. The BBC has agreed that viewing figures for Doctor Who have halved but it won’t stop them from having a black woman as the next Doctor and this woman will stop the action to make a speech about black women’s terrible plight. This is censorship of a more gentle kind – it is trying to twist our view of life by not providing balanced information. Yesterday, one of my comments on UnHerd was removed by the censor. This comment was very, very mild. Is there anywhere today without censorship?
Censorship by the control of information is killing the country. Particularly, gainsayers in our environmental policy are prevented from speaking and we are going to destroy ourselves while other countries laugh at us. I do not agree with any censorship.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I don’t agree with censorship, but to me that isn’t what this is. I don’t think a nation is under any obligation to spread the propaganda (which is what the Russian news essentially is) of another country.
I personally think it’s a different situation to what we’ve seen recently of publishers blocking opinions they don’t like in the culture wars

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“The nation” , i.e our nation, is not spreading it.
Just quit it with “I’m not normally in favour of censorship but …”
“It’s not really censorship, it’s .. (censorship by some other name).”

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
4 months ago

indeed, does good censorship exists???

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago

Ok it is censorship, but isn’t the UK well within its rights to refuse to give airtime (and presumably advertising funds) to the mouthpiece of the Kremlin?

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Why don’t they want us to read/see these news channels etc? They didn’t ban Al Jazeera during the ‘war on terror’. What do they think will happen if we watch RT? Is there a secret campaign aimed at people become less informed and stupider not just by banning TV channels but by removing great writers, historians and commentators from our reference?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

Well, Al Jazeera isn’t a tool of Al Qaeda for a start!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

Al Jazeera is an independent news outfit though, one that during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan actually did very good work giving people the news from a different viewpoint than the western media hence why it wasn’t banned. The same simply can’t be said of RT which is almost entirely controlled by the Kremlin

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

There are two issues. (a) Is censorship every appropriate – I would say no. (b) Are we, the people, grown up enough to be able to triangulate. I believe the people are grown-up enough and don’t need protection. Now given that the western MSM for the last 2 years has censored every view on COVID contrary to the “narrative” and what’s worse they have been proven wrong more often than not by the turn of events, it would seem to me that more information, even if this includes a lot of disinformation, is always the way to go.
As for RT, several points: the readership and viewership in the West are negligible; if you actually go to the RT web site as I did yesterday for the first time just to see what they were saying, there was really nothing much untoward there. The western MSM coverage, on the other hand, is also clearly full of make belief with a lot of failure to check stories and facts. This is a real issue. On the one hand you have headline after headline saying how the Russians are stalled, losing, etc… And then you have the map of the build up of forces and you see that the Russians are at the gates of Kiev. Well what exactly is going on, especially as there are no embedded reporters (or at least ones broadcasting or writing for Western outlets) with the Russian troops.
Recall, we didn’t even censor Baghdad Bob in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But then the utterings of Baghdad Bob just didn’t gel with the pictures of US forces occupying Baghdad airport.

Last edited 4 months ago by Johann Strauss
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

If RT was an independent news outlet that simply had a more Russian leaning then I’d agree preventing it being shown would be wrong, however we all now this simply isn’t the case. It’s almost entirely controlled by the Kremlin therefore in my view it ceases to be a news outlet so can’t enjoy the same protections as others

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

That’s so silly. Really! For the last year since Biden took office, the MSM in the US has parroted the “narrative” of the administration regarding COVID without any critical thinking whatsoever. They are just parroting the government line and are therefore no different from state run media. Same goes for the BBC which has become a woke shell of its old self. And similarly for Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube which have banned any views deviating from “The Narrative”.
Further, I would bet you’ve never even looked or read RT so you are basically clueless.
Irrespective of anything else, it is always helpful in a situation like the current one involving Ukraine, to know what the other side is saying. All the more so, when virtually all the reporting in the Western MSM is wholly inaccurate regarding Ukraine, filled with holes and not properly checked. Indeed the Western MSM is steering the public towards hysteria which could potentially end in a very dark and dangerous place. One mistake on the part of NATO and the US is all it would take to initiate WWIII and we all know that could well end up with the annihilation of both Russia and the West.
You, and all the other jingoistic warmongers would do well to listen do this 1 hour youtube by Glenn Greenwald today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dmBWG-BAK4. He says some very wise things and points to some really dangerous and horrific utterings from western politicians, military (both current and ex) and the MSM.

Last edited 4 months ago by Johann Strauss
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

This would be the same RT that Ofcom has found at numerous examples of blatant lies? The same RT that claimed the Ukrainians shelled their own television tower in Kyiv? It’s a mouthpiece for the Kremlin, and as Putins biggest apologist on this site it doesn’t surprise me you’ll defend RT as well

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I’m not an apologist for Putin. Far from it. That’s a really silly comment on your part which reflects you being carried on a wave of hysteria and jingoism of the typer that was so prevalent in the UK in 1914.
And by the way, the missile missed the TV tower as the video in Freddie recent interview clearly shows!
In war the truth is often hidden behind a barrage of lies and propaganda from both sides. If Baghdad Bob was free to broadcast and not be censored, then there is no reason to censor RT. Surely the people in the West, if they even look at RT (and the readership and viewership of RT is very very small), are more than capable of triangulating and figuring out what’s what. It’s not like the western MSM hasn’t printed numerous stories in the last few days that turned out to be complete BS for the simple reason that it coincided with their romantic view of Ukraine and the Ukrainian army.
Your problem is that you live in a conjured up world of make belief that ignores all of human history and somehow think that we live in a post-historical world. Big powers make big plays. The West, led by the US, poked the bear continually for the last 15 years with regard to Ukraine. And guess what, the bear eventually said enough is enough! That doesn’t excuse Putin, it doesn’t excuse the horrors of war. But it does at least provide insight into why we are where we are.
If you actually want to understand my perspective as well as understand what led up to this over the last 30 years, it might be a good idea to read the following article by Lynne Sash: https://dailysceptic.org/2022/03/03/a-response-to-toby-youngs-babyish-piece-about-ukraine/

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s helpful to see what the Kremlin thinks we need to hear, no?

Bill W
Bill W
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

My mother used to tell me about her listening to German radio propaganda in the form of “Lord Haw Haw” during WW2. I don’t know if the UK government colder ever tried to block it.