By Deborah L. Armstrong – May 12, 2022
Dismissing Russia’s viewpoint is dangerous and undemocratic.
Americans pride themselves on their “free press” despite the fact that their press is not really “free.” The fact that it’s controlled by corporations does not make it any more “free” than it would be if it was controlled by the state.
Yet that belief in a “free press” persists, and so does the belief that a free press is something only found in the “free world”—that is, the United States and its allies. The rest of the world doesn’t have a free press, according to this belief. Those poor wretches in countries like China, Iran or Russia, only have “propaganda.”
It’s a simple belief.
“Ours is right, theirs is wrong.”
“Ours is good, theirs is bad.”
“Ours matters. Theirs doesn’t.”
The thinking is black-and-white, cartoonish and really quite silly. Childish. It’s inexcusable for grown adults to believe this way given the tattered credibility of mainstream media, which has been caught telling lies more times than Martin Sheen has been arrested. It’s been a problem for decades as anyone with a working brain knows; you only need to spend ten seconds googling and you can find miles of lies told by the mainstream media.
Media in the “free world” is carefully controlled and censored by powerful corporations with vested interests in controlling the narratives you believe. Just six corporations own the major news media, and independent journalists who dispute its narratives can be silenced without much protest.
For decades, the CIA has also had its talons hooked in the major media, and its influence has only grown stronger in recent years. Tech giants, too, have control over who is heard, de-platforming independent journalists whose views clash with the narratives of mainstream media. Even PayPal has gotten in on the censorship game, blocking payments to independent news outlets such as Consortium News, founded by the late award-winning journalist Robert Parry. And as I write, Julian Assange awaits his imminent extradition to the United States, imprisoned in the UK for publishing evidence of US war crimes.
Social media giants like YouTube and Facebook label any media with ties to Russia as “Russian state-controlled media,” and warn you about sharing their videos and articles. But is Russian media any more “controlled” than media in the “free world”? It’s a valid question and one which should be asked more often.
Russia Today has been blocked by providers in the US, Canada and UK, and the so-called “liberal” crowd is cheering this censorship on. They consider RT to be the very worst sort of propaganda and dismiss it out of hand without even bothering to watch it, as if watching it will poison their souls or make them break out in hives. And yet RT gave a platform to many independent journalists in the US and other countries whose voices were otherwise unheard. Young, progressive voices like the comedian Lee Camp. And older, experienced voices like the late Ed Schultz, whose show was canceled on MSNBC.
It’s not just that Russian media has been dismissed as “propaganda,” though. It’s that the entire Russian perspective is dismissed as propaganda. Not only is Russian media blocked in western countries, but Russian individuals on social media are marginalized, called “trolls” and ridiculed, attacked or blocked even when they are attempting to have reasonable discussions about current events. And it doesn’t end there. At the UN, Russian diplomats are frequently given the cold shoulder, as if their perspective is irrelevant and they are not welcome in discussions about their own future.
Of course, media in other countries has its biases and Russia is no different. All media has biases, because media is created by human beings who are biased. That’s why it’s the job of adult human beings to use their own discernment and critical thinking skills to connect the dots and decide for themselves what they want to believe. As an adult, you should not expect others to do your thinking for you or tell you what is true and what isn’t.
You certainly don’t have to agree with the Russian perspective or even believe it. You can go right on ahead supporting the neo-Nazis in Ukraine if that’s what you want to do. But you should at least consider Russia’s viewpoint, because without it you are not getting the entire story. You cannot form an accurate opinion about the war in Ukraine if you only watch the mainstream media’s rather cartoonish coverage of it.
For example, there was an interview with a Ukrainian woman who was evacuated from the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol last week. Natalya Usmanova’s interview was splashed all over mainstream media. NBC News posted a 1:43 minute clip of her on YouTube which you can watch here:
“I was afraid,” she says, “that they would start (firing shells) from here, that the (incoming) shells would come here. I was terrified, it seemed to me that the factory is the safest place.”
The parts in parenthesis were put there by whoever subtitled her, and she didn’t say the words in the parenthesis. The rest of the translation is accurate, however, it’s very misleading because if you only see this portion of the interview, you will assume that Natalya hid in the factory to escape the Russian bombardment and that was all there was to it.
But there is a lot more to the story, as you’ll see when you watch another clip, this one 2:04 minutes long, taken from the same interview.
Natalya, we discover, is an employee at the plant and she hid there with her family in late February. But when the Russian military opened up a humanitarian corridor to allow evacuees to flee the steelworks, the Ukrainian militia would not allow her family to leave. Instead, they began firing at Russian troops from fortified locations inside the factory, and she was afraid that they would draw return fire from the Russian troops which would kill her and her children and the other civilians trapped inside.
“They didn’t let us out,” Natalya says, “We were held in the bunker and simply were not let out. We could hear on the radio, ‘corridor, corridor.’ But how? The militants were not letting us go.”
It turns out that Natalya is less angry with the Russian troops who invaded her country than she is at the Ukrainian militiamen who refused to let her family leave the factory.
“I suspect that they came there with the goal of hiding behind civilians,” She said, later adding that “Our family has decided unanimously, we don’t want to go to Ukraine.” She continues, “Let’s put it this way: Ukraine as a state—and I am a citizen of Ukraine—it has died for me. I was very offended that we were treated in such a way.”
This is just one of many such videos, images and stories which have been distorted in western media, and Russian diplomats used it as an example at a recent United Nations Security Council which you can see here:
The Russian diplomats presented other videos from evacuees who praised the Russian military for getting them out of Azovstal alive. And during the security council, a number of independent journalists who have been covering the war from Donbas gave testimony of what they had seen in that war-torn region and asked why it was not being reported in the “free world.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry has provided the UN with “vast evidence of crimes” by the Ukrainian military, according to TASS, Russian News Agency. Thousands of human beings in Ukraine have been tortured and killed by Ukraine’s neo-Nazi militias over the past eight years and this has been ignored in the west. Do the lives of Russian-speaking Ukrainians matter less than the lives of Ukrainian nationalists? Why is this being suppressed?
On May 9, a Sky News host interrupted his guest, Dmitry Polyansky, a representative of Russia to the UN, after the diplomat drew attention to a photograph which Volodymyr Zelensky posted on social media on Victory Day, in which a member of the neo-Nazi militia Right Sektor is displaying a Nazi symbol.
The skull-and-crossbones symbol that adorns the man’s fatigues was also a symbol of the SS division “Totenkopf,” which was responsible for the execution of 97 British prisoners of war in France at the start of WWII.
“Is it embarrassing for the British Minister of Defense that after all this he supports and arms a government that openly displays such emblems? And how do you think the presenter answered me? He quickly turned off the conversation, muttering that our time, it turns out, had suddenly expired and that Sky News could not confirm the correctness of this information,” Polyansky wrote in his Telegram channel.
Certainly Russian media is capable of editing videos and twisting the narratives, too. But when you follow all sides of the story instead of just one side, it becomes clear who is lying and who is not.
It shouldn’t be up to governments, corporations, tech giants and official “fact-checkers” to make up your mind for you.
It’s up to you, dear adult human, to decide what you believe. And despite what you’ve been told, you are more than capable of doing that.
Featured image: A free press is a cornerstone of democracy, but US press is not free. Photo: Educating for democracy.