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Media war

The notion that the free flow of information is the best weapon for the USA and Europe against foreign adversaries has been brought into question by the very powers that have championed this thesis globally, at times very patronisingly.

SNS | New Delhi |

The United States Supreme Court in its ~ for once justifiably termed ‘landmark’ ~ decision in Associated Press versus the State (1945) held:  “The widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.” Post-World War II liberal democracies in the West have in the main followed this template in the regulation of mass media. The Ukraine war is changing all that. The notion that the free flow of information is the best weapon for the USA and Europe against foreign adversaries has been brought into question by the very powers that have championed this thesis globally, at times very patronisingly. Sure, Russia has banned media outlets based in the USA-Europe including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Radio Free Europe, Deutsche Welle, BBC, and others under the aegis of new legislation criminalising the dissemination of “fake news” or “false information” about the conflict in Ukraine. But then that is entirely in keeping with the authoritarian streak which runs through Russia’s institutions since Soviet times; the country has not exactly been an exemplar of a free and independent media. 

Western nations, however, have laid claim to that position. This is what has made the closing of the information space to Russian media by the USA and the European Union deeply problematic. US companies have made it near-impossible to access Russian media outlets in America legally. The consequence, writes Brookings expert Mark MacCarthy, is that the range of information sources available to the public in the West has been reduced, which obviously under- mines the ability of citizens to make informed decisions. He argues that whether voluntary or legal, exclusion of Russian state-controlled media is an unnecessary and harmful attempt to mobilise society for the wartime emergency in Ukraine: “These exclusions limit the view of the world available to the public and to policymakers, and, by a well-understood and predictable process, lead to the demonising and silencing of valuable internal critics whose insights could help to improve the effectiveness of the foreign and domestic policy.” As a normative ideal, there is no arguing with this proposition. But in a world of nation-states where big tech-controlled media is no respecter of national boundaries, conflict is endemic to the situation. So, Russian media firms in the USA are having to deal with Apple having removed the RT News app from its app store, YouTube blocking the RT news channel, and DirecTV dropping RT America from its offerings which led the English-language 24- hour Russian news channel based in the USA to shut shop. The EU, meanwhile, has imposed what experts have termed an “extraordinarily sweeping” ban on Russian media including RT and Sputnik across Europe. Not only has “transmission or distribution by any means such as cable, satellite, IP-TV, internet service providers, internet video-sharing platforms or applications, whether new or pre-installed” been proscribed but even search results and posts from individuals who “reproduce” content from RT or Sputnik on any social media platform have been barred. Welcome to the brave new world.