When I wake up in the morning I turn on my television and my computer, and scan both to discover what’s been happening in the world. Of course, it is inadequate as a view of the real happenings, but with the new availability of online sources, I seldom fail to find something of interest.
On television I watch, interchangeably, BBC, AlJazeera and RT, and occasionally CBC, and recently I realized I watch RT more than the others. Of course, I know it is a network sponsored by the Russian government, but then so are the BBC and CBC government-owned, and AlJazeera is owned by the Emir of Qatar. It is only in recent years since I have become less mobile that I have taken to watching television, which I used to watch only for sports. I remember even before that when I prided myself on never having seen the CBC evening news, because I refused to watch it. In those days there was a little bit of me that responded to actions such as that taken by the veteran Montreal Star correspondent, James Oastler, who, when television cameras first appeared in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, would go and stand in front of the camera with his back to it, to make sure it couldn't operate.
With the American election, RT has suddenly become newsworthy, as Hillary Clinton, whose Russophobia seems to be as powerful as the old Cold War anti-Communism used to be, has rather ludicrously linked RT with Wikileaks, and has accused her opponent of being a puppet for Vladimir Putin, with RT as their vehicle. This seems so silly to me that it has taken me some time to realise that she seems seriously to believe it.
So why do I watch so much of RT? Well, I think the reason is that the many opinion programmes broadcast by the channel provide a view of the world different from the prevailing Western ethos. It is only since I started to watch RT that I have become so very conscious of the unanimity of the Western view delivered by the media with seeming unanimity in our so-called free part of the world. Of course, ever since I became a journalist in 1945 I have had a critical view of the politics of the press, which always reflect the interests of its wealthy owners. And it is undeniable that in the Western world the news agenda is dictated by the strength of the American interest. For example, for years I have waited for some journalist interviewing the American president, or any other Western politician, to ask him about Israel’s nuclear weapons, a subject that seems to be beyond discussion, or even mention, anywhere in the Western world.
And the other thing is this: in the modern world the United States has arrogated to itself the right to attack other countries at will, without any declaration of war, and this has come to be accepted by the Western media as another unmentionable fact. Today the United States is at war in (or with, as we used to say about wars) Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, and is going out of its way to provoke Russia and China. The recent first bombardment of Yemen by the United States has gone almost unremarked, although in the old days it would have been regarded as a declaration of war against Yemen. None of these countries can be said to pose any threat to the United States, and just what business it is of the United States to be charging around the world, killing and maiming local populations that do not sufficiently bend to its will, is something quite beyond me.
RT does irrite me from time to time because its very good programmes tend to attack every weakness that the U.S. shows to the world, while never attacking similar problems in Russia. But that is in the nature of the government-controlled beast. And it is far outweighed by its vigorous opinion programmes, and its staunch and for the most part convincing defence of the Russian attitude towards each of these conflicts.
In addition to all that, the network has attracted in the United States an extremely lively team of attractive, eloquent and apparently fearless young people to make its programmes among the liveliest available anywhere. It has two young women who conduct interviews with a wide variety of world figures, and are personalities in their own right: Oxana Boyko is like a pit bull as she inveigles her guests into arguments, admitting her biases and those of the channel, but showing a really impressive background knowledge of the subjects under discussion. She is not content with simply interviewing someone: she wants to provoke them, and does so --- always with extremely polite deference to their opposing views --- two or three times a week. Sophie Shevardnadze, the grand-daughter of the former Soviet foreign minister who later became president of Georgia, is another phenomenon --- extremely beautiful, she doesn’t hesitate to use her looks as a weapon, but she is far from just a pretty face: she speaks five languages, and I have heard her fluently interviewing people in at least three of them. I never miss the programmes of either of these two.
The network has attracted veteran newsmen of a progressive bent, such as Thom Hartmann, with years of experience as a progressive commentator of American politics, who has a one-hour show four nights a week, Ed Schultz, a grizzled veteran of political battles over the years, whose nightly newscast is unlike any other I know because he not only presents the news, but hauls up opposing sides to argue with him over the meaning of the news. This reminds me of the mantra delivered by the late, great Irish journalist Claud Cockburn, who said that to hear some people talk, facts are lying around like pieces of gold, waiting to be picked up by an eager prospector. “Such a view is evidently and dangerously naïve,” Cockburn wrote, “there are no such facts. Or if there are…they might just as well not be lying about at all until …the journalist…puts them into relation with other facts…Then they become as much a part of a pattern created by him as if he were writing a novel.” I wish Hillary Clinton could remember that calm wisdom when she is making her ridiculous Russophobic claims. An impressive presence every Saturday on RT is Chris Hedges, a man who has run the gamut of the press from his years as an international correspondent for the New York Times, to his position now as one of he leading voices in the U.S. dissenting from the current drift of politics in what he now calls the Empire.
RT even has a kind of echo of Jon Stewart’s mocking but pertinent attitude towards the news in Lee Camp, who runs an amusing programme called Redacted Tonight, and they have in Gayane Chichakyan, an apparently fearless examiner of senior U.S. spokespersons in Washington. Overseeing a programme called Watching the Hawks --- “the chickenhawks and the warhawks” --- is a young man called Tyrel Ventura, the son of Jesse Ventura, the wrestler who became governor of Minnesota, and this young man, like his father, is compulsively watchable. There is even a half-hour interview programme by Larry King, that workaholic veteran who it seems can never stop talking.
In Britain, too, RT has established a lively critique of national politics, and that must surely have something to do with the decision of RT’s bank to close down all the network’s bank accounts in the country. If that should drive them off the air, then the loss is entirely that of television watchers especially those who appreciate a wide range of views, even those that are regarded as unacceptable by the entrenched establishment who seem nowadays to have things more and more their own way.