In conflicts, there is always a temptation to mirror the tactics of one’s opponents – which is why it’s depressing to see Ofcom do so by taking Russia Today (RT) off air. The fight is not just between Russia and Ukraine but a democratic view of life and authoritarian rule. In our system, we believe that truth is arrived at through open competition of argument. In Putin’s system, opposition is stymied and censored.
It’s not as if Britain has to worry about the contagious power of Putin’s ideas undermining our social or political fabric – so why pull the plug on his state-run TV? Leaving these stations to run – China’s state broadcaster or Iran’s Press TV – shows confidence in our system. Censoring them only helps conspiracy theorists who say the UK is somehow afraid of whatever Moscow or Tehran have to say.
Britain’s experiments of TV censorship in the past have been ineffective as well as illiberal. Having an actor do voice-overs of Gerry Adams did not weaken the IRA: revulsion of its tactics did that. Putting Nick Griffin on Question Time was the death knell of the BNP when the world could see what an idiot he was – rather than a man so diabolically persuasive that the government would not dare let him speak.
This is a brutal war for control of territory but, behind it, there is a deeper question: does Ukraine feel closer to European values or to Putin’s? Polls showed that its people very much prized their independence and preferred our system to that of the Kremlin. As I argue in my Daily Telegraph column today, that’s one of the reasons that Putin invaded. Ukrainians had more confidence in the democratic way of life – and we should not lose that confidence in the heat of the moment.
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