Reviews | Don’t ban RT. Pay no attention to it.
RT, which has operated in the United States for nearly two decades in one form or another, has long been recognized for what it is: the voice of the Russian government. In 2017, the US government formalized what was obvious by forcing RT to register its activities under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. “Americans have a right to know who is acting in the United States to influence the United States government or the public on behalf of foreign principals,” the acting United States Assistant Attorney General said at the time. At this point, if you don’t realize that RT is the sometimes subtle, sometimes overt Russian propaganda channel, you haven’t been paying attention.
What are the arguments for restricting RT in countries that respect freedom of expression? People get seduced by all sorts of media nonsense – QAnon madness, for example, or the teachings of modern monetary theorists. But we are not asking our government to ban the media that discusses and broadcasts these outlandish ideas, even if a foreign government endorses them in their broadcasts. Ideas, we generally agree, must fight for themselves, against “legitimate” contenders, fringe positions or outright propaganda. The government that insists on keeping its citizens by endorsing some speakers and strangling others, is doing them no favors. Even if it was a good thing, who would you trust to decide which ideas from which governments should be allowed to be passed on and which should not.
Write in the new statesman On Friday, my friend James Ball points out that any decision to ban RT will only play into Putin’s hands. He notes that in the UK, RT accounted for 0.04% of the country’s total television audience in 2017. Banning it, he argues, would give Putin a pretext for retaliation to ban the BBC in Russia. (Russia retaliated against US government-controlled media after RT was forced to register. It ordered Voice of America and other outlets to label their work as the product of foreign agents. ) Also, do we really want to give RT programming the appealing flavor of forbidden fruit? Ball writes, “RT belongs where it usually lives: entirely outside of our thoughts.” A ban could make Putinism more appealing to some.
No one expects you to spend your energy staying up at night worrying about RT speaking rights. Even if governments clamp down on RT, Putin and his propagandists will still have the resources to get their messages heard. In fact, knowing what Putin thinks – or at least what he says to his people or the outside world – is essential to countering him, if need be.
The essence of this debate is not about RT’s right to speak. It’s your right to hear. Don’t let anyone relieve you of this without a fight.
How lame is RT? Several times he invited me to appear on one of his shows. Decreases. Send propaganda to [email protected]. My email alerts contain nothing but propaganda for my work. My Twitter feed cannot tell the difference between propaganda and advertisements. My RSS feed liked the album Sparks Propaganda.