IN a move to drown out ‘disinformation’ about the invasion of Ukraine, the European Union last week officially booted out Russia Today and Sputnik — two major Russian news broadcasters. The sanctions against these media organisations were imposed by the European Commission as well as EU governments and will be legally enforced till the invasion is over. In Britain, RT disappeared from the airwaves as the bloc supplies satellites to UK distributors, but UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries justified the removal of the channel, saying she hoped it would not return to British screens. On digital platforms Facebook, Google, TikTok and YouTube, access to RT and Sputnik is also being blocked.

Against the backdrop of the war, these dramatic moves to curtail what many officials have vaguely termed ‘Kremlin propaganda’ have been rushed through, but their long-term consequences in terms of Russian retaliation as well as freedom of expression are lost on world leaders. The Russian communication regulator has used these sweeping bans to justify its own blocking of Facebook and Twitter, which means ordinary Russians now only have access to the ‘Russian propaganda’ the West decries. There are reports that the BBC’s service, too, is being limited in parts of Russia. As the war hysteria reaches new heights, it is remarkable how little the US, EU and UK are thinking about the implications of the media ban. Censorship, controlling public opinion and blocking information are all hallmarks of a dictatorial regime. Vladimir Putin has often been criticised for being guilty of these tactics in Russia, where orders to newspapers to publish or censor certain news stories are part of daily life. Why then, must the West, which prides itself on its democratic ideals, stoop to such measures which mimic exactly the kind of anti-democratic behaviour President Putin practices? While the economic sanctions and moves to take action against Russian oligarchs are arguably logical means to limit Moscow’s power, the banning of dissent and information that is undesirable to Western powers is setting a dangerous and unwelcome precedent.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2022

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