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How the Western "Free" Press Enables and Encourages Ignorance

After 25 years of service, Andrei Babitsky was fired by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty over one pro-Russian (accurate) sentence. Western media have ignored his case because it doesn't fit their Western "free" press narrative

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Danielle Ryan is a regular contributor to RI. This article also appeared at Journalitico


I’ve read many pieces — and written some — about the failure of the Western press in how it chooses to cover not only Russia, but Russian media, like RT. None have hit the nail on the head quite as much as this one.

It begins with the story of a journalist fired because his reporting on Maidan and his views on Crimea did not match those of his employer. It’s exactly the kind of story that Politico, Newsweek and BuzzFeed would love.

Really. It has it all. Suppression of the free press. Restriction on free speech. European “values”. Russia, Crimea, Maidan, the whole works. They’d be drooling all over it for at least a week.

There’s just one teeny tiny problem: The journalist in question happened to be fired from an American government-funded news outlet because he supported Crimea’s reintegration into Russia and exposed neo-Nazi atrocities in Ukraine. Oops.

Close your ears, BuzzFeed! This is the kind of ‘suppression of the free press’ story you don’t want to hear about.

Now, you might be thinking well okay, if his views were that far out of line with those of his employer, then is it really that big of a deal that he was fired?

So it might come as a greater shock to learn that the journalist in question spent 25 years airing pro-Western views for this news outlet and, during that time, was also a very harsh critic of Vladimir Putin.

His name is Andrei Babitsky and the outlet that fired him is Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

And this is the sentence that set the ball rolling:

This is not about Crimea – on this question, I’m fully agreed with Vladimir Putin’s main thesis, that Russia has the absolute right to take the peninsula’s population under its protection. I am aware that a significant number of my colleagues don’t share this viewpoint.

As Anatoly Karlin, the author of the brilliant piece which details his firing points out, the rest of Babitsky’s piece returns to his more common criticism of Russia and could in no way be classified as pro-Putin or anti-Western.

Still, a week later he was suspended for one month without pay. He came back after the month only to be fired shortly after for reasons perhaps even more unjustifiable than his support of Crimea’s reunification with Russia.

Reporting from Donbas, Babitsky filmed the exhumation of four bodies in Novosvetlovka. The four people had been executed by the Ukrainian Aidar Battalion. He sent it to RFE/RL. It was published. Then, in his own words, the nationalists at the Ukrainian division of RFE/RL “became hysterical”.

All this, just because I had published a video, which only recorded what I saw with my own eyes, without any additional commentary.

The video was deleted and Babitsky was shown the door.

He recently gave an interview to a Czech daily newspaper about the entire affair. Karlin details this all more clearly and exhaustively than I will, but I want to highlight some quotes from Babitsky’s interview and then from Karlin’s own analysis of the ordeal.

To a clearly hostile interviewer, Babitsky explains his position on Crimea:

I know that many Crimeans have always regarded Ukraine as a foreign state. Crimeans never felt at home there. They were annoyed by Ukrainization policies. They had the Ukrainian language forced upon them in place of Russian. Ever since its independence, Kiev has carried out an incorrect national policy towards minorities, first and foremost, in regards to the Russian one.

The entire peninsula was overtaken in horror by what awaited it, so the separation was an unequivocal reaction to the threat that Euromaidan represented to Crimeans.

Crimea escaped the bloody drama that Donbass didn’t. There were 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers on the peninsula, if some fool in Kiev had given the order, the conversation would have been overtaken by heavy artillery, and Crimea would have been completely destroyed.

It’s pretty clear from Babitsky’s personally informed and trustworthy analysis, that Crimeans to some extent felt like second-class citizens as part of Ukraine and were terrified of the fate that awaited them and which has sadly befallen Donetsk and Luhansk. It is further clear that the vast majority of them regarded Russia, their former home, as a protector, not an invader. This is not fairytale Russian propaganda. This is genuinely how a huge number of Crimeans feel.

Not that I’d suggest for one minute that everything is absolutely rosy for everyone in Crimea. Plenty have (rightly) gone looking for — and found — the 7-10 per cent who aren’t happy to have rejoined Russia. It would be impossible to have an entire population satisfied with the decisions of its government — in this instance, the new one or the old one. But that doesn’t excuse US lies claiming a “reign of terror” in what is actually a peninsula untouched by the war being waged in Donbass.

My bias is more acceptable than yours!

Back to Karlin’s piece. He points out that since RFE/RL is funded by the American government, they in principle should be allowed to decide how to use those resources.

He writes “If that involves kicking out journalists whose opinions and reporting overstay their welcome, then so be it” …and acknowledges that the same goes for other state-funded news organisations, like the BBC or RT.

I am in agreement with him that, while unfortunate, that’s the way it is.  The trouble is, if you can accept it from one side, you have got to accept it from the other. Anything else is pure hypocrisy — and it’s the Western side most guilty of that hypocrisy. It is the Western side that likes to deny it is guided by anything other than an unwavering commitment to the “truth”.

Karlin continues: “It is primarily the Western media organizations that tend to have the chutzpah to deny this and instead claim an altruistic and universal dedication to truth, objectivity, free speech, and fluffy pink rabbits”.

He then quotes RT’s editor in chief who has said: “There is no objectivity – only approximations of the truth by as many different voices as possible.”

With that too, I wholeheartedly agree.

This brutal honesty, he continues, annoys the Western media intensely, “because they view their social arrangements and global hegemony as a revealed truth, and anything that even so much as suggests that it may be just one of many truths is equivalent to heresy“.

That superiority complex is unprofessional at best and dangerous at worst.

As a journalist, writer, blogger (shill, Kremlin troll etc.)  — whatever I am — I can feel no other way than to be in support of multiple streams of information, multiple sources, multiple perspectives.

The ability humans have to close their eyes to other perspectives is the root of most of the world’s problems.

For that reason, I can barely comprehend it when I hear “respected” journalists calling for the shutting down or boycotting of RT. Neither can I comprehend the sheer hypocrisy of it, given the story we have just read about Andrei Babitsky, who, so disillusioned with his former employer (of 25 years) admits that it has become “nothing more than an instrument of American propaganda”.

I can’t fathom, that knowing how horrifying the result of group-think in media and politics can be, that there could be any intelligent person able to propose the boycotting of a legitimate news channel.

What happened to #JeSuisCharlie and our outrage over attacks on journalists? Crocodile tears, it would appear.

The same mentality that led those murderers to the Charlie Hebdo offices, leads ignorant people to call for the boycotting of RT. That mentality is simple and it is: I’m right, you’re wrong and I don’t want you to be allowed speak.

Trolling in the deep

Passionate Twitter users spend a lot of time debating each other on this topic of what constitutes “real” or “legitimate” news and what doesn’t. Unsurprisingly, quite the majority feel that the “real” news organisations are the ones reporting the news to their liking and the “propaganda” news organisations are the ones reporting things they don’t like very much.

Mostly though, if we stick with Twitter, the debate revolves around who is a “troll”, which precise views indicate trollish qualities, who is a shill, who is a liar and who is a “real” journalist etc. I’ve been labelled all of them at one point or another by various factions.

But to me the distinction between troll/non-troll is crystal clear.

“Trolls” …for want of a better word — and I mean that, I really do want a better word — are those that bombard users they are in disagreement with, with non-stop, unwanted messages, failing ever to give consideration to anything other than their own bias, which they push in bullish, aggressive and often abusive ways.

In other words, trolls can’t understand that it is not the views that make the troll, it’s the behavior.

Non-trolls (do we have a better word yet?) …usually ignore them and rarely, if ever, are the ones to initiate contact. They express their views, defend themselves when necessary, consider alternative viewpoints and then leave it at that.

Any massive media organisation that pushes the idea that the “truth” is my way or the highway and that it’s okay to disregard other human perspectives, adds no value to anything or anyone. That goes for Russian media and Western media alike.

All that mindset does is empower the mindless masses and Twitter lunatics into thinking they need not use their brains for anything other than the daily confirmation of their own bias. It keeps them stupid, uninformed and makes them feel justified in their hateful and abusive behavior.

Unsurprisingly, RFE/RL never responded to Karlin’s request for comment on Babitsky’s firing.

They don’t feel the need to justify themselves — and they can rest assured, that none of the Western bastions of free speech they hold so dear will hold them to account either.

Must be nice living in that world.

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