Putin’s propaganda deserves mockery, not a ban

Published by The Times (20th April, 2018)

Have no doubt: RT, the television channel formerly known as Russia Today, is a malign force. It exists to pump out sewage to satisfy the demands of its loathsome Kremlin paymasters, who see it as a key component in their disinformation machine spreading lies and slurs around the planet. Its presentation, graphics and reports contrive to convince viewers that it is a serious channel offering genuine news coverage, but it exists to push a stream of conspiracy theories and rumours, mixed with subtle promotion of Moscow’s line on world events.

RT has claimed there was ‘irrefutable proof’ the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria was a ‘false-flag’ operation planned by British officials. It has accused the heroic White Helmets, who risk their lives daily to dig people from the wreckage of war, of being western stooges. Previously it has suggested the 9/11 attacks were an inside job and that the CIA created ebola.

This week it emerged that the media regulator had opened seven investigations into whether the channel had breached impartiality rules since the Salisbury nerve agent attack. Ofcom’s inquiries could lead to RT losing its broadcasting licence.

Yet should it be banned, as some prominent Labour and Tory MPs argue? It is easy to understand concerns. Recent RT reports have claimed Britain is trying to deceive the global community, suggesting the Skripal poisoning story is ‘woven with lies’. This is not harmless nonsense, despite RT’s often tiny audiences. The well-resourced channel is part of an effective Kremlin strategy to strike the soft underbelly of democracies by sowing discord.

RT disseminates fake news and inflates dodgy theories to winkle open fissures in western societies and cover up atrocities carried out by Vladimir Putin and his blood-splattered pals. It is aided by fellow travellers inflaming its nonsense on social media and abetted by a motley collection of greedy fools taking cash to appear on its shows.

But while it is clearly a mouthpiece for Moscow, we should not ban RT. Such a move would backfire, with retaliatory action to expel our journalists in Russia that would hamper both understanding of events there and the free flow of news for opposition forces. It would also play into Putin’s hands by fuelling his accusations of western hostility to Russia, while encouraging allegations that Britain fails to practise freedoms it claims to espouse.

RT is crass propaganda. Mock it, debunk its drivel, ridicule those who take its money. But it would be wrong for the state to switch it off.

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