LONDON — The Royal Bank of Scotland Group just sent a powerful message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. As of December 12 this year, all British bank accounts belonging to Russia Today— that pro-Kremlin information agency posing as the news channel RT—will be frozen.
In a few simple words NatWest Bank, a division of the Royal Bank of Scotland, informed RT of their irrevocable decision: “We have recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities.” The bank insisted it was “not prepared to enter into any discussion” over the decision.
RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, tweeted: “They’ve closed our accounts in Britain. All our accounts. “The decision is not subject to review. Praise be to freedom of speech!” She also claimed that the personal accounts of some senior staff working in the UK were similarly blocked.
Well, tough luck.
A wingnut tendency has emerged in our politics of late. In the name of “critical thinking” and being “anti-establishment,” populists have been denying and undermining the credibility of most mainstream media outlets.
The situation has gotten so bad that facts are now frequently viewed with disdain, as part of an establishment conspiracy to silence dissent. Without a sense of irony, self-described “patriots” on the populist right, and “democrats” on the far-left have taken to regularly citing the state media services of foreign despots. And like the pauper once did when seeking affordable remedies from quacks, the disaffected have been resorting to “alternative” media outlets such as RT to find…the real truth.
Yes mainstream media outlets all have their failings, but no honest or serious comparison can be made between these imperfect platforms, and state-owned broadcasters run by autocrats.
The shills of despotism claim to see no difference between the BBC and RT. Really? Lest we forget, it was the BBC that exposed Tony Blair’s claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
They claim mainstream television networks are tools of government and corporate interests. But it was CBS 60 Minutes that broke the story about American abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war in Abu Ghraib.
RT breaks nothing but praise for Putin.
For all their faults, the BBC in Britain and PBS in the United States are independent public broadcasters, funded by taxpayers and grants, and overseen by public trusts. And despite their numerous flaws, privately owned broadcasters such as CNN, Fox, and other networks have even less to do with the state.
It is supremely ironic that, while doubting anything that stems from “mainstream media”—or MSM bias—our populists are relying not only on all manner of conspiracy theory sites and “alternative” blogs, but state-owned information agencies such as Iran’s Press TV as their “critical news” sources. And with around half a million weekly viewers in the UK, over 1 million Facebook “likes”, and at one point the most YouTube videos on the planet, RT has very rapidly become the media equivalent of the go-to quack.
And here’s why we should be losing absolutely no sleep over NatWest’s alleged affront to “free speech”:
Russia Today was never free to begin with.
RT is a state broadcaster. This means that it is owned, financed, controlled, and directed by the Russian regime. The difference between this and our mainstream platforms is so significant that only misanthropes suffering from first world problems could possibly fail to see it. Yet many do.
That RT was to act as a mouthpiece for the Kremlin was clear from its inception. Responding to its founding, a Putin spokesman named Dmitry Peskov explained “Russia Needs More Propaganda.” He continued, "The tool of propaganda is an integral part of any state. It is everywhere. And Russia should use it as well. Propaganda in the good sense of the word.”
These comments came in 2013 as Putin decreed the dissolution of the Kremlin”s international radio station Voice of Russia, and the RIA Novosti channel, which had in turn directly succeeded the Cold war era Soviet Information Bureau (Sovinformburo). Both were to be replaced with a major global news agency called Rossiya Segodnya, or Russia Today— now known as RT.
Putin’s decree stated that RT’s role would be to transmit information to foreign audiences about the "Russian Federation’s state policy and public life in Russia.” RT was so important to Putin’s propaganda wars that when his finance ministry sought to reduce its annual budget of more than $340 million, the Russian president directly vetoed the cut, going on to encourage RT to “break the monopoly of Anglo-Saxon media on the world”s news.”
RTs first director general was Dmitry Kiselev, an infamous Russian anchor known for his extreme anti-Western and homophobic views. Kiselev had previously compared Kremlin opponents at home and abroad to Nazis, and said of gays live on air: "They should be banned from donating blood and sperm, and if they are killed in a car crash their hearts should be buried in the ground or burned as unfit for helping to prolong anyone’s life.”
With such an impeccable character at its head, RT went on to regularly give a platform to European Neo-Nazis, holocaust deniers, and self-invented slavery justifying Muslim social media “community leaders.” In short, anyone who was anti-West.
But perhaps one of its darkest moments came when it aired a program that claimed the BBC had “staged” its footage depicting a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime against its own people. Russia, of course, backs the Syrian regime. This report led to the BBC filing a complaint to the U.K.’s independent media regulator Ofcom, which ruled against RT, stating that its report had been "materially misleading.” Yep, there’s that real truth again, found only “alternative” media.
Merely one day before NatWest froze their accounts, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in London. The two leaders warned Russia of harsher sanctions due to its ongoing aerial bombardment of Aleppo in Syria.
NatWest’s decision and this joint U.S./U.K. announcement a day prior may—or may not—have been linked. Regardless, a member of the upper house of Russia’s parliament, Igor Morozov, immediately called for the BBC”s bank accounts in Russia to be "arrested" in revenge.
But NatWest didn’t freeze the accounts of Russia’s equivalent of the BBC. It froze the accounts of the Kremlin’s foremost propaganda tool being used in the ongoing information war being waged by Putin upon the Syrian people in particular, and against the West in general.
No, RT is no BBC. It is more like Orwell”s “Ministry of Truth.”