‘Strong RT response to attempted account closure will help save UK free speech’ – union leader

Steve Hedley, the second-in-command at one of UK’s most powerful unions, says that RT’s decision to go public with NatWest’s intention to shut down its bank accounts will help save not just itself, but other alternative media.

“We are getting to a state of affairs where everything in the country is monitored, and if it doesn’t meet with official approval, it is banned, and has its source of funding cut off. This is a move toward a totalitarian state,” Hedley, Senior Assistant General Secretary of RMT, the UK's biggest specialist transport union, told RT during a live interview from London. “The strong stance that RT has taken over this is good, and will prevent further pressure, on itself and other organizations.”

A unilateral decision by NatWest, a subsidiary of the majority government-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, to shut down all RT accounts from December, was widely publicized by RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan on Monday.

Since then, the decision has been condemned by multiple Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who accused the UK government of being behind the decision, despite Westminster’s denials. NatWest now says it will “review” its original decision.

“The bank hasn’t come to this decision on its own. It’s part of a campaign to demonize Russia. If you look currently – in the UK and the US – everything, down to any emails being hacked, is being blamed on Russia,” said Hedley, agreeing with Lavrov. “It is an outrageous attack on free speech – can you imagine the furor if a Russian bank owned by the government had done this to the BBC bureau in Russia? There would be an international outcry about it.”

Hedley said the move was not just aimed at RT, but other dissenting and alternative voices, such as Al-Jazeera and Press TV.

“They are trying to create this climate, and to stop an alternative voice from being heard. All the big domestic UK channels carry government policy uncritically," said Hedley. “They are attempting to put a warning shot across the bow of not just RT, but any news organizations with a different point of view. It is dangerous for these people if there is someone with a different point of view."

Hedley, whose union has been engaged in a series of high-profile disputes over the working conditions of London Tube workers over the past year, also praised said that RT’s coverage of “unions and working-class organizations” was more open-minded than that of domestic media.

“When we – as a union – come into the RT studio, we are asked tough questions, but we are actually allowed time to answer those questions, and explain our position so that people can make up their own mind,” Hedley said.