I have written about this before but it is worth giving it another airing. One of my sons, who has travelled the world as a rock musician and tour manager, always amused us when he returned home and we asked him how did he like Paris, or Vienna, or Rome or some other great city.
He would always say, “It was okay. But they have their own agenda there.”
That the various power blocs in the world each have their own agenda, and each considers their agenda is the best, is evident to anyone who watches news programmes. It has been especially evident recently in this case of the Russian spy and his daughter who were poisoned in Salisbury, a smallish, and rather sedate English city.
I watch a lot of television, no longer having a job to occupy my time. For news I watch mostly the CBC, Canada’s government-owned network, the BBC, Britain’s government-owned network, RT, Russia’s government-owned network, and Al Jazeera, Qatar’s government-owned station.
With the current extremely strained relationships between Russia and the West, it is being constantly repeated in our Western media that RT is part of a dastardly plot designed to undermine our democracy, and experts are not wanting who come on screen regularly to warn of their subtle but evil methods, of which any viewer should be aware and against which these experts, usually employed in that odd industry called Security, find it necessary to warn the populace.
It seems to me this is based in an assumption that anyone watching
RT must be some kind of half-wit, unable to really understand what he or she is being told. To me, the idea thatsimply by watching RT I am complicit in a nefarious plot designed to take over the world, as seems to be the nightmare of these security and academic experts, is like a fairy tale and a rather insulting one at that. I know that in most of their news programmes RT has a tendency to concentrate on items that are critical of the United States, but I am critical of the United States myself, so am not bothered by this nightmarish idea that I am helping to plot the destruction of the civilized world.
One impact of watching RT on me has been to solidify my long-held belief that every nation has its fundamental core values that they automatically apply to world affairs. The Russians are not alone in that, and to tell the truth, I prefer watching RT to the usually meretricious stuff pedalled by the American networks. Even the BBC, which as everyone knows has a long history of what we think of as responsible journalism, has its unshakeable system of values that appear to be beyond argument. That has been illustrated by the eagerness --- one might call it an almost hysterical haste --- with which the British commentariat have jumped on board Theresa May’s express train claim that Mr Putin was responsible for the poisoning of these two people. In the House of Commons Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader, urged caution, urged the need to have all the facts, to have checked with the well-respected and well-informed Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and so on, an approach that was shouted out of court by the serried ranks of the Conservative Party, and, truth to tell, by many members of his own party.
On the Russian side, equally knee-jerk was the acceptance of the denial issued by the Russian government. Mrs May said that “it is likely” that Russia was responsible. But to someone who has heard both sides of the argument, it seemed to me that the Western reaction had so many holes that Mrs May’s express train could be driven right through it.
No facts were presented to support her assertions, and the Russians for their part wondered why she had not followed the approved international protocol of referring the matter to OPCW with evidence and a request that it be examined and reported upon. No need for that, chorused the quidnuncs of the Western world. Everybody knows that Putin uses these methods against his opponents, and we have to bring him to heel before he has totally undermined our whole system of government.
At a very early stage, a former diplomat called Craig Murray, who had been British Ambassador in Kazakhstan, wrote an article in which he drew attention to the fact that according to sources he trusted, the scientists at Britain’s Porton Downs station for the manufacture of chemical weapons were extremely resentful of the government pressure being brought upon them to put out a statement affirming that the poison was manufactured in Russia. At this early stage, Murray’s article appeared to have been ignored, or virtually so, by the British press and public, but of course --- fulfilling their mandate to undermine the Western world--- the evil people who run RT broadcast Murray’s article as part of almost every newscast.
Not to worry, cried the spokespeople for the Western governments, including that of Canada, never mind the lack of facts, we all know what the Russians are up to, and if Mrs May wants support, she will get it from us, and in an extraordinary burst of enthusiasm for their anti-Russian beliefs, they expelled 150 diplomats on the spot, four of them from Canada.
All of this occupied a week or two with merry denunciations of Russia headlining the news for days. The British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, a notable ass, swore that the Porton Downs scientists had told him with no ifs and buts that the Russians were responsible. But a couple of days later the director of this institute made a carefully-worded statement in which he declared they could not say where the poison was manufactured. This appeared to blow Mr. Johnson out of the water, and might have been expected to bring a modicum of reflexion about Mrs May’s version of events. Not a bit of it: this was all part of that insidious Russian propaganda that they are so skilful at, chorused the Western governments, all of them in lock-step as they increased the vehemence of their denunciations of Russia.
Our own Prime Minister complained that the Russians had engaged in a smear campaign against our Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. Personally I would not call it a smear campaign, and the Russians were not inventing anything: they were simply reporting facts, that do appear to be incontrovertible, uncovered in the last year or so by Canadian researchers, about how the grandfather of our Foreign Minister, who has a Ukrainian background, had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazi war machine during the Second World War, and had edited a newspaper supporting the Germans. Admittedly, we do not want to hold the woman responsible for the sins of her grandfather, except that this family background appears to have equipped our Foreign Minister with a built-in knee-jerk bias against Russia, which, if the Prime Minister had known about it when he appointed her might well have disqualified her as unsuitable for this particular post in his Cabinet. One cannot help but wonder if our decision to expel four diplomats had its origin in this bias.
So much for this particular incident, about which we must surely learn more in the coming weeks, especially since the two victims have apparently recovered, and the daughter has made a statement saying she is quite well. To return to the broader statements denouncing RT, I can only say that I watch many programmes by reputable people who must be incredulous at the charge that they are the tools of Russian propaganda.
From Moscow they have two women interviewers Sophie Sheverdnadze, granddaughter of the former Soviet Foreign minister, and Oxana Boyko. Sophie was brought up for years in France, has attended several American universities, and is fluent in at least four languages. She is a beautiful woman, and apparently a bit of a social butterfly, who is reported to take part in social events across Europe (I mention this only to establish that her knowledge of the outside world is based on much multi-level experience.) Oxana, though her experience has largely been within Russia, also attended an American university, and has been a reporter at many crisis events. She has a sharp mind, makes of her interviews a non-stop, often rather querulous conversation, in which she quite evidently has the intellect and training to argue on equal terms with even the most sophisticated experts. I have heard dozens of the interviews of these two women, and I can remember only one, by Oxana, that was what I might call offensively following a party line. In general they both have the presence to command the attention of heads of state, men and women working in international development and politics, academics from world universities, and so on. One might compare them with Stephen Sackur, also an extremely well-informed person, the BBC reporter who runs the interview programme Hardtalk, and Zeinab Badawi, an interviewer who specializes in Africa: I have heard dozens of their interviews, too, and cannot avoid feeling that at base, Sackur is a bundle of Western political attitudes that he will never agree to question; and Badawi as an interviewer, is frankly incompetent. In short, I don’t see much difference between the two sides, and from the point of view of freedom of expression, there is little to choose between them. As my son might say of them, they each have their own agendas. Nothing wrong with that.
For the rest, RT has regular programmes by such luminaries as Chris Hedges (whose penetrating interviews with various dissenters from the American way of life are usually of outstanding interest); Larry King, the workaholic TV and radio personality, still at the age of 84 interviewing every day; Jesse Ventura, former maverick governor of Minnesota; Alex Salmond, former leader of the Scottish National Party, who turns out to be a gentle interviewer who gives a gift to whoever he is interviewing at the end of every show; and as a news presenter four evenings a week Ed Schultz, a veteran of American TV and radio who began as a conservative, but became a leftist when confronted with the evidence of the life he could see when he went on the road. I have heard Schultz say that he has never been told what to say or present, and to complain that the people who denounce RT in the West have never bothered to visit them to talk to their journalists. I am sure all of these must be astonished to hear the vitriol directed against their station daily, especially in the United States.
In addition to all this RT has regular documentaries, some of which I have seen, and which appear to be of generally good quality.
All of this is true of the BBC and the CBC as well, but for some reason these networks do not have to suffer the sort of absurd charges levelled at RT by politically interested persons, many of whom seem to be interested primarily in advancing their careers.