It’s been a fascinating day’s reading on the information warfare front. First on my reading list was a new piece by an old friend – Canadian activist Marcus Kolga. Readers may recall that he’s the guy who called this blog a ‘Pro-Kremlin, extremist, conspiracy theory platform’ and compared it to InfoWars. A dedicated keyboard warrior in the existential battle to defend Canadian democracy, he’s been leading the charge to convince all and sundry that our 150-year old parliamentary system faces a deadly threat from Russian meddling. Something must be done, he says. As he puts it in his latest article:
Politicians, policy-makers, academics and former diplomats who speak on behalf of malign foreign regimes must face a cost for allowing themselves to be used as proxies or ‘useful idiots’ in western media and society.
I don’t know about you, but that put a little chill up my spine. Who knew that the defence of democracy requires people to pay a ‘cost’ for freely expressing their views? I’ve been far too naïve these past 53 years, it seems. I must thank Mr Kolga for enlightening me. I must also thank him for correcting me on some other matters. For instance, I had falsely believed that the ‘Immortal Regiment’ marches popular in Russia on Victory Day were meant to mark the sacrifice of those who died fighting the Nazis. Thanks to Kolga, I now understand that the Immortal Regiment is in fact a ‘neo-Stalinist rally’ and ‘annually glorifies the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe’. It’s good to know that democracy has such noble people defending us against disinformation.
Talking of sacrifice, Kolga isn’t the only one demanding that others pay a ‘price’. Take British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, for instance. Hunt is currently competing to become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a job for which he is probably the only person in Britain less suited than his competitor Boris Johnson. Keen to burnish his pro-Brexit credentials, he informed businessmen that if they went bankrupt as a result of a no-deal Brexit, they should understand that it was a sacrifice worth paying. I’m looking forward to seeing what sacrifices Hunt will be making.
Anyway, in a separate story I read that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which Hunt leads, is funding a new anti-disinformation project called the ‘Open Information Partnership’. This bears a striking resemblance to a similar project proposed by the much discredited ‘Integrity Initiative’. It envisages a network of NGOs, think tanks, fact checkers, and so on, dedicated to fighting disinformation. This include such notably unbiased and reliable sources of information as the Atlantic Council. With the likes of these determining what is true and what is false, what can possibly go wrong?
The Brits aren’t the only ones getting deeper into the counter-disinformation game. The US Development Agency (USAID) is to invest millions of dollars into a new ‘Countering Malign Kremlin Influence Development Framework’. As RT reports ‘the US will channel millions of dollars into local media to ensure they are truly “independent”.’ Again, what could possibly go wrong?
Of course, it’s wrong of me to cite RT. After all, Mr Hunt has denounced it as a ‘weapon of disinformation.’ Hunt is a fervent defender of press freedom, as shown by his government’s strong support of Julian Assange. Next week in London, Hunt and his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland will be co-hosting the Global Conference for Media Freedom. Freeland is the stuck record of international diplomacy, endlessly repeating her commitment to the ‘rules-based international order’, while simultaneously taking the lead in undermining it through her efforts to promote regime change in Venezuela via the so-called Lima Group. She has previously shown her commitment to media freedom by barring Russian media networks RT, Sputnik, Ruptly, TASS, and RIA Novosti from attending the meeting of the Lima Group in February of this year.
Still, media freedom is a fine cause. We should congratulate Hunt and Freeland for doing so much to encourage. But, what then are we to make of this?
The Global Conference for Media Freedom has refused accreditation to RT. Oh, the irony of ironies. Lord forbid that the media should be allowed to report on a conference on media freedom.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but even in the Cold War I can’t remember the Soviet media being barred from events. There have been ‘no truth in Pravda’ and ‘no news in Izvestiia’, as the saying went, but even while we mocked them we still allowed them the freedom to report. Now, things seem to have changed. Moral posturing goes hand in hand with selective sanctions (did you ever hear Ms Freeland condemn the multiple violations of press freedom in Ukraine?). The one justifies the other. In the name of defending democracy, we punish those who dare to contradict us; in the name of combatting disinformation, we spread it ourselves; and in the name of media freedom, we practice censorship. It’s a funny old world.