Ofcom’s response to potentially shutting down RT in UK cleverly appeases both sides in freedom of speech debate
If international broadcasters are threatened with closure, things will get serious. However, if Ofcom, the UK broadcast regulator, is serious about closing down RT it should do so alone, and not by politicians wading in with arms raised, demanding anything.
All of us marvel at the hundreds upon hundreds of TV channels that beam in every night from all over the world to our homes. Paradoxally, though, many of us channel surf each night, and complain that there is nothing to see.
But – and this is the important thing – at least we have that baffling choice, and it is not only a technological miracle but a tribute to the wonders of the information age we live in. You don’t have to limit yourself to satellite, cable or terrestrial television. We can now watch almost any video online.
Yes, it’s confusing. There is plenty of useless information. There are opinions that might be contrary to our beliefs. We have the freedom to make our own choices, which is part of the beauty of democracy.
Anybody can hear what you say, even if they disagree with you. Just don’t expect everyone to agree with you. And that’s whether it’s over the dinner table or over the airwaves.
Former Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond, who hosts a show on RT, may not be everyone’s cup of tea. So what? That doesn’t mean he should be silenced, as current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested. It doesn’t make George Galloway or his former media friend any kind of demon because they chose to challenge the public narrative. They might be completely off the mark, or bang on target, but at least they’re asking those awkward questions. It might have been different if one of them was pushing fake news or lying. But they’re not.
They’re among the dissenting voices, the media figures with a sizable audience who deserve better than being slated as traitors or urged to quit their roles as disruptors and toe the line, simply because a government minister says so.
I am not apologizing for Salmond or Galloway. These men are capable of taking on their opponents without my assistance. It is, however, a defense of freedom speech. If you’re in two minds about this issue, then pause a second and imagine if the shoe was on the other foot. Brits would be horrified if Russia decided to cut off BBC radio in their home country and block Sky journalists or ITN reporters from working on their news beat.
The current cultural climate demands that TV programmes are bookended by warnings of potentially upsetting content and guidance to a website for “anyone affected by these issues,” and while most of us just switch off when this irritating ‘nanny-knows-best’ nonsense appears, we do not need politicians adding to this white noise because they think it makes them look tough.
Anybody who is able to navigate the TV Guide labyrinth without any help should feel proud and be allowed to enjoy their achievement.
Refreshingly, Ofcom was quick to respond to political demands that it review RT’s position on the UK media landscape in language particular to bureaucracy that both agrees with a request while at the same time leaving enough wiggle room not to meet the minister’s request. Think, “Yes, Prime Minister.”
Addressed to Nadine Dorries, the Secretary of State of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, its reply read in part, “Ofcom is very serious about our responsibility as independent regulator of communications. We are charged with protecting radio and TV audiences from harm while upholding freedom speech..”
And while Ofcom can sometimes be criticised, it was this implied ‘take your tanks off our lawn’ response, along with the assurance that the situation in Ukraine was being monitored, that was just enough to fulfil expectations both for those who expect pushback and for those who expect subservience. Ofcom added, “We are expediting complaints in this area as a matter of urgency and we will not hesitate to take swift action where necessary.” It’s a tricky tightrope.
Although our regulators may not be perfect, they do their best to ensure that the public is treated fairly. You must find it difficult to maintain your nerve when all the talk is about restricting foreign media outlets’ output in febrile conditions.
For now, Ofcom has done enough to appease both sides to this latest debate of freedom of speech, but, if the stakes rise further, questions will be asked and we can’t be sure at this point exactly where the cards might fall then.
Statements, opinions and views expressed in this column do not reflect those of RT.