‘Thinking for You’: Experts Denounce EU For Silencing Russian Media With ‘Disinformation’ Label
00:22 GMT 02.03.2022 (Updated: 05:40 GMT 30.04.2023)
On Monday, Twitter added new labels to tweets by Russian journalists as well as a warning against posts linked to Russian media outlets. Sputnik denounced the move as “a witch hunt and a direct persecution of our journalists.”
After European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday called for Russian news outlets Sputnik and RT to be banned from the EU for spreading "toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe,” Google and Facebook quickly moved
to block the outlets from their platforms
, including on Instagram and YouTube.
“[W]e will ban in the EU the Kremlin's media machine. The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin's war and to sow division in our union," von der Leyen said
In response, Sputnik quipped that the political bloc “not stop at half measures and just ban the Internet outright.”
While Western crackdowns on Russian media outlets for reporting on events and perspectives in a different way are nothing new, the latest drive for an outright ban has come after Moscow launched its “neutralization” military operation in Ukraine on Thursday. The military action aims to stop an eight-year war in the Donbass, where Ukrainian military assets and reported neo-Nazi “voluntary battalions” integrated into its ranks have waged war since 2014 against two Russian-speaking regions that are now recognized as sovereign states. Moscow recognized the two republics for the first time, just last month.
Sputnik spoke with several media experts about the censorship drive and what it means in the context of the West’s values of freedom of speech and of the press.
‘Patronizing in the Extreme’
“I am, in principle, opposed to censorship, the only exceptions being when the media promote outright hatred and hostility against specific groups,” Dr. Ellis Cashmore, a visiting professor of sociology at the UK’s Aston University and a media analyst and independent commentator, told Sputnik on Tuesday.
“My organizing view of the world is that most people are thoughtful enough and have enough basic intelligence to make up their own minds. I do not underestimate the power of the media in influencing the way we think and form opinions, but I maintain we, as sentient humans, can think as individuals,” he said.
“Adults should not be treated as children and should not be protected from information they do not agree with, or even find loathsome. They are able to reject it just as easily as they accept alternatives. I interpret the banning of RT and Sputnik websites in the EU (not in the UK, thankfully) as patronizing in the extreme: the unwritten message is, ‘You are too immature to think for yourselves, so we are doing the thinking for you and preventing you from looking at and listening to material which provides an alternative perspective from the one you are probably receiving from other media.’”
“As for ‘European values,’ I do not believe there are common values that cover the whole continent. There has for long been a commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of the media; these are often regarded as crucial to the kind of liberal democracy observed in Western Europe. By censoring news, the EU is effectively engaging in a practice it has maintained prevailed in the former Soviet Union for decades,” Cashmore said.
He noted that neither US or UK media has been silenced during many of their wars over the last 30 years, although suggesting that the ubiquitousness of social media in 2022 might be a mitigating factor. However, the downside to relying on social media instead of respected news organizations is that it lacks fact-checking, balance, and sophistication.
“Social media, by its nature, is under the control of its users,” he said. “So, while I understand the proprietors of social media organizations have promised restrictions, in practice, they will never succeed. Is this such a bad thing? Again, I return to my central concept: people should be allowed to learn as many different perspectives as they wish and then make critical decisions on who and what to believe for themselves. That includes social media - which, frankly, are full of bizarre and wholly implausible material, anyway. People do not, I suspect, depend on social media for truth: they seek raw material that they can process themselves.”
“In sum, I think the world's population should be able to decide for themselves whether Russia is committing an act of atrocity or offering an army of liberation. Like other humans, I follow the news and, like other humans, I can think for myself.”
“The EU move to block RT and Sputnik is a disgrace! It's proof that the defense of Ukraine is not progressive at all, but an effort that will lead to greater and greater coercion and authoritarianism throughout the ‘democratic’ west,” said independent journalist, author and writer Daniel Lazare. “Now more than ever, people need free debate and a free exchange of ideas. Yet that is precisely what people like Ursula von der Leyen are trying to choke off.”
“I believe that criticism of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is more than warranted at this point. But we need to know what the US and NATO did to create this mess in the first place and what needs to be done to bring the conflict to a halt. But we can't do so if all we have are government mouthpieces like the New York Times and the London Government baying for Russian blood. We need more sources of information and more points of view rather than less,” he added.
‘European Values Are Buried in the Rush to War With Russia’
“The banning of RT and Sputnik websites by members of NATO in the EU is a concerted effort to ensure conformity of an anti-Russia narrative across all platforms and to deny the EU public the diverging views or context that may lead them to better understand Russian military action in Ukraine,” said Vanessa Beeley, an independent investigative journalist who specializes on the Middle East and Syria.
“This is part and parcel of the rising fascism and totalitarianism in the EU, particularly in France and Germany so it is inevitable that they will come to the aid of Nazi, fascist elements in Ukraine that are under attack from Russia determined to denazify Ukraine. All this while laying claim to ‘democracy’ [and] ‘human rights’ while demonstrating an alarming white supremacism in their reporting on the Ukraine crisis, invoking our sympathy for Ukrainians because they are more ‘like us’ than the ‘brown people’ NATO member states have been bombing, invading, occupying, pillaging and ethnically cleansing for decades,” Beeley noted.
“The NATO member states’ aligned media will of course benefit greatly from the absence of any challenge to their already-proven fake news reports on the Russian military operations,” she added. “Western media outlets are now nothing more than an extension of western intelligence and security agencies, therefore the entire anti-Russia project will profit from the 'disappearance' of objectivity, balance and counter-evidence which will allow people to approach their analysis of events rationally and calmly.”
“Of course no country that has been targeted by NATO member states has had the power to silence western media, one of the most powerful weapons of mass destruction in the imperialist arsenal. What these NATO states are doing to shut down effectively the Russian equivalent of the BBC is an act of war and they are well aware of that,” Beeley asserted.
“Facebook - or rather META - is in full support of the fascist and Nazi complex operating inside Ukraine with support from the West and Israel since before 2012, coming to power in 2014, facilitated by another US-manufactured regime change. It is amplifying ‘Ukrainian’ far-right propaganda while silencing what is described as ‘pro-Russia’ discourse. The fact that Russia sits on the UN Security Council seems to have escaped their notice.”