No, Russia Today is not ‘just the same as’ the BBC

Question more, certainly. But be careful who's asking the questions.

Question more, certainly. But be careful who’s asking the questions

The ability to look at things ‘with an open mind’ can sometimes be an overrated quality in a person. At a time when we are all supposedly ‘citizen journalists’ with swathes of unverified information at our fingertips, it’s also rather dangerous – who hasn’t been ill and Googled a medical condition only to find that at least some of the ‘advice’ on offer is dangerous hearsay? ‘Oh but you must have an open mind,’ the pseudo-enlightened person will say, probably rounding things off with a warning against ‘judging’ something which may kill you.

This isn’t to excuse the mental stolidity of the conformist, but rather it is to draw attention to the need for certain boundaries – a willingness to believe absolutely anything isn’t ‘edgy’ or an act of rebellion; it’s actually rather stupid. In keeping an open mind there’s always a risk that you let your brain drop out entirely.

Depressingly, though, there’s quite a big market for all things ‘alternative’ right now, most notably in the case of the media, where crank organisations have managed to break into the mainstream by pertaining to tell audiences what’s really going on.

The most high profile example is probably that of the television station RT, or Russia Today as it used to be known. RT boasts around half a million weekly viewers in the UK and has over 1 million Facebook ‘likes’. It also had the most YouTube videos on the planet, according to a 2012 poll by Pew. Its motto is, appropriately, ‘question more’, and the station positions itself on the left, sending reporters to cover anti-austerity protests but also ‘holding the West to account’ for human rights violations abroad.

There are, however, a few things that RT won’t question. While it may urge Western audiences to scrutinise their own governments, when it turns its attention closer to home the progressive mask slips, and is replaced by a faithful toeing of the Kremlin ‘line’ on global events – the same ‘line’ which says that all the world’s problems are the fault of Barack Obama, gays and uppity Ukrainians.

Last Friday it all started to unravel, when RT’s London correspondent quit over the station’s coverage of the Malaysian airlines flight that was shot down over eastern Ukraine (RT tried to blame the crash on Ukraine, of course). On quitting RT, Sara Firth told Twitter that, while she had “huge respect for many in the team, I am for the truth”.

Firth had worked for RT for five years but decided that attempts by the channel to blame the Malaysian airlines crash on the government of Ukraine were one lie too far. Another tweet she sent when asked about her reasons for resigning was clearer still: “We do work for Putin. We are asked on a daily basis if not to totally ignore then to obscure the truth”.

Kudos to Ms Firth; it’s just a shame it took five years for her to grasp the essential point: that RT is a tool of the Russian government. During the time Ms Firth worked for the station RT regularly gave voice to Neo-Nazis, holocaust deniers and certifiable crackpots (my favourite is a lady who believes the Pope is part of a species of cone heads that rules the world). It also portrayed the chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government last summer as ‘staged’, and kept silent while the Russian LGBT community came under brutal assault by the Russian state.

Better late than never though, I suppose.

And yet despite this, and despite Ms Firth’s resignation, this week I’ve had people filling up my Twitter timeline claiming that RT is in fact ‘no worse than the BBC’. The BBC pumps out ‘pro-establishment propaganda’ and therefore is ‘just as bad as’ RT, which merely does a similar thing on behalf of the Russian elite.

Now like me, you’ve probably at some point met a person who, whenever some atrocity happens abroad feels compelled to play a game of one-upmanship vis a vis the British state. In other words, the Russian annexation of Crimea may be bad – but ‘what about’ the UK intervention in Libya? British politics is rife with nepotism – therefore ‘what moral authority does Britain have’ to criticise North Korea? The BBC suffers from a subtle pro-establishment bias – and so is ‘just the same as RT’.

It’s quite comforting, isn’t it? Ultimately it means you can put your internationalism aside and stop worrying about those languishing under autocracy in other countries because we have it ‘just as bad in Britain’. First world problems, I think it’s called.

Sometimes, though, the attempt at moral equivalence falls flat – as it does in the case of RT, which really isn’t the same as or even similar to the BBC. For one thing, the BBC regularly bites the (government) hand that feeds it, whereas journalists at RT are “asked on a daily basis if not to totally ignore then to obscure the truth,” as Ms Firth put it.

The subtle middle class bias which afflicts establishment journalism in Britain is some distance from the newsroom where a ‘line’ is sent down from on high, with digressers ostracised or threatened with the sack. The BBC can certainly be dull, but its reporting of foreign and domestic affairs is a great deal more truthful than its Russian counterpart, and never relies on holocaust deniers and those who propagate theories of an ‘illuminati’ to get its point across.

Don’t fall, either, for the lazy assumption that all journalism is simply propaganda. People are not ‘sheeple’ who are too stupid to understand what’s really going on because they’ve been ‘brainwashed’ by the corporate media; and it’s the misanthropist, rather than the critical thinker, who actually believes this.

Question more, certainly. But be careful who it is that’s asking the questions.

Follow James Bloodworth on Twitter

19 Responses to “No, Russia Today is not ‘just the same as’ the BBC”

  1. Sam Robertson

    The BBC happily goes along with the British government when it’s war-time in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and almost Syria last year. No wonder James Bloodworth has no will to criticise them.

  2. Alex Ross

    What do you mean by “happily goes along with” – I tend to have news 24 on as background noise much of the time and it often features voices critical of Britain’s ME policy alongside it’s defenders….I guess some people just expect the news to solely cater to their opinions!

    As for RT…based on an admittedly not-very-scientific study of Twitter and FB…I’d say there was a strong statistical overlap between people who approvingly post/reference RT articles and conspiracy theorists, nostalgic authoritarians, racists and cranks….

  3. David Makin

    10 years ago I would have agreed wholeheartedly with this article but from even before the student protests against the loan system onwards the BBC have gradually more and more stuck to the official Government line and often completely ignored protests when people have actually taken to the streets – the reason is simple – more and more Tory sympathisers at the top who aren’t afraid to surreptitiously turn the Beeb into the equivalent of RT or even Fox News.

  4. Matthew Blott

    Why on earth did this person bother reading the article (if indeed they did). Useful idiot alert!

  5. Dave

    A cheap ad hominen that’s only purpose is to allow a parallel opinion that has no bearing on the original article.

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    Actually, there’s a good case given the recent study that the BBC is subservient to the government that there is little difference. The BBC need a backbone, frankly, and if that means further separation of their funding from general…so be it.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    Yea, eead some of the comments on there? It’s almost as bad as Stormfront!

  8. swatnan

    The best non artizan coverage of Ukraine and Gaza actually is given by CNBC.
    But I’m absolutely disgusted by the amount of coverage given over to MH17 and previously MH370. Its completely unwarranted for what were in effect everyday accidents.

  9. James Jackson

    I think the best reason to focus on criticizing your own country rather than others (as I do) is that you are in a position to change your own country, so it can be something substantial rather than just expressing moral outrage.

  10. Cole

    I don’t think shooting down a plane and killing nearly 300 people is an ‘everyday accident’. It’s mass murder, pure and simple. And it needs to be covered extensively by the media.

  11. Ed Hopwood

    Compare BBC News with Channel 4 rather than RT if you want evidence that the BBC follows the Government line in many instances.

  12. As_expected

    Notwithstanding he is correct about RT, I’m afraid the author of this piece is no more to be trusted than them:

    https://twitter.com/chunkymark/status/491954931012620289

  13. sarntcrip

    rt is good for DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE, IT PAYS TO WATCH LISTEN AWARE OF THE SAME POSSIBLE BIAS,THOUGH IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION, AS ONE SHOULD RECEIVING THE DELUGE OF ON THE HOUR EVERY HOUR RIGHT WING PROPAGANDA NARRATIVE PROVIDED BY BRITISH MEDIA WHICH IS 80+% OF WHICH IS OWNED CONTROLLED BY WEALTHY NON DOM OLIGARCHS WITHOUT THE BRITISH NATIONAL INTEREST AT HEART,WRITTEN AND RUN BY PEOPLE ON INCOMES WHICH BEAR NO RELATION TO ORDINARY MEN AND WOMEN AND S IS BIASED IN FAVOUR OF THEWEALTHY

  14. sarntcrip

    FEAR OF LOSING IT’S CHARTER/ INCOME CURRENTLY ON DOMESTIC MATTERS THE BEEB MERELY REGURGITATES TRY CENTRAL OFFICE PRESS RELEASES AS

  15. Pynch

    Good article.
    One of the reasons the BBC seems to increasingly ignore certain things is because it is being encouraged to compete and mimic awful news outlets like Sky. Therefore ‘breaking news’ and viewing figures rule all.

    RT actually falls into this American ‘free market’ media category; you consume news (and ‘facts’) like you buy a fast food – according to your preference.

    Whilst I would love to agree that ‘people are stupid’ is a lazy assumption, most of the other comments seem to be fairly strong evidence that it is at least partially true.

  16. swatnan

    . more like accidental manslaughter

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    Putin gave seperatists who he is funding a system which was used to shoot down a civilian airliner.

    Felony murder.

    And it’s a MAJOR event for international relations. Heck, it’s made Cameron stand up and show he has balls after all.

  18. swatnan

    I’m not an International Lawyer, but it may be end up with charges of Crimes against Humanity or Int War Crimes; Countries can’t be done for murder although individuals can.

  19. Leon Wolfeson

    That’s…unlikely to happen. The diplomatic consequences are the real story here. Merkel’s opposition to action….Cameron’s finding his feet on foreign policy…

    Putin is escalating right back. Frankly, strategically this is a very good thing – we need to stop being dependent on Russia in Europe, for anything.

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