US & Europe’s farcical hypocrisy over Russian foreign media law

Finian Cunningham
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
US & Europe’s farcical hypocrisy over Russian foreign media law
It’s so brazenly hypocritical, it could be a joke. The US and the European Union rushed to condemn Russia’s new media laws restricting foreign entities. At the same time, they assume the unilateral right to hound Russian news outlets as “foreign agents.”

Do as we say, not as we do, is the arrogant mentality here.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin signed new legislation into law last weekend, the Kremlin described the measures as a “symmetrical response” to moves in the US earlier this month forcing Russian state-owned broadcaster RT to register as a foreign agent.

Under Russia’s new law, any foreign-sponsored news outlet operating in Russia may be required to register as a foreign entity, disclosing its financial details and journalistic activities, in the same way RT’s affiliate in America has been compelled to do by the Department of Justice.

No Western news organizations have yet been officially affected by the Russian regulations, but there are reports of US government-owned Radio Free Europe and Voice of America as potential subjects. The Russian law does not seem to distinguish between government or privately owned media outlets. America’s cable TV network channel CNN, as well as German state-owned Deutsche Welle, have also been reported as possible entities liable under the new media registration law.

READ MORE: Russia notifies Radio Free Europe & Voice of America about possible foreign agent recognition

Testy reactions from the US and EU reveal a staggering doublethink.

John Lansing, head of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, which controls RFE and VOA, said in a statement that “any characterization of such steps as reciprocity for US actions severely distorts reality.”

EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the Kremlin’s “legislation goes against Russia's human rights obligations and commitments.”

She added that the law is “a further threat to free and independent media and access to information” and “yet another attempt to shrink the space for independent voices in Russia.”

As the Kremlin explained, the new laws only apply to foreign-owned media operating in Russia. It does not apply to news outlets based in Russia. So it seems a tenuous assertion indeed by the EU that the move “shrinks space for independent voices in Russia.

In essence, what the reactions reveal is the sheer hypocrisy and sanctimony of the US and Europe.

Washington feels entitled to denigrate and restrict RT as a “foreign agent,” but if Russia responds in kind then such a move is condemned as unwarranted and a “distortion.

The European Union earlier this month announced €1.1 million funding for a Brussels-based media watchdog, which is tasked with labeling Russian news media as “fake.” Somehow this form of censorship and restriction is supposed to be acceptable, but when Russia responds accordingly, Moscow is accused of “threatening free and independent media” and undermining “human rights obligations.

Do such obligations not apply to Washington and Europe? Evidently not.

When the US Department of Justice coerced RT to register as a foreign agent on November 13, or face criminal action, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J Boente said: “Americans have a right to know who is acting in the United States to influence the US government or public on behalf of foreign principals.”

So if American citizens have the right to know such information, why do Russians not have the same right?

The US government lawyer added: “The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing FARA [Foreign Agents Registration Act] and expects compliance with the law by all entities engaged in specified activities on behalf of any foreign principal, regardless of its nationality.”

The US government is being illogical, if not mendacious, here. If its public justification were being applied consistently and genuinely then why aren’t foreign state-owned news outlets like the BBC, France 24, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera and China’s CGTN obliged to register under FARA?

Russia’s RT is being targeted selectively because the decision is entirely political and expedient, regardless of the grave implications for violation of free speech and the public’s right to information access.

While the US, EU and Western human rights groups like Amnesty International have attacked Russia over its laws – laws in response to moves first made by Washington – there is apparently no such concern expressed about the damage initiated by the Americans.

There is also a shameful silence among Western media outlets over the initial restrictions imposed on RT in the US. The supposed liberal values of free speech and free media are evidently not under threat when it comes to proscribing Russian news media. This contradiction illustrates a baleful mindset of Russophobia prevalent among the political class in the West. It’s OK to censor Russian media because Russian media are simply not valid, so goes the prejudiced thinking.

What these Western liberal exponents fail to realize is that the very principle of free speech and information is coming under attack by the reprehensible attack on RT and Russian media more generally under the tendentious assertion that they are “agents of Kremlin propaganda.”

Underlying the assumption that Russia’s foreign media restrictions are somehow illegitimate and not reciprocal is the arrogant view that the accusations leveled by US intelligence agencies and various Western politicians are accurate and true.

Namely, that Russian news media allegedly engaged in “meddling” in the US presidential elections last year; or, as Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May claimed earlier this month, Russian media are trying to “sow discord” in Western states. Such views are nothing more than prejudiced opinion masquerading as “fact.” Or, put another way, propaganda and fake news prettified as “intelligence.”

No evidence has ever been presented to back up these sensationalist claims of Russian interference. They rely entirely on prejudice and innuendo against Russia and its news media as somehow being malicious. This is sheer, unadulterated Russophobia of the kind that fueled the McCarthyite “red-hating” era and the Cold War paranoia, which brought the specter of mutually assured nuclear destruction to the world.

What the public in the Western states needs to realize – they are increasingly – is that the real threat to democratic rights is not Russia or its media. The danger comes from Western governments, who espouse democratic principles and the rule of law, but who in reality are censoring alternative media and internet freedom by giving companies like Google free rein to impose “de-ranking” of designated sources.

Russian media like RT have in fact provided an admirable alternative perspective on major international events such as the war in Syria and Yemen, which expose criminal responsibilities of Washington and its European allies.

That is what the real bone of contention is. Russian media have exposed that Western self-styled emperors have no clothes. They are naked, warts and all.

And so, therefore, because of this “transgression,” Russian media have to be gagged forthwith.

But in doing so, Western states, their media, and human rights advocates only expose further their own naked hypocrisy and false pretenses.

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