The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is an event that could well define this century. The West’s reaction to another example of territorial ambition from Putin will set the tone for how other belligerent nations, such as China, view the West in their calculations of what actions they can get away with before meaningful action.
There is another angle that we need to consider as well. This crisis is a major challenge for the media, both traditional and non-traditional. For a long time now, Russia has been a major disseminator of untruths, misinformation and propaganda, aided and abetted by its state-controlled companies, social media farms as well as paid and unpaid useful idiots in the West.
The challenge is presenting the facts of what is going on clearly as well as reporting on Russian “claims” without giving undue succour and airtime to what amounts to blatant lies – such as Putin stating that an unprovoked invasion of a nation with a democratically elected Jewish President is part of a “denazification” process.
By and large, the major media outlets in this country have risen to the challenge. There have been some calls to ignore all statements or commentators that display any slight support, sympathy or repetition of Russia’s lies but this is short-sighted. Presenting the facts clearly and demonstrating the clear falsehoods of Putin’s messaging is the duty of the media. It is a duty that has been fulfilled admirably thus far.
However, it is something that cannot be allowed to let slip. We know that at various times propaganda has been reported uncritically in the West on major platforms and by major players in the media. This is also something that sometimes creeps in for other despots and autocrats around the world. Sadly, due to the nature of the news cycle it can be too easy for catastrophes and scandals to fade away from public awareness. For example, stories about the ongoing genocide of the Uighur population are no longer the draw that they once were. Perhaps we could also think about how Syria continues to be in the grip of a bloody civil war. It is not impossible that these topics could get properly revisited since both Assad and Xi have offered differing levels of support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but it is unlikely.
Another media aspect of this conflict that has been highlighted many times already is the continued existence of RT (formerly Russia Today) as a licenced broadcaster in the UK. There have been many calls for the Government to intervene and strip RT of this licence – including from Keir Starmer. After all, it is state controlled and has a history of pumping out clear disinformation and outright lies around the invasion of Ukraine – usually by parroting the Kremlin’s talking points and statements. The EU has already pledged to ban RT and Sputnik – a Russian state-controlled news agency. To some, the UK is behind the curve.
So, why has the UK not banned RT? Firstly, there is no precedent for the UK Government to ban a news organisation. Going around banning foreign-owned news outlets is hardly the best way for a free democratic government to act. Shutting down media organisations is never a good look.
However, this does not mean that we should expect RT to be on the airwaves forever. There are several state-run news organisations that have been banned in the UK, such as Press TV, Iran’s propaganda channel, and China’s CGTN. Ofcom has confirmed that “significantly more monitoring” is being taken of coverage of the invasion of Ukraine.
So, it is possible that if RT continues to dogmatically spout lies like the invasion is a “special military operation” to “liberate” parts of the Ukraine, it would go the same way. Any decision to take action against or restrict a news organisation over its content should not be in the hands of the Government.
Calls to change that are incredibly shortsighted and unneeded. The coverage of the invasion by the UK’s main media has been fantastic and is more than capable of outweighing whatever RT decides to copy from the Kremlin’s press officers.