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25 Nov, 2016 15:13

Europe enters new Dark Age with crackdown on Russia media

Europe enters new Dark Age with crackdown on Russia media

Brussels has opened a modern-day Inquisition against Russian media, specifically RT and Sputnik, at precisely that moment in history when the need for alternative voices on the media stage has never been more urgent.

The EU Parliament, which apparently has nothing better to do these days than draft draconian laws, passed a resolution this week that seeks “to counter disinformation campaigns and propaganda from countries, such as Russia, and non-state actors, like Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other violent jihadi terrorist groups.”

First, let’s put aside, if we can, the recklessness of dropping Russia into the same category as Islamic State, the very group the Russian military has been working to eradicate in Syria - with absolutely zero assistance from the US-led coalition, we should add. Instead, let’s keep our eye on the bouncing ball, which is Europe’s aversion to having an alternative media voice on the continent that does not fall in lock-step with their meticulously scripted drum beat on current affairs.

The freedom-loving MEPs, not to be outdone, apparently, by the US State Department's recent outburst against an RT reporter, warned that “the Russian government is employing a wide range of tools and instruments, such as think tanks..., multilingual TV stations (e.g. Russia Today), pseudo-news agencies and multimedia services (e.g. Sputnik)... to challenge democratic values, divide Europe, gather domestic support and create the perception of failed states in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood”.

Now that’s certainly an impressive list of accomplishments for a media organization that just yesterday was being ridiculed for “exaggerating its audience and impact.” It would be really nice if these people could get their story straight. Is RT an insignificant player on the media landscape, or is it punching far above its weight?

Whatever the case may be, the EU lawmakers failed to acknowledge another aspect about these Russian media organizations, that have somehow become hugely popular despite spewing nothing, we are told, but conspiracy theories, falsehoods and propaganda. Although they rightly labeled RT and Sputnik “multilingual,” I think it would have been even more accurate to call them “multicultural.” After all, these media organizations do not mindlessly recite scripted Kremlin reports round the clock, conveniently translated into the English language for their English-speaking audiences. If that were the case, perhaps these MEPs would have a case.

In reality, these multicultural media offer an international platform to a wide variety of individuals from many different professional backgrounds. Turn on RT any time of the day, or peruse the Op-Edge section, and you will find a multitude of individuals who have not the slightest connection to Russia providing their expert commentary on a vast array of global events.

Furthermore, in many cases these individuals are Westerners who, for a variety of conflicting reasons, find it difficult, if not impossible, to have their views aired in the West. And since nature abhors a vacuum, many of the numerous people who condemn the EU Parliament’s anti-Russia resolution were forced to express their views on RT and Sputnik since the Western media apparently wants no debate on the issue.

Nostalgic for monopoly

The crux of the problem is that the West is simply nostalgic for the ‘golden days’ of journalism when it enjoyed an ironclad monopoly on the dissemination of news and information. And who could blame them? What state or corporate entity would not relish the ability – feudalistic as it may sound - to disseminate a one-sided, homogenous view of global events to a captive domestic audience that lacks the means for consulting an alternative news source? Let's be honest, is there a pizza shop owner anywhere in the world who would not be displeased to discover that a competitor – offering more toppings and better service – was opening a franchise just down the street? But of course we are not just talking about merely catering to the tastes of consumers. We are talking about providing people from all political and cultural backgrounds with as much information as possible on the crucial stories of our day in order to arrive at some sort of consensus on action.

The best example of this is the 2003 Iraq War. At that time, Western media still enjoyed an iron curtain, if you will, that circumnavigated the Western world's perception of events. With the Internet still in its relative infancy and media alternatives practically non-existent, the US Neocons in the Bush administration, were able to propagate without resistance the false narrative that Iraq was hording weapons of mass destruction. To seal the deal, the Bush administration got Secretary of State Colin Powell, together with a vial of ‘anthrax’ to lend theatrical effect, to peddle the plot in the UN General Assembly. Not even UN weapon inspectors on the ground in Iraq could persuade Washington that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was squeaky clean.

Thirteen years later, Iraq struggles to come to grips with the death of over 1 million of its civilians, its economy depends on IMF loans to stay afloat, while the terrorist group Islamic State threatens to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes to establish a caliphate. Meanwhile, the US media, in a teary-eyed apologetic mode that lasted for about a day, admitted that it “fell short” of it responsibilities while covering the lead-up to the Iraq War. Well, that’s one way of putting it.

Michael Massing, writing in the 'New York Review of Books,' summed up the media's lengthy and ultimately futile exercise in soul-searching post-Iraq War: “Iraq’s Arsenal Was Only on Paper,” declared a recent headline in The Washington Post. “Pressure Rises for Probe of Prewar-Intelligence,” said The Wall Street Journal. “So, What Went Wrong?” asked Time. In The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh described how the Pentagon set up its own intelligence unit, the Office of Special Plans, to sift for data to support the administration’s claims about Iraq. And on “Truth, War and Consequences,” a Frontline documentary that aired last October, a procession of intelligence analysts testified to the administration’s use of what one of them called “faith-based intelligence.”

The ugly experience of that past disaster, and certainly others, begs the question: Had RT and Sputnik been available in 2003 as alternative media sources would that disastrous war have happened at all? It may sound like a stretch, but, after all, millions of people around the planet were fiercely opposed to that reckless rush to war, which overnight made the United States resemble a rogue state hellbent on war, opportunism and greed. Had there existed a global platform for the protesters to publicly express their disdain, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that war could have been averted.

I think it fair to say that the European Union’s crackdown on “Russia media” is not what it seems. It is in reality a crackdown on those people – many of them citizens of the West – who desperately seek an alternative news source for both accessing and disseminating opinions and research that does not doggedly tow the Western line.

Now with the Western coalition of the killing perched on the edge of Syria like a vulture, waiting for the slightest opportunity to swoop down and tear yet another sovereign state to pieces, it is more critical than ever that the people of the Western democracies have free access to myriad sources of information. Instead, groundless accusations being hurled at these media organizations, which have contributed considerably to the great quest for truth. And therein lies the rub.

The European Union, if it were truly devoted to the principles of democracy as it regularly declares from the rooftops, would welcome as many different voices as possible in the ongoing quest for truth on a matter of pressing issues. The fact that it does not speaks volumes about the real state of democracy across the Western world.

Truth, as the saying goes, lies somewhere in the middle. But that holy grail of places will never be discovered with just one media entity allowed to search for it - and report on it.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.