The United States government has given RT America four days to register as a so-called “foreign agent” or else face consequence including a seizing of assets. The move comes on the one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton.
Before delving into the possible consequences. Here are the important facts:
1. RT does not stand accused of breaking a single US law.
2. RT America is legally registered as a company in the United States
3. RT is entitled to the same First Amendment rights to freedom of speech (including the freedom to publish and broadcast) as any other entity operating in the United States
4. RT does not stand accused of favouritism in its election coverage
5. RT’s social media ads are misleadingly described as “political advertisements”. This is a deeply dishonest description. A political advertisement is something that says “Vote for Donald Trump” or “Vote for Hillary Clinton”. Instead, RT’s advertisements simply said “Watch RT for coverage of the US presidential candidates”. In the end, RT placed more advertisement relating to coverage of Bernie Sanders than of Trump or Clinton.
6. RT is partly funded by the Russian government, just as Al Jazeera is funded by Qatar, the BBC is funded by the UK, the CBC is funded by Canada and TeleSur is funded by Venezuela. There is nothing unusual about RT’s funding model.
Because the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) has rarely been used, it is not entirely clear what the US intends to do with RT America and its employees after the 13th of November, the time by which RT and its employees in the US will have to register as a “foreign agent”.
It is possible however to clarify the following myths
1. RT will cease operations and/or broadcasting in the United States–FALSE
Registering as a foreign agent does not mean that one has to cease one’s business activities so long as they are otherwise legal as RT’s are. RT isn’t for example a weapons trading business, it is a news outlet.
In the US today, upwards of 1,700 lobbyists have to register under FARA and most of these people are not only living peacefully but ranking in a great deal of money.
2. RT America employees may be intimidated and cease working for RT of their own accord–Likely
Because of the intimidating sounding name of the legislation invoked to provoke RT, some Americans working for RT may voluntarily leave the company rather than register for FARA.
I personally think that such roles can be fairly readily filled with other individuals as RT remains popular among American viewers as well as among aspiring journalists.
3. RT America will lose its assets–FALSE
So long as RT’s registration is completed on time, then no assets will be stripped according to FARA.
4. RT will challenge the ruling in a US court–LIKELY
After the 13th, RT can and almost certainly will use the US court system to challenging the decision of the government. There is a great deal of precedent in RT’s favour.
5. Russia will force US media outlets in Russia to register on a similar database–LIKELY
Russia has stated that whatever steps are taken against RT in the US, will be replicated by Russia in respect of US outlets in cities like Moscow including CNN.
The real danger:
The real danger in forcing RT America to register as a ‘foreign agent’ is that it could merely be a prelude to further actions taken to shut RT America down. Shutting down a media company operating the US based on the content it produces is very difficult, even when explicit pornography is involved. There are no peace time precedents for such a thing and few even in war time. For those who need reminding, the US and Russia are not in a state of war, they are simply going through a rough time diplomatically, all of which is due to conspiracy theories peddling by US politicians and the US mainstream media.
Still though, if the US is this intent on tarnishing its own First Amendment, there is no telling how many more US laws the government is willing to fault to make a point.
The war on RT is a travesty of justice and it is one where childish ideology is being used to mask a genuine scandal of US corporations and the US government, working in tandem to enrich their own material interests.
As I previously wrote:
News producers, like authors, musicians, painters, photographers and other people in creative or current events trades, often do not take into account how the technology used to convey one’s content, often dictates the very nature of the context itself.
Consider how the invention of magnetic tape recording created a boom in the sales of symphonic music, because the supreme fidelity of such tapes allowed a more accurate recreation of the sound of a live concert vis-a-vis previous formats, which were rendered instantly obsolete. Consider how the advent of television led to film makers changing the way films were made, forcing studios, directors and producers to offer new enticements to people including more visually and sonically impact stimuli in the cinema.
It was the invention of increasingly inexpensive and portable video-tape records as well as broadcast satellites that led to a revolution in how people consumed the news. The age of printed papers and news reels which needed to be filmed, developed and then physically distributed, were at once made obsolete by the ability to broadcast sound and picture from multiple parts of the globe, all at one time.
Not only did the LP record become instantly popular, but it led to the 33 and 1/3 rpm record giving birth to a new style of music which was conceptually composed to fit the length of a double-sided LP as a complete piece with a beginning middle and end, complete with the short intermission that it required to flip the record. Of course the CD made that ‘intermission’ obsolete and today, digital streaming means that even having a physic disc is considered an inconvenience to many.
Just as the videotape and satellite made news more instant, social media networks have made the delivery of information all the more immediate.
However, beyond the ‘rush to immediacy’ that new technologies bring to any form of content, the internet and social media networks have made it so that one can get a written, audio or video message out to a wider public at a fraction of the expensive that it used to incur. 4G and Wifi is the satellite for ‘every-man’ while social media has allowed outlets to attain substantial audience proliferation at a fraction of the costs of old fashioned marketing campaigns.
This is why the elites who have their economic lives and in the case of politicians, the economic lives of their political donors, invested highly in the past, are attacking the content of future minded media outlets. Among the most successful such outlets are RT and Sputnik. Because of this, both RT and Sputnik have now been banned from advertising their content on Twitter.
Of course, among the political elites of the west, there is a clear anti-Russian agenda with an accompanying snobbish attitude towards the very contemporary style of RT and Sputnik. But what it really comes down to is money. Ironically, the problem that western governments have with RT and Sputnik is the problem they have with an unregulated marketplace. So much for RT and Sputnik being ‘Soviet’ as is often alleged. In actual fact, they are the opposite: they are efficient business models in a competitive capitalist environment.
Competitions for ratings effect both state owned and fully privately owned broadcasters. This is why the BBC for example continues to sell and licence its products throughout the world. It is also why Al Jazeera America closed down. All the handsome funding from the Qatari state, could not help dig Al Jazeera America out of its low-ratings money hole. While state funded, Qatar wasn’t running Al Jazeera America as a charity.
RT and Sputnik, as partly state funded operations have broken the mould both in style, substance, efficiency and market proliferation. They have done so without maintain huge marketing budgets by any contemporary industry standard. In doing so, RT and Sputnik have challenged the old MSM monopoly. The fact that the old MSM monopoly refuses to accept the arrival of RT and Sputnik is the primary reason why they are being attacked on social media.
While RT and Sputnik’s content remains as popular as ever, the very nature of social media is changing before our eyes. The Twitter attacks on RT and Sputnik are just one very prominent symptom of this.
Days before Twitter pulled the plug on RT and Sputnik’s right to advertise, Facebook quietly rolled out a programme whereby media companies would be forced to pay advertising costs in order for their content to be seen on Facebook. So-called ‘organic reach’, the phenomenon of people seeing and then sharing a story from a media outlet is effectively quashed under the new programme that has already been rolled out in several global markets.
When taken in totality, the big social media networks want small independent outlets to be forced to pay for views while large, however nimble outlets like RT and Sputnik will be forbidden to do so. The logical conclusion is that only MSM outlets with big budgets, whose ethos does not threaten the old status quo, will be able to easily spread their content over social media networks.
The only solution is for alternative media outlets of all sizes to form an alternative distribution system to existing social media networks. Finding replacements for the current social media network monopoly has long been a pressing issue, given how censorship of free speech is now de rigueur among the owners of the means of social media production.
The following are some suggestions for a way forward:
1. “Friends lists personal property of the individual”
In most countries, phone companies used to have an unfair advantage over customers insofar as phone numbers were the property of the telecom company. While this is still the case in some places, in many others, it is now possible and relatively easy to transfer ones phone number and contacts between phone companies as a legal right.
The same should be true for social media ‘friends lists’. If one could easily transfer one’s list of contacts between social media networks with the same ease as switching phone numbers, there will be far less reluctance to ‘relocate’ the core of one’s social media networking activities.
Pressure was put on reluctant phone companies to offer this to their ex-customers and the same must be done for social media operations in respect of friends lists.
2. Regulate existing social media networks in the style of telecom bodies
As I previously proposed and now restate:
“It is widely known that Facebook and Twitter can temporarily or permanently ban users for the most arbitrary, foolish and immoral reasons. When called up on their use of their trigger-happy ban button, they simply say that ‘they are a private corporation’ and can therefore do as they wish. Whilst they are a private corporation, so are the telecom companies in many countries.
It is virtually unheard of for a phone or internet provider to ban a customer because of the content of his or her phone conversations or emails or even the photos and videos one can now keep in a cloud storage system.
This applies to conference calls, emails with multiple recipients, etc.
Facebook, Twitter and others should not act differently. Social media is, if you will, a conference call with a wider audience; an email sent to multiple people. Some people elect to privilege and restrict their communications and others can make it fully public. If someone doesn’t like what is being said they can personally block a user just, as one can hang up a phone during an unwanted conversation. It’s just that simple.Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others are telecom tools of the modern age, just as the landline was in the 20th century and mobile phones were after they became common in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Governments should force social media companies to refrain from any sort of censorship or removal of users in all instances except when criminal activity is suspected. Anything criminal such as plotting an act of terrorism or preying on children is all ready a criminal offence and it should be dealt with by police and not any private sector organisations, including Facebook middle management. Expressing views, even hateful views is not a crime. It is quite the opposite, it is protected by free speech laws. If someone is offended they can simply not look at the content, just as when one sees a unseemly vagabond on the street, they in many cases, elect to cross the road.
Not only are Facebook and Twitter using their power as giant corporations to restrict personal liberty in line with a globalist liberal agenda, they are actually putting lives at risk. Government ought to step in to protect free speech from private sector censorship. Social media is not an ordinary product whose sale can be restricted by its lawful owner, it is a conduit of communications that is now a vial part of daily life. Unlike a small business owner who ought to have the right to refuse service in all but the most exceptional cases (such as race discrimination), Facebook and Twitter should be legally restricted in their arbitrary censorship measures because of the negative effect this has on society and personal liberty.
Social media is now the first line of defence against terrorism. Before mainstream media cameras can get on site, it is social media users who are sharing information about terrorist attacks, alerting others to either avoid the area or send for help. It is also a lifeline for loved ones to communicate with one another during times of crisis, as well as a way to let others know that one is safe in the event of a terrorist atrocity or natural disaster”.
However, in spite of the concerns for personal safety, personal privacy and personal liberty, because of the nature of the media-industrial complex, it is very unlikely that these healthy regulations will come into place at this time. This however, is all the more reason to vocally make this argument.
3. Big broadcasters should start their own social media networks
In the race to create new viable social media networks, considerable budgets, proven track records and brand recognition are invaluable. Here, RT, Sputnik and many other broadcasters could start their own social networks geared towards people with certain attitudes, but where all are welcome to freely share both profound ideas and typical updates on daily life.
With Facebook and Twitter conducting an ideological war on behalf of their fellow corporations, it is becoming increasingly necessary for those who are shut out of ‘old’ social media to find a new home. Ideally, this new home would not resort to censoring anyone.
RT’s motto of ‘question more’ is a good fit for social media. It could even be that RT could partner with Russian social media giant VK to create a platform whose reach is beyond VK’s target Russian speaking demographic to something that is fully multi-lingual and international.
If the corporate social media owners want to shut out “competition”, the best way to have the last laugh is to show them that they are only shutting out their own existing and potential client base.
If this base shrinks to people who only watch CNN and other MSM outlets, Facebook will lose advertising revenue for the same reason that a a lone undertaker would not need to spend much on advertising his services in a town with a large ageing population.
If RT and Sputnik want to not only preserve but increase the reach of their content, the next frontier is doing to social media networks what was already done to traditional TV and radio broadcasters.
In the 1960s, new record labels in countries like the US, challenged the record producing monopoly of the old major labels. Likewise, in the 1980s, cable television challenged the primacy of the major 3 networks of the US.
Now is the time to challenge the old social media networks in the same way. The incentive is there, the audience is waiting and the potential gains are far greater than the potential risks.
In doing so, content creators will be able to rally behind a new means of distribution that will preserve and expand the reach of their work. The only losers are those who think less content means more market share. Those who censor, are those who are reducing their own business potential in the long term.
This is the real scandal and it is one that is hidden in plain view.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.