THE tit for tat measures being taken by the United States and Russia against each other’s journalists are bad news for press freedom in both countries.
Worse, they signal a growing willingness to clamp down on alternative media outlets which is palpable in Britain too.
The campaign to expose “Russian meddling” in the US 2016 presidential election, sporadically echoed on this side of the water with reference to the referendum on EU membership, is frankly an exercise in scaremongering.
The idea of foreign interference in an election conjures up ideas of vote-rigging, or at the very least the sort of massive financial intervention on one side practised by the United States over decades (Italy in 1948 and Russia in 1996 being two of the most blatant examples).
But that’s not what Russia is accused of. The principal allegations are that Russian intelligence stole information from the Democratic National Committee server and the emails of Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, and forwarded their contents to WikiLeaks; and that Russian internet trolls and media outlets published and publicised “fake news” on a significant scale to influence voters’ behaviour.
Russia and WikiLeaks deny the former charge, but even if they are lying the argument that the Clinton camp would have won if only its emails had remained hidden from the public is not exactly democratic.
It’s also dubious, serving mostly to help right-wing Democrats avoid facing up to the real reason they lost the election: their association with a status quo that has failed ordinary US residents.
That reality was exemplified by the rigged choice of a presidential candidate who had been part of the Washington elite for decades instead of her rival Bernie Sanders, whose socialist message might have proved a more convincing counterweight to the racist populism of Donald Trump.
But the hacked emails sideshow pales into insignificance next to the hysteria over “fake news,” a breathtakingly hypocritical scare whipped up by a political and media elite who have been feeding porkies to the public for years.
The “respectable” media who regurgitate fabrications like the incubator babies of 1990, “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq 13 years later and a whole wagonload of plausible-sounding but evidence-free atrocity stories concerning Libya or Syria, whose sources have largely been jihadist organisations actively engaged in war with the accused governments, are in no position to cry foul over the spread of apparently dubious information by Russian broadcasters or internet users.
The Morning Star is well aware of the poisonous influence of misleading media coverage. Years of demonisation of immigrants and benefit claimants in the likes of The Sun and the Daily Mail has warped our politics and played its part in what the Establishment likes to term the “radicalisation” of dangerous individuals who proceed to attack and sometimes even kill black people, or Muslims, or wheelchair-users, or in one tragic case last year the MP Jo Cox.
No-one on the left today could be ignorant of the systematic media demonisation of the first Labour leader in a century to offer real change, the demoralising effect it has had on our movement and the potent weapon it has sometimes proved in the hands of our enemies.
The answer is to campaign for a more transparent and democratic media, with the power of billionaire press tycoons curbed; and for our movement to educate, agitate and organise so citizens are better informed and better judges of the quality of the news they hear.
Banning or shackling foreign journalists and demonising individual platforms, as Theresa May hinted she would consider at her Mansion House speech, serves only to tighten the Establishment’s stranglehold on information and, by discrediting the results of democratic votes, provide an excuse for these to be disregarded.
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