Fight for democratic public control and ownership of mass media
James Ivens, Socialist Party national committee
A recent high-profile addition to British capitalism’s sanctions against Russian capitalism is the barring of RT UK (formerly Russia Today) from the airwaves. Ofcom, the UK media regulator, has revoked the Russian state-backed news channel’s broadcasting licence.
The National Union of Journalists should make a clear statement that no redundancies will be tolerated. And socialists cannot put any faith in the ‘impartiality’ of any capitalist media outlet – private or state, domestic or foreign.
Certainly RT’s coverage of Ukraine has been aimed at obscuring the true horror of the war, and propping up the gangster-capitalist Russian government relative to internal and international opposition. But any idea that this is some special feature of the establishment media in Russia is false.
Britain’s own state broadcaster, the BBC, produced highly sanitised coverage as coalition forces bombarded targets in Iraq. A fuller picture did not appear until later, once the invasion was established, and further delay of the truth risked too much loss of legitimacy.
Many working-class and young people have also noted the different attitude of Britain’s establishment media to war and refugees in Ukraine as compared to Yemen, Palestine and elsewhere. Of course, British capitalism’s interests are represented by the aggressors in those other conflicts.
Naturally, the BBC has never had its broadcasting licence put in question. Despite legal niceties about ‘impartiality’, it is a wing of the capitalist state, and in crises will close ranks with big business and its politicians.
Ofcom’s main objections maintain this legal fantasy. The regulator’s decision cites the United Nations general assembly (the more important UN Security Council is permanently deadlocked) opposition to Russian invasion (as compared to its general support for US and British imperialist aggression).
It also cites Russia’s appalling new anti-free-speech law, which puts journalists calling the war what it is at risk of up to 15 years in jail.
These facts, and a high volume of complaints, gave Ofcom the grounds it needs. RT’s statement in defence is very weak. But this does not disguise the double standards.
In fact, while the main driver here is inter-imperialist jostling, the regulator taking action while there is pronounced anger will partly be to shore up the establishment’s legitimacy.
As class anger and struggle continue to rise, the state may move to take action against workers’ organisations and free speech.
Coincidentally, while RT UK did not have a big audience, its journalists could give a small platform to left voices – so long as criticism of Putin’s regime remained tame.
Certainly the rapid banning of a channel which was not able to broadcast due to EU sanctions anyway, for a war which Britain is not currently in, is a warning to the workers’ movement.
We fight for independent working-class media, and democratic public ownership and access to the mass media as part of a socialist plan.