No London Times, RT Is Not Like the Islamic State

Even by the tawdry standards of previous attacks, the latest attack on RT by Roger Boyes, Eastern Europe editor at the London Times, which we attach below, plumbs new depths.

The trigger that seems to have caused Boyes to write his article is two conversations he says he has had with a Latin American friend and an Egyptian acquaintance. 

The Latin American friend supposedly asked Boyes “why the British are so closed to the Russian point of view”?  The Egyptian acquaintance supposedly asked Boyes “why don’t you (ie. the West) give Putin a fair chance”?

These comments from people Boyes admits are “intelligent” seem to have pushed him over the edge.   That is the only explanation for the bizarre comments that follow.

Before we come to those, it should be said that much of the article is the standard fare of cliches that have become the staple of western attacks on RT .  The crude personal attacks on RT’s guests and presenters (“a pallid Julian Assange, a puffed-up George Galloway, the hobgoblin Larry King, a crazed former stockbroker, a wad of blogging conspiracy theorists”) are a case in point.

The article does however include an unusually ugly attempt to misrepresent RT’s reporting of the MH17 tragedy.  It does this by making an entirely false comparison between the supposedly “objective” reporting by the Western media of the recent A320 disaster and the way the RT is supposed to have reported the MH17 disaster.  

Many of the things Boyes says about RT’s reporting of MH17 are actually untrue.  

RT did not claim MH17 was shot down “as a result of a failed attempt to assassinate Putin by Ukraine’s western backers”.  Nor did RT engage in a plot “to cover the tracks of the Russian military intelligence agency the GRU”.  Boyes has no evidence to back that claim.  There is no evidence the GRU was involved in the tragedy despite Boyes’s attempt to insinuate that it was.  Certainly it is not  “now widely understood” that the GRU “masterminded the rebel fighting in eastern Ukraine”. 

There is no comparison between the A320 tragedy and MH17.  They have nothing in common with each other save that they both involve air crashes.  

A better comparison would be with the fatal air crash in April 2010 in Smolensk that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski. 

Boyes does not make that comparison.  Possibly that is because much of the speculation in the Polish and Western media that followed that accident has turned out to be wrong, whilst recent evidence suggests that reports at the time of the tragedy in the Russian media suggesting interference with the cabin crew by members of Kaczynski’s entourage were right.  

An example where the Russian media has been shown to have been right and the Western media has been shown to have been wrong does not support Boyes’s case.  Not surprisingly therefore he does not mention it.

Far and away the most outrageous part of Boyes’s article is however his attempt to lump RT with the Islamic State as enemies of “western values” engaged in some sort of “information war” supposedly being waged against the West.

That is grotesque.  RT is a news organisation and a broadcaster not a terrorist organisation.  There is no comparison between RT and the Islamic State.  There is no similarity between RT’s news broadcasts and discussion programmes and the propaganda videos the Islamic State produces.  It is paranoid to say there is.

That paranoia is however present in every line of Boyes’s article – from the headline (“West must dismantle the enemy lie machines”) to the sub title (“Isis and the Kremlin have proved to be master propagandists so why don’t we put up a fight”) to line after line of text, including the peculiarly outrageous comment: “we have to persuade young people across the globe that invading countries, breaching frontiers and decapitating prisoners is not part of some “success” story”.  

“Invading countries” and “breaching frontiers” more accurately describes western behaviour than Russian.  

As for the Islamic State’s barbaric practice of decapitating prisoners, Russia does not apply the death penalty and Putin publicly opposes it.   To lump together Russia’s conduct – real or imagined – with the Islamic State’s horrible use of this barbaric practice, calls into question Boyes’s understanding of the values he claims to be upholding.

Though Boyes’s article is not specifically about RT’s coverage of the Ukrainian conflict, it is obvious that that is what the article is actually about.  

As I have said many times before, the reason RT’s and the Russian media’s narrative of the Ukrainian conflict is prevailing over the Western narrative is not because of the effectiveness of “the Kremlin’s propaganda machine”, but because it is true.  

The conflict in Ukraine is a civil war triggered by a violent unconstitutional coup.  Crimea’s secession from Ukraine was not a conquest but was a valid – and highly popular – exercise of the right of self-determination provoked by the coup.  The present government in Kiev includes right wing extremist elements.  It is pathologically Russophobic and intolerant and resorts to violence whenever it is challenged.  It is opposed by a large proportion of Ukraine’s population, who reject its intolerant ideology and its violent and lawless methods.

RT’s and the Russian media’s narrative of the Ukrainian conflict is convincing because it is based on these facts.  The Western narrative of the Ukrainian conflict – that it is entirely the result of Russian aggression against a “democratic” and otherwise “peaceful” Ukraine – is not convincing because it denies these facts.  

It is simply impossible to persuade (in Boyes’s words) “intelligent people” like Boyes’s Latin American and Egyptian acquaintances, or “the billions of non-aligned people who make up the BRIC countries” or “the internet community” that the West “hasn’t persuaded” about Crimea, that the West’s narrative of the conflict is true, when the facts so clearly show it is false. 

Blaming RT for this problem is a classic case of shooting the messenger to suppress the message.  

That this is so is shown by the inadequacy of what Boyes proposes by way of response.  He admits that beefing up organisations like Radio Free Europe and the BBC World Service is an inadequate response “too anchored in Cold War thinking.”  However what he proposes is actually little different.  

He calls for “…..a fast, authoritative response” that would involve “closer cooperation between the West and local activists (in Russia) who are, for example, monitoring the number of Russian soldiers brought home from Ukraine in body-bags” and “publicising financial links between the Russian and disgraced Ukrainian elites” and “the ties between the arms industries of the two countries”.  

As Eastern Europe editor of The TImes it beggars belief Boyes doesn’t know the West is doing all this already.  Given that this is so, it is scarcely credible that he really thinks that what he proposes (basically more of the same) is going to change anything or convince anyone. In view of this his descent into abuse and paranoia comes as no surprise.

The article does however show what much of the Western media has now become and why a genuine independent news organisation about Russia like Russia Insider which has no agenda other than to report news and no axe to grind is so desperately needed..  

Instead of objectively reporting the Ukrainian conflict and explaining it to the Western public, much of the Western media, as Boyes’s shows, now sees itself as some sort of army engaged in an “information war” against Russia in which journalists are the foot soldiers, facts are expendable and “propaganda” is simply a word used to describe what the other side is doing.  

I have already discussed Boyes’s casual way with facts in his discussion of RT’s coverage of MH17.  Given that he thinks of himself as a soldier in an “information war” he actually has no alternative but to behave in this way.  As a soldier his duty is not to tell the truth.  It is to “win”. Facts are expendable and necessary casualties on the road to “victory”.  

As Boyes’s article makes all too clear, what actually annoys him is not that RT is not telling the truth or is some sort of “propaganda channel”.  It is that in the “information war” he sees himself as fighting, RT is “winning” and his side is “losing”.  He complains that RT’s logo is “Question More” “but we receive mainly mendacious answers”.  “Mendacious” however is the word that best describes his own article.  

The collapse of journalistic standards and of ethics is all too obvious.

From The Times:

You’re in a crowded lit when it stalls.  It’s a bank holiday, the emergency number doesn’t work and you look around at your companions – a pallid Julian Assange, a puffed-up George Galloway, the hobgoblin Larry King, a crazed former stockbroker, a wad of blogging conspiracy theorists – and you wonder if there’s enough oxygen to go round. That, in a nutshell, is the experience of watching Russia Today, the stuff of nightmares in which according to the channel’s logo, we are challenged to “Question More but receive mainly mendacious answers.

Lavishly funded at $400 million a year, broadcasting to 700 million households, RT is the Kremlin’s battering ram in the information war against the West.  It’s a war that we are losing.  A South American friend asks why the British are so closed to the Russian point of view.  An Egyptian wonders why we don’t give Putin a fair chance – as if the the Kremlin leader were in some way bound by scruple.

These intelligent people are the target audience for a television station that is trying to convince the billions of non-aligned people who make up the BRIC countries that RT are truth-tellers in a world dominated by warped western news values.

The foreign audience is offered competing narratives for any event that risks tarnishing the reputation of the Russian leadership.  Compare western coverage of the of the recent A320 disaster – the speed and plausibility of the analysis, the questions raised about the pilot – with the shooting down last summer of Malaysian Airlines MH17 over eastern Ukraine. Since pro-Russian gunmen controlled access to the crash site, time was bought for the full panoply of Kremlin-steered media to obfuscate and camouflage. 

First version from : a Ukrainian airforce plane had been shot down in a legitimate act of war. By the time RT chipped in, it was a failed attempt to assassinate Putin by Ukraine’s western backers. The point of the Babel: to cover the tracks of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence, now widely understood to have masterminded the rebel fighting in eastern Ukraine.  It’s not just about RT, of course.  Russia runs an army of internet trolls who are paid to flood forums with pro-Kremlin comments.

The bloodiest contribution to the global information war is surely being made by the tech-davy jihadists of Islamic State who produce a steady stream of English language videos, who started an Arabic language Twitter app, who have piggybacked on hashtags related to the World Cup and who know how to celebrate themselves on YouTube.

The aim of Isis news-warriors is to convince all Muslims that establishing a caliphate is a religious duty.  We haven’t managed to interrupt or re-cast this message, relying too heavily on imams to set young Muslims straight. And we’re losing with Russia by failing to make any impact on Putin’s behaviour, we have not diminished his domestic support and we haven’t persuaded the internet community that Moscow’s snatch of Crimea is a real rupture.

In the US and Britain, the call has gone up for more public funding of television and radio stations, from Radio Free Europe to BBC World Service, to counter the surge in anti-western propaganda. That response is too anchored in Cold War thinking.  Yes. trusted news outlets will eventually win out, but in the meantime there are arguments to be waged and won.

Above all we have to persuade young people across the globe that invading countries, breaching frontiers and decapitating prisoners is not part of some spurious “success” story. That demands a fast, authoritative response.  In Russia there should be closer cooperation between the West and local activists who are, for example, monitoring the number of Russian soldiers brought home from Ukraine in body-bags.  It means publicising financial links between the Russian and disgraced Ukrainian elites, ties between the arms industries of the two countries.

As for Isis, if the west is to go on the news offensive then we must show that the jihadists are unable to hold territory for long (no land = no caliphate), that their commanders are corrupt, that the fight is largely Muslims killing other Muslims.  Young aspiring holy warriors in Britain and the rest of Europe are not getting this message.

There is a role for western states in this information war.  But chiefly, the impetus in standing up for a vibrant, self-confident West should come from private concerns.  The battles swirling around us are not so much about territory as about values.  We are letting others win this argument by default.

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