The Idiocy of Declaring Global Media Platforms as Foreign Agents


Russian media corporation Russia Today (RT) must now register its American channel as a “foreign agent.” It was not so surprising to see state security agencies pushing for this change, but it’s stunning to see erstwhile free-speech advocates, the self-declared opponents of the current US administration, whole-heartedly supporting this censorship. How did it come to this?
The rush to vilify Russian media agencies overlooks some crucial facts about post-Cold War history and the present global media landscape. Thirty years ago the USSR, and later Russia, reformed themselves to conform to Western economic models. They joined the global free market and Western nations cheered them on, turning a blind eye to Boris Yeltsin’s moves to dis-empower the Russian legislative branch and put more power in the executive branch. The West complains today about President Putin’s grip on power, but has amnesia about what it did to create the situation in Russia when in 1993 Yeltsin was bombarding the parliament with heavy artillery.
This situation led to the rise of a class of oligarchs and business people who operated on the world stage, buying real estate in New York and London, and selling Russian resources to the West while Russian people experienced a catastrophic fall in their living standards. The oligarchs were, according to the rules of global capitalism, engaging in completely normal behavior. It should have come as no surprise that US politicians, of both major parties, had connections to these business interests, just as they do to business interests from other countries. President Putin, for all the faults one could cite about his rule, at least managed to restore economic health and raise living standards, and it is in fact this new strength that has led to the anti-Russia hysteria.
One aspect of global business operations that Russia joined was the global media market. Some people in the Russian government and some business people interested in journalism wanted to operate in foreign markets just as CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera do. So now outlets like Sputnik and RT operate on the same model as other global players in the private or government-private media market. They offer information in local languages, with content tailored to match the interests of local viewers. They may be state-sponsored or state-influenced to a certain degree, but, like the BBC or PBS, they are allowed to operate with a great deal of editorial freedom. Like any media agency, they may over time learn to self-censor, or they may form biases that are noticeably different from what one can see on other nations’ media channels, but where is the harm in having such variety and competing discourses so that audiences can decide for themselves where the truth lies?
Some critics say, “But wait, they’re government-sponsored!” In fact, much of the paranoia about Russia completely fails to distinguish between the Russian government and Russian citizens freely operating as hackers, writers, business people, or teenagers trying to make a few bucks off social media advertising targeted at the US election. Everyone, apparently, takes direct orders from Putin. Nonetheless, even though Russian media outlets do receive some state support, or their investors have connections to the government, or they might avoid certain topics, they are in a situation which is effectively the same as what one can observe in the US “private” or “non-government sponsored” mass media. In an oligarchy, the interests of corporations and government merge.
Lee Camp recently made a vehement defense of his decision to work for RT with his show Redacted Tonight (see an excerpt of the transcript below), stating that he will remain unapologetic for working at the one outlet in the United States that still allows him to shed light on the devastating social problems that the American media ignores.
As my previous post related, the United States used a “full-court press” destabilization strategy against the USSR in the 1980s. Part of that strategy was an enormously expensive propaganda campaign that created a popular appetite for change in the Soviet Union. This history, certainly well understood by the Russian government, raises the question of whether Russia has now turned the tables during America’s time of crisis, when it is obviously in need its own perestroika and glasnost. If Russia is doing this, it is only claiming the same free-speech rights that American agencies claimed when they sought to operate in the USSR, and were tolerated and even welcomed at the time by Gorbachev.
The difference today is that there is not a great deal of ideological difference between Russia and the US. Both are capitalist oligarchies, but only one has been through a period of collapse, reconstruction, and reckoning with its past failures. If Russia, through RT, is engaged in some sort of propaganda campaign to supposedly “weaken” America, it is, first of all, very tame compared to what was done in the USSR thirty years ago, and second of all, it may provide a tonic that could actually strengthen America. As Lee Camp and others have pointed out, the critical American voices who have gone to work at RT are there only because American media corporations no longer want to hear their constructive criticism.

Transcript of a segment of Lee Camp’s Redacted Tonight, Episode 172, November 17, 2017:


TRANSCRIPT:

          More has come out from the Paradise Papers investigation proving that a Russian bank gave money to a guy who, through a third party, invested heavily in Twitter and Facebook from the years of 2011 to 2014, as seen on this informative chart from Vice News. They said this illustrates the long arm of the Kremlin extending into Silicon Valley in a way that none of us knew before, so clearly Twitter and Facebook are Russian foreign agents. All right, put them on the list. And it begs the question whether Twitter and Facebook will ban Twitter and Facebook from using Twitter and Facebook. Or maybe, and I’m just spit-balling here, we could grow up and realize that this Red Scare McCarthyist xenophobic bullshit is childish, and millionaires and billionaires around the world invest in all kinds of shit because they’re rich and they want to be richer.
For example, last week Saudi Arabia arrested billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal who owns or has owned major stakes in News Corp, owner of Fox News, Citigroup, owner of Citibank, Twitter, and many other well-known companies. OK? Well, Saudi Arabia, you know, they’re a horrible theocratic monarchy. Let’s add them to the list. Let’s add all those companies to the big board of foreign agents.
Also this week China Energy Investment Corp., the world’s largest power company, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to invest 83.7 billion dollars in shale gas, power and chemical projects in West Virginia. West Virginia too! Add them to the list. There are a lot of overall-wearing, three-tooth banjo players who are going to be none-too-pleased to learn they are Chinese foreign agents.
And you have to add North Carolina to the list because, as I reported a few months ago, most of the hogs in North Carolina are owned by a Chinese company, so there you go. Add bacon and North Carolina to the list of foreign agents.
Add the Nike swoosh to the list because Nike is based in Bermuda, but the Nike swoosh, the actual intellectual property that is The Swoosh is owned by a Dutch partnership, so put them on the list.
Apple was based in Ireland for a long time, it’s OK now. They decided to move their headquarters to New Jersey. Ah, New Jersey! Finally an American company through-and-through warms your heart... oh wait, that’s the Isle of Jersey off of England. The Paradise Papers reveal the company canvassed multiple jurisdictions before settling on the small island of Jersey which typically does not tax corporate income. That’s right. Every time you use your iPhone you can think, “Well, that Isle of Jersey craftsmanship is top-notch, you know, I love them for all their phone work.” Oh, wait, the phone is actually made in China. This phone is a double agent. It’s Chinese and British, but it’s doing surveillance for the US government. Who do you work for?
          Maybe you’re starting to get the point. The rulers of this planet, the oligarchs and the billionaires that really run things, don’t give a shit about a country. They don’t. They will base their money wherever there aren’t any taxes. They will take millions for despots and dictators. Nation-states mean nothing to them unless it helps them grab more money and power. This whole “evil Russia” or “evil Venezuela,” or our “good friends” in Saudi Arabia or our “good friends” in Israel–it’s all designed to keep you in line, afraid and apathetic. I mean, you know, there are other things like beer, which is also designed to keep you apathetic, but I’m a fan of beer, so I won’t complain about that one, right? There is nothing more American than getting out a good old Bud Light and sitting back like a true patriot. Only one problem. Budweiser is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. Belgium! Even my beer is a foreign agent!

From Lee Camp’s Redacted Tonight, Episode 172, November 17, 2017

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