The extensive banning of the international news channel Russia Today (RT) in the world represents a dangerous moment for journalism.
It pushes back the commitment to freedom of expression that many have sacrificed much for. Journalists across the world should carefully consider the implications of turning a blind eye to the banning of the Russian television service however much they may disagree with the channel’s views.
The resort to warfare to attempt to resolve political disputes cannot be condoned. The justifications presented are not at all persuasive but it is important to hear them and make up one’s own mind. It is precisely when one disagrees with the views expressed that the commitment to allowing free expression should kick in.
Here the opposite has happened in a blink of an eye.
This week, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) representing 320 000 journalists spoke out against the banning. EFJ General Secretary, Ricardo Gutierres said that such an act of censorship could have a totally counterproductive effect on the citizens who follow the banned media. “It is always better to counteract the disinformation of propagandist or alleged propagandist media by exposing their factual errors or bad journalism, by demonstrating their lack of financial or operational independence, by highlighting their loyalty to government interests and their disregard for the public interest,” he said.
The EFJ also questioned the right of the European Union to implement such a ban. UN Chief Antonio Guterres said the EU had no right to grant or withdraw broadcasting licences since this was the prerogative of individual states. Russia has since retaliated by blocking the websites of the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and the German news channel, Deutsche Welle.
In South Africa, the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa, ICASA, has similarly questioned the right of pay television company Multichoice to arbitrarily suspend the RT service depriving its viewers from gaining access to the Russian point of view. A host of South African organisations including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) have objected to the banning but so far Multichoice has said the EU ban had led to the global distributor of the channel ceasing to provide the broadcast feed to all suppliers.
South Africans are no strangers to the banning of media outlets. This was a vicious practice under Apartheid as that regime did its best to limit access to information. It is expected that the voices against the ban will grow louder in the coming days. With all its difficulties, democratic South Africa has remained committed to free expression as entrenched in its Constitution.
Journalists have a SPECIAL weight on their shoulders. If they do not act to end the banning of RT they will be left with an enduring legacy long after the end of the war that will further complicate the work they have to do.
Zubeida Jaffer has recently been appointed to the alumni board of the Journalism School of Columbia University in New York.