Posted on Jan 12, 2019
Russian state controlled media continues to exploit the European far-right in its efforts to undermine confidence in national and international institutions, and by encouraging disharmony and conflict within societies. Creating controversy, and fanning the flames of the conspiracy theories that act as crutches to the confused and disenfranchised are the classic tactics of ‘agitprop’, a form of political propaganda refined in Soviet Russia.
RT’s latest exercise in agitprop involves exploitation of a horrific tragedy which took the lives of three young men, George Wilkinson and Joshua McGuinness, both aged 16, and and semi-professional footballer Harry Rice aged17, in January of last year, in West London. As the boys were walking to a friend’s birthday party they were hit by a car, which was speeding and out of control. The three boys were killed instantly. The driver was found to be drunk, and had traces of cannabis in his blood.
This event, unfortunately all too common on Britain’s roads, was cynically picked up as a cause célèbre by the far-right, who presented it as a Islamist terror attack. Ignoring the fact that the driver, who has received a 13 year jail sentence, was a Hindu of Indian ethnicity, this terrorist theory, which involved an alleged cover up by the government and police, fed perfectly into the far-right agenda of creating conflict with the Muslim community.
One of the key protagonists in this story is one Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, described by the Daily Mail as "a far-Right rabble-rouser" better known as Tommy Robinson (pictured left), founder of the racist English Defence League, and currently employed as an advisor to Gerard Batten, Member of the European Parliament and currently leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Another key figure is James Goddard, who has been photographed alongside Batten, together with the mother of one of the victims. Despite this photographic evidence, Batten has denied knowing Goddard, and is reported by the Daily Mail as saying it was ‘malicious’ to suggest they had any connection.
Enter Russia’s state controlled media outlet RT (formerly Russia Today). Last May, it published a report headlined ‘Police “suppressing” case of teens killed by drunk driver because of “nationality”.’ This was based on an interview with Ian Rice, father of victim Harry. Tellingly, this report was filmed at a far-right rally in London - the Day of Freedom Protest - the perfect hunting ground for RT journalists looking for soundbites from the extremists. RT’s fellow Kremlin-backed outlet, Sputnik, was also present at the event.
Again, the far-right - they themselves prefer the term ‘populists’ - had played perfectly into the Kremlin’s hands.
UK authorities are, albeit slowly and, one may suspect, reluctantly, waking up to the threat posed by RT et al.
On December 20th broadcasting standards watchdog Ofcom announced that it had found that RT had broken broadcasting rules by failing to preserve due impartiality in seven news and current affairs programmes over a six-week period, concluding that seven programmes which aired between 17 March 2018 and 26 April broke due impartiality rules, noting that all the programmes were broadcast in the aftermath of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury and saying this marked a “significant increase” in potential breaches during the period.
What actions may be taken as a result of the findings are unclear, as Ofcom stated only that “We have told RT that we are minded to consider imposing a statutory sanction.”
It is unlikely that RT or its masters will be overly concerned by Ofcom’s weak, indeed pathetic response.
RT’s London base is in the highly prestigious Millbank Tower in Westminster, close to the UK parliament. The tower has been home to both the Conservative and Labour parties, as well as to the United Nations. Its notoriously high rents, which have been the reason for many tenants leaving, will not bother the Kremlin so much.
RT employs in its Millbank studios a number of British journalists, one of whom resigned in protest at its coverage of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 27th 2014. Sara Firth, a former BBC journalist who had worked for RT for 5 years before walking out, described RT’s version of events surrounding the downing of the airliner by a Russian supplied - and almost certainly operated - missile as the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.
It was the most shockingly obvious misinformation and it got to the point where I couldn’t defend it any more… When this story broke that was the moment I knew I had to go. I walked into the newsroom and there was an eyewitness account making allegations [against Ukraine] and analysis, if you can call it, from our correspondent in the studio… It was just appalling, in a situation like that where there are families waiting to be informed and a devastating loss of life.
RT was registered as an ‘agent of a foreign government’ in the US in 2017, after years of accusations that it was little if anything more than a propaganda arm of the Russian government. Ex-CIA director James Clapper has called RT "a mouthpiece of Russian governmental propaganda”.
An unclassified version of a January US intelligence report points to both RT and Sputnik as key parts of Russian interference with US elections, arguing the outlet served "as a platform for Kremlin messaging".
"The Kremlin staffs RT and closely supervises RT's coverage, recruiting people who can convey Russian strategic messaging because of their ideological beliefs," the report stated.
To what degree RT and Sputnik may be used to channel Russian funding to the far-right is not fully understood. Certainly some UK politicians are open about receiving payments for appearing, others, such as Nigel Farage, refuse to comment.
EU Today is aware that Members of the European Parliament have received substantial cash payments for speaking in support of Russian interests at stage managed events in Brussels, although to our knowledge this is not channeled through either RT or Sputnik but through a UK based public relations company.
Speculation over the source of the substantial funds put into Belgian based populist group The Movement by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former Chief Strategist is rife, although Bannon himself denies that Russian money is involved. Bannon is on record as having called for the release of the aforementioned Tommy Robinson, currently an advisor to UKIP leader Gerard Batten, when he was serving a prison sentence for contempt of court in 2018.
Links with Bannon also raise suspicions of dubious funding, possibly from Russia. UKIP figures such as Nigel Farage, who has voiced support for Bannon, and his former employee in the European Parliament, one Laure Ferrari, have been mooted in this debate.
It may be mere coincidence, but the Daily Mail (12th Jan) notes that Robinson, who has multiple criminal convictions, has “…built up an impressive collection of luxury cars, watches and designer clothes…”
Read also: Russian Agents in Western Media
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