In recent weeks, I have received a number of complimentary emails from readers of my essays who took note of what they consider my even-handed approach to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian military conflict which is at variance with the fired-up Russophile and Russophobe positions that we find daily in alternative and mainstream media respectively. Some have gone on to say that they have profited from my reporting on the content and changing views aired on Russian political talk shows these past few months, all of which is rarely featured in mainstream Western news and analysis. My intent in such reporting was to ensure that at least some people here understand what Ukraine and its Western backers are up against, so as to better understand the course of the fighting on the ground and who may be winning.
In this context, I announce with sadness that the job of even-handed reporting has just become much more difficult as a result of Eutelsat’s implementation yesterday of a policy decision announced just over a month ago, but which went unnoticed by most everyone, myself included.
I quote from Google Search:
“Eutelsat to remove banned Russian channels. Eutelsat ready to immediately stop the rebroadcasting of the Russian channels RTR Planeta and Rossiya 24 on its satellites on June 25. 13 May 2022”
Indeed, the main state news channels of the Russian Federation can now no longer be received via satellite antennas here in Belgium or elsewhere on the Continent. They are partially and sporadically accessible on the internet via www.smotrim.ru but the level of interference from Western censors makes such viewing a dismal exercise. “Freezing” of frames seems to be most common with respect to the talk shows “Sixty Minutes” and “Evening with Solovyov,” two programs which I had been following and reporting on most regularly. However, it also is applied against Russian shows which might be characterized as being simply entertainment, such as the currently running historical serial about the life and times of the 18th century tsarina Elizabeth. I dare anyone to get more than a minute or two into the broadcast before the curtain comes down, so to speak.
The curtain in question is an updated Iron Curtain, which this time has been dropped on our heads by the powers that be in Washington. After all, it is Washington that pressured the French controlled Eutelsat rebroadcaster of television channels that dominates the European and other global markets to throw out the Russians.
The argument behind that demand was to exclude “Russian propaganda” from the airwaves.
In the spirit of fairmindedness with which I opened this essay, I agree that Russian state television is practicing propagandistic methods insofar as it withholds certain information from viewers while promoting other information favorable to its paymasters. For example, on Russian state television news you will not find a word about the civilian casualties and damage to residential buildings of Russian artillery and rocket attacks on Kharkov. You are shown only the civilian casualties and damage to residential buildings in Donetsk and towns of the Donbas caused by Ukrainian artillery and rocket strikes.
On the other hand, however, European and U.S. newscasts feature the damage caused by Russian strikes on Ukrainian towns while saying not a word about the sufferings of the Donbas population from military assaults by Ukrainian forces. Just as they have been entirely silent about such suffering and death among the Donbas population that Kiev has inflicted on them for the past eight years, since the outbreak of the civil war in 2014.
Each side in the Ukrainian conflict accuses the other side of using cluster bombs and other internationally prohibited weapons against civilian populations. These accusations are put on air by Russian and Western news programs only as they are set out by their favored respective side.
My point is very simple: by silencing the so-called Russian propagandists, Western propagandists have the field to themselves here in Belgium, in the broader European Union and in North America. The possibilities for the public to form an independent view of what is going on are choked off, and with that there is no basis for informed policy discussion in the expert community. As The Washington Post so nicely puts it: democracy dies in darkness.
And what about the Russian side? Are they also cut off and ignorant as my remarks on coverage of casualties above might suggest? I commented on this question in my travel report on my six week stay in Petersburg that began in May: Western news channels have been removed from the cable television distributors in the city. For this I blame not Russian government prohibitions but the commercial decisions of Western content providers who terminated their contracts with Russian distributors just as did the Hollywood studios. Meanwhile, Western stations remain accessible on the internet without interference and they remain accessible on satellite television.
At my dacha, I had no difficulty receiving the BBC and Bloomberg for free courtesy of my parabolic antenna. How long this will be the case given the tit-for-tat nature of the relationship between the West and Russia generally I cannot say. But if someone does pull the plug on Western ‘propaganda’ in Russia, it will be in response to the West’s dropping the Iron Curtain on Russia, not the other way around.
It is sad that Western leaders are destroying with their own hands the underpinnings of democracy at home through this censorship. The only likely result will be total shock and surprise throughout the Western world when the Russians complete their liberation of Donbas, take the Ukrainian Black Sea coast including Odessa and declare victory over what will by then be an utterly destroyed Ukrainian army.
In the meantime, under greatly constrained conditions, I will try my best to follow the Russian side of the story on talk shows, on news reports of Russian war correspondents embedded with their forces on the front lines, and to share with readers what appears to be afoot on the other side of the barricades.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022