Friday, December 10, 2010

View from Westminster, by way of Moscow


CAME home last night from a pleasant evening discussing history, to see a stream of messages from those out in the cold making it. "Still kettled on Westminster bridge, why?" (this seems to have carried on beyond midnight).

Some pictures of Prince Charles and Lady Camilla in their paint-spattered car, a fortuitous encounter with their subjects which brought to mind the contemporary cartoons in history books, of the London mob in days gone by, before our much-loved modern monarchy was invented.

Less amusing video showing a student getting his head battered by a cop. Don't know if this is the same lad reported today needing a serious operation.

More than 30,000 students and supporters marched in London yesterday, opposing the trebling of fees and the cutting of the Educational Maintenance Allowance(EMA) which helps young people remain at school after 16. The latter is more obviously a particular blow against poorer families, as well as turning more youngsters out on to the job market when there is already record youth unemployment.

It may be my suspicious mind, but it has seemed to me that there has been deliberately less coverage of the EMA issue. Even when the TV new the other day showed a crowd of school students marching behind a banner saying "Hands off the EMA!", the commentary managed to avoid mentioning it.

Although I was not out there yesterday it seems that as usual the vast majority of the students marched peacefully, and along a pre-arranged route, their only preparation being extra warm clothes, bottled water and sandwiches. The "violence", such as it was, came later, and consisted of tearing down some temporary fencing, frightening the royals, and a spot of window breaking.

If I've been critical of the BBC and other British media coverage of the student demonstrations, it was put in perspective a little today when I turned for a change to the Russia Today TV channel. Their reporter said there was little sign of yesterday's trouble on her journey into work, but elsewhere the mess was still being cleared up, such as the fencing which the students had taken down in Parliament Square. The RT report went on to speak of students vandalising a phone box, breaking windows at the Treasury, attacking police "who were only doing their job" (honest!) and even attacking the Royals. "Anarchy in London" ran a streamer beneath the footage.

Admittedly the later bulletin went on to mention the tripling of fees, and gave a more optimistic estimate of 40,000 demonstrators. All the same...

I've been watching RT with increasing curiosity about its politics. Anyone nostalgic for the good old days of Radio Moscow and its satellites may be cheered to see that the Russian-based TV channel, with its RT America wing etc, has managed to broadcast some telling footage of capitalist reality today, from unemployment and homelessness in the United States to the way hoardings were put up in Delhi during the Commonwealth Games so visitors would not glimpse the shanty town slums behind them.

There's even a sort of fast-talking shock-jock commentator taking the mick out of Wall Street and its wily but unwinning ways, and this morning we saw an item on how insider-dealing has become a problem that needs tackling in Moscow, with smart guys snapping up shares in a Russian fruit juice firm ahead of its take-over by Pepsi Cola.

This does not amount to a Marxist critique of capitalism, however, but just an admission that it has problems, and that Russia is still getting the hang of it, but serious about making the system work. Cue for some light relief in the shape of experts and conspiracy theorists explaining that everything is due to the Euro, the Germans, the Bilderberg foundation, and so on, or revealing the "Truth" about the 9/11 conspiracy.

Like our media here, the RT news announcers are also learning to blandly state opinions as simple, incontrovertible "facts", such as that the British government is having to deal with an economic crisis caused by the generosity of our benefits system. I don't know whether that was meant to keep the plebs quiet home, or reflects the way Russians laundering their mysteriously-acquired millions through the City of London have also bought into the Tory philosophy.

Last week I was interested to see RT interviewing a far-Right Israeli politician called Aryeh Eldad, son of a former Stern group leader regarded as an outright fascist by former colleagues, and evidently keeping up his father's line. Eldad advocates taking away the citizenship of Palestinians within the Zionist state, annexing the occupied territories, and mass deportation of their people to Jordan.
He went on to say that Israel is standing in the West's front-line in the "Battle of Civilisations".

Forgetting the row we had here over the BBC providing airspace to the BNP's Nick Griffin, I suppose it was good that people see just what is nowadays considered acceptable politics by the Israeli Right. All the same, and even bearing in mind that Russia has had its own history of mass deportations, I do wish the interviewer could have been a bit more challenging, and seemed a bit less deferential, when letting this racist air his views.

Incidentally, within days of watching Eldad on RT, I heard from friends in Tel Aviv that they were organising a demonstration against visiting Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Facing prosecution in Holland for incitement of hatred, the Islamophobe Wilders was in Israel as the guest of Aryeh Eldad. Wilders too says that if Palestinians want a country it should be Jordan, and that Israel is standing in the West's front line. Will RT be featuring an interview with the Dutchman next?

To be fair, besides providing some interesting newsreels and documentaries, RT does give some good people a voice, even if it is a bit free with its favours. I wondered about their programme on Radovan Karadzic in his second career as a faith healer, but I see they also had a programme on Norman Finkelstein. I'm sorry I missed the debate on US Israel policy where Gideon Levy was able to take on the awful Zionist attorney Alan Dershowitz.

This morning I watched an item that seemed to be attributing all Ireland's economic problems to its joining the Euro. A man from the UK Referendum party -which I thought no longer existed - was saying how ridiculous it was that Britain was bailing out Ireland. A fellow from the Global justice movement tried to get a word in about how much Ireland owed to British banks, only to be drowned out by the Referendum man, plainly not used to being contradicted, saying "I agree with you, I agree with you, but..", continuing to have his say and making sure the other man could not develop his point.

With its economic news, international weather, and announcements about hotels where it can be received, RT seems particularly aimed at the business person resting in their hotel room and fiddling with the remote. But its audience is much wider.

According to Wikipedia, RT was launched as Russia Today by an autonomous non-profit organization in 2005, but much of the funding to this organization, ANO TV-Novosti, is injected from the Russian Federal Budget (2.4 Billion Rubles in 2007). In 2007, RT’s monthly audience share exceeded that of CNN and Bloomberg TV among NTV-PLUS satellite subscribers in Moscow. In 2008, RT’s average monthly reach in Russia indicated a growth rate of 82% within just six months. Over the same period, the channel’s average daily reach grew by 46%. In the same year, the monthly audience among those who have access to or are aware of RT’s broadcasts on Time Warner Cable in NYC exceeded that of BBC America by 11%. The daily audience of RT exceeds that of Deutsche Welle tenfold, within the same network.

Based in Moscow with bureaus in New York, Washington, London, Miami, Los Angeles, Paris, Tskhinval, Delhi and Tel Aviv, RT International is the flagship news channel of the RT network. RT International was launched in 2005 and covers international and regional headlines from a Russian perspective. Besides its English broadcasts, the corporation has Arabic and Spanish services.

It's not that clear at times what the "Russian perspective" is, unless dealing with issues like south Ossetia and Georgia, when RT's loyalty is little in doubt. But I'd guess the Russian station is less biased and distorted than say, Murdoch's Fox News, and though I find some of its views and interviews too unpalatable to rate as anything like a station of the Left, it offers at present an alternative to vary our diet in the West.

So I will carry on watching RT.

But I will also be watching it!

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At 11:06 AM, Anonymous temporary fencing guy said...

Hello from England! I stumbled upon your post while searching for temporary fencing for my company. I stayed to read and found it really interesting. It brought back happy memories of listening to radio Moscow on short wave back in the early 80s. Cheers, great post.


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