Free speech finds a new champion

rtThe other day the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and its NatWest branch threatened to shut the account of RT, the propaganda and disinformation extension of Putin’s KGB junta.

In response, that very station, ably supported by Russia’s diplomatic pressure, whipped up an hysterical campaign shrieking all over the world about this affront to freedom of speech.

By way of retaliation, the Kremlin threatened to freeze the BBC’s accounts in Russia and report RBS to international watchdogs, while assorted Russian money launderers said they’d take their laundry elsewhere.

As a result, RBS has caved in and withdrawn its punitive action. I suspect the threat of losing those laundered billions has proved decisive – our banks are animated by the spirit of Emperor Vespasian who, when questioned about his tax on the urine sold to tanners by public lavatories, pronounced that “pecunia non olet” (money doesn’t stink).

No surprise there. But I must admit that even I was amazed at the cynical effrontery of Putin’s Goebbelses having the gall to invoke freedom of speech.

RT isn’t a communications channel in any civilised sense of the word. It’s the mouthpiece of KGB/FSB’s disinformation service (formerly known as the First Chief Directorate), performing an intelligence task rather than journalistic ones.

The intelligence task it performs is undermining the West’s morale in any possible confrontation with Putin’s Russia. To that end RT peddles barefaced lies portraying Russia as the last outpost of conservative, Christian values desperately fighting for survival against Western aggression.

Nothing saddens me more than seeing that so many conservatives, exactly the kind of people who ought to know better, swallow those lies whole. They see Putin as a strong traditional leader, rather than what he really is: a kleptofascist KGB thug threatening world peace more than any other evil force.

RT ‘expert’ analysts routinely vent neo-Nazi messages, nuclear threats to the West, various conspiracy theories (such as the CIA organising 9/11). Producing palpably phoney evidence, RT ‘reporters’ blame the Ukraine for aggression against Russia and for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

In fact, Sara Firth, RT’s London correspondent, resigned in 2014 specifically for that reason. Blaming the Ukraine for Flight MH17, she said, was “the most shockingly obvious misinformation”.

As a result of RT’s lies, numerous complaints have been filed with Ofcom, which has upheld 15 of them. Against this background, claiming that RT should be protected by our tradition of free speech takes cynicism to a whole new level.

Putin first demonstrated his commitment to free speech just four days after taking power, when the offices of Russia’s most popular TV station NTV were sacked, and its owner slapped in prison.

On 9 September, 2000, four months after his ascent, Putin signed a vitally important document: The Doctrine of Information Security. All mass media were to be divided into two clearly delineated categories: ‘ours’ and ‘alien’.

Since then, the government has used this doctrine to bring all mass media under its control. Even online opposition magazines, such as Grani, and Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal, have been blocked for internal consumption.

Lest there might be some misunderstanding, Alexander Volin, Putin’s overseer of mass media, has explained how the junta defines a journalist’s duty. Speaking to the faculty of Moscow University’s journalism department, he said:

“A journalist’s task is to make money for his employer. You must leave students in no doubt that, having left university halls, they’ll be working for the boss, and the boss will tell them what to write, what not to write and how to write about certain things. And the boss has a right to do so because he pays them.” He didn’t have to clarify the identity of the boss.

The message was so easy to understand that it’s amazing how many Russian journalists have demonstrated learning difficulties. For those recalcitrant children, the junta doesn’t spare the rod.

Altogether 314 Russian journalists have been killed for what they write, and hundreds more harassed, beaten up or crippled. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranks Russia as the world’s third most dangerous country for journalists, behind only Algeria and Iraq. But then Russia finds itself in that kind of company in most categories defining civilised society.

Common sense ought to suggest that those who are actively trying to undermine Western constitutions shouldn’t enjoy their protection. Freedom of speech isn’t a suicide pact.

Not many people in the West would object to curbs on jihadist or Nazi propaganda. It’s sheer ignorance not to realise that Putin’s disinformation machine falls into the same category, where it can claim pride of place for being by far the most dangerous.

To paraphrase an Elizabethan law report, the air of England is too pure for enemy propagandists to breathe. Any sensible government wouldn’t just slap RT’s wrists but ban it outright. That would be not so much denying as upholding freedom of speech.

Among the few contributions Russian has made to the English language, ‘disinformation’, a Russian blend of Latin components, is one of the most pernicious. The rat of Putin’s disinformation runs rampaging all over the world, yet few manage to smell it.


2 thoughts on “Free speech finds a new champion”

  1. Unfortunately most British are anaesthetised to the peril of state broadcasting media by the total domination of the execrable BBC.

    I disagree about your comments regarding free speech. Free speech is an absolute. There are certain specific types of speech that are not free for very good reasons, namely incitement to murder, violence or other crime. I rarely watch RT or the BBC and I suspoect they are very careful not to cross the line.

    There is no reason why concerned citizens should not monitor these awful companies’ output and use existing legal powers where necessary, or to ensure that disinformation and propaganda are challenged.

    Fact is unlike the BBC, hardly anybody watches RT, so I am pretty relaxed about it. In my view the BBC is a bigger threat to freedom, peace and prosperity in the UK.

  2. We cannot establish what really went on in the Elizabethan era because the secret service became a formidable disinformation machine as well as arranging sting operations and false witnesses to ‘purify’ the air. Secret courts were available to avoid embarrassment in high profile cases. Political assassinations probably took place under the guise of robbery or pub brawls, but as those two activities were also normal English pastimes, it is difficult to tell.

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