Canadian corporate media is in a frenzy over Russian propaganda. After telecom companies pulled Russia Today (RT) from their channel lineups following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on March 16, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) officially banned RT and RT France from Canadian airwaves. The reason? Because RT is a Kremlin-backed network that spreads propaganda, lies, and “hate against Russia’s critics”.
Any child of six could tell you that a state-funded news channel will contain state propaganda. But this only seems to apply to Russia and not Canada. Does RT really spread more “disinformation” than the West? Or is this an example of the ruling class hypocritically covering up their own interests behind the banner of “freedom of the press”?
“It is a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”George Orwell, 1984
The hue and cry over ‘disinformation’
Immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western governments and media pulled out all the stops to create an atmosphere of total war hysteria. Nothing has been spared from this onslaught. Russian sports players have been barred from participating in international events. Russian products and businesses have been subject to boycotts. Even Russian cats have been targeted by this insane campaign. Naturally, the Russian media has also come under fire. Within days of the invasion, RT was blacklisted from services provided by all major telecoms, including Bell, Rogers, Telus, and Shaw.
This was accompanied by a series of thundering denunciations against RT and calls for the ban to be legalized and made permanent. For example, Conservative MP Michael Chong called on the CRTC to “[deny] licences to state-controlled broadcasters that spread disinformation and propaganda, so that RT is permanently removed from Canadian airwaves, as well as other authoritarian state-controlled broadcasters operating here in Canada.” The Ukrainian Canadian Congress even went as far as to call on the government to “block all the websites and social media accounts of Russian state media”.
This was followed by a formal request made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the CRTC, asking them to open a “public” consultation process that would review RT’s presence in broadcast media. This merely provided an official forum for an increasingly hysterical series of accusations by Canadian media executives and representatives of the “official” communities of eastern European nations in Canada. For example, the Central and Eastern European Council in Canada (CEEC) stated that RT and other Russian media channels are “used by the Putin regime to promote toxic narratives, propaganda, lies and conspiracy theories, to spread hate against its critics and enemies, and undermine western democracies eroding the cohesion within them”. The Canadian Polish Congress submitted that “these are not news channels, but rather instruments of disinformation and influence operations through which the Putin regime seeks to manipulate the understanding of geopolitical and domestic political issues.”
The essential content of the accusations is this: the evil Russian state, under the despotic rule of Putin and the Russian oligarchs, staffs the “state-owned” media with pliant government officials that obediently bend the truth to a degree that would make Big Brother jealous. On the other hand, any media presenting even a sliver of independence from the government line is ruthlessly repressed. Thus, the oligarchs maintain their domination over the poor Russian people by ensuring that only the “official line” is heard anywhere throughout the country.
Compare this to liberal Canada, which, like the rest of the Western democratic nations, has a long and storied tradition of “freedom of the press”. Here we have the privilege of access to a broad variety of media organizations covering different perspectives, in addition to “publicly owned” broadcasters like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Thanks to this freedom, we are told, Canadian citizens can examine a variety of sources on a given issue and form an objective viewpoint.
Let us take an example to illustrate the difference.
The case of the Ukrainian chemical weapons lab
In March, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that it had discovered evidence of U.S.-funded chemical weapons laboratories in Ukraine near the Russian border. On March 6, RT ran a story repeating these claims, along with a document provided by the Russian government, supposedly leaked from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, ordering the scientists at the lab to destroy evidence of lethal pathogens. RT noted that the document could not be verified independently.
These allegations were met with a wave of indignation from the NATO countries. U.S. President Joe Biden said such claims were “simply not true” and accused Putin of carrying out a false flag operation, saying that if Putin was making these allegations, “that’s a clear sign he’s considering both of those [i.e. chemical and biological weapons].” This was quickly followed by unspecified threats from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said that the use of such weapons “would be a blatant violation of international law and would have far-reaching consequences”.
How can one make heads or tails of these contradictory accusations? Naturally, I turned to the “objective” Canadian media to look for some hard facts that could set matters straight.
I first turned to the CBC. In a segment aired on March 20, a newscaster reported that “concern is increasing that Putin could use chemical and nuclear weapons. What remains unclear [is] the response this would trigger from NATO.” This was followed by a statement from a U.S. State Department official which amounted to unspecified threats against the Putin regime if such weapons were to be used. However, there were no hard facts or evidence that could shed light on the issue.
Undeterred, I turned to CTV. The broadcaster there told the same story, this time with the source being a statement from Joe Biden. The newscaster called it a “frightening prospect.” But reliable, impartial evidence was absent. I finally turned to Global News hoping for an answer. But again I was presented with the same story, backed up by the same sources and the same interviews with NATO and U.S. government officials.
The CBC even aired an interview with a former U.S. government official who claimed that the Russian government owns “secret biological weapons facilities” that have “never been visited by international inspectors.” All of this was uncritically accepted by the broadcaster. Such a claim begs the question—if you’ve never seen them, how can you even know they exist, much less predict how and when Putin will use them?!
The difference by now should be quite clear. In Russia, the people are subjected to a single viewpoint through a single, state-owned news source which faithfully repeats the Russian government line. On the other hand, in Canada, the people are allowed to read a variety of “impartial” news sources that “objectively” follow—the NATO line! And to top it off, Justin Trudeau has even done us the service of suppressing the one mass media outlet that might present an alternate point of view.
A less intelligent person might examine the situation and conclude that the disease and the cure appear rather similar. But of course, this would be extremely naïve! Educated people know that when RT broadcasts the government line, it’s despotic. But when the Western media uncritically swallows NATO propaganda and bans the opposition, it’s “free” and “democratic!”
One of the key allegations that the CRTC decision advanced against RT is that they produce propaganda that justifies the “violation of sovereignty” of Ukraine. We have no reason to challenge this claim. But as is widely known, Russia is not the only country that engages in imperialist war. It is a fact that the Canadian state has participated in many of its own imperialist adventures. How has our “objective” media treated these questions? Let us examine a few examples.
Imperialist adventures in Serbia and media complicity
In 1999, NATO carried out a 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia and Kosovo. This bloody “violation of sovereignty” caused enormous economic and infrastructural damage, levelled entire villages, and killed more than 1,000 people. As we explained at the time, the real reason for the attack was that U.S. imperialism and the NATO-allied countries had interests in the region that they wished to protect. To cover up their real aims, they waged a propaganda offensive designed to make the campaign appear as a “humanitarian mission” that would protect the oppressed Albanians in Kosovo from ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Serbs.
This is a classic trick of imperialism, which cyncially uses the plight of oppressed peoples everywhere as small change in their dirty games of power politics. In fact, just four years earlier, the Croat army carried out an ethnic cleansing against the Serbs themselves, which received the full backing of the U.S.! None of this seems to trouble the “free press” in the “democratic” West, who by now are perfectly used to such duplicity in NATO diplomacy. What role did they play in this instance? Naturally, they fell dutifully in line behind their own imperialist powers. On Sept. 11, 1999, Time magazine published a now-infamous cover story titled “Bringing the Serbs to heel: A massive bombing attack opens the door to peace”. The subtitle bears an unsettling resemblance to the propaganda of the warmongering “Ministry of Peace” in George Orwell’s 1984. The article itself surely ranks amongst the finest examples of military propaganda in recent memory. And yet from the Canadian government on the complicity of the U.S. media in the attack there has been not a word.
Canada also participated in this great humanitarian mission. At the time, the Canadian “state media” outlet, the CBC, published an article titled “Canadian planes heavily involved in Yugoslav campaign” which stated that the Canadian military had been “deeply involved in all aspects” of the campaign, while at the same time stating that “no significant civilian damage” had been inflicted by Canadian planes. If there were civilian deaths, it was simply because the “precision bombs”, designed to hit only military targets, had missed their mark. The source for these heartening claims? The Canadian military, of course! In fact, this was the only source cited by the article. Does the truth correspond to the image given by the military? Independent observers documented that many civilians lost their lives as non-military targets were repeatedly and deliberately shelled. This was conveniently omitted by the CBC. Such are the journalistic standards of the press in the “free” countries.
Press ‘freedom’ in Venezuela
In Venezuela, the Canadian state and the media have played a terrible role. In 2019, the right-wing opposition in Venezuela attempted a violent coup d’état to oust democratically elected president Nicolas Maduro and install coup leader Juan Guaido in his place. The stated reason for the coup was that the election in 2018, which returned Maduro to power, was “illegitimate.” This is a total fabrication. International observers reported no irregularities in the election. However, there was the rather unusual “irregularity” of the opposition’s attempts to block foreign monitors from observing the election, because they were afraid their lie would be exposed! And how did the Canadian media respond to this “violation of sovereignty”? Obviously, by uncritically repeating the lie!
This is not the only time the right wing has attempted to install a dictatorship in Venezuela. For two decades, the local oligarchy, backed by U.S. and Canadian imperialism, has been doing everything in its power to reverse the gains of the Venezuelan revolution against the democratic wishes of the people. After a failed attempt in 2002 by the U.S. to remove then-president Hugo Chavez, Chavez refused to renew the licence of the RCTV channel which had conspired in the coup attempt. How did the media respond? By raising a hue and cry about the suppression of the “freedom” of the press! What does such freedom entail? Obviously, the freedom of the bourgeoisie to publish whatever perpetuates the status quo of capitalism, and the freedom to suppress anyone that gets in their way. But if they themselves are suppressed, that’s “totalitarianism.” Matters are becoming quite clear indeed.
More examples of press complicity in the crimes of Canadian imperialism could be produced at will. What about Afghanistan or Libya? Where were the denunciations when Canada overthrew the Aristide government in Haiti? How many Western governments have banned and sanctioned Canada for selling billions of dollars in arms to the Saudi government, which uses them to perpetuate atrocities against the people of Yemen? When will the CRTC ban such racist reactionaries as Conrad Black, who regularly writes in the National Post in defense of the violation of the sovereignty of Canada’s Indigenous peoples?
How the Western media lies about Ukraine
Not satisfied with merely being hypocrites, the Canadian “state” media have created a whole series of their own lies and distortions to cover up their real intentions in Ukraine. With respect to RT, the CRTC asserts that the broadcaster carries content which contains hate speech against Ukrainians. The evidence for this claim comes from the CEEC, who stated that RT carried a show claiming that “Canada is harbouring Ukrainian fascists who are directing anti-Russian policies by the Canadian government”. According to the CEEC, these are “conspiracy theories” which “are consistent with Vladimir Putin’s unhinged and completely false claims about Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky being a drug addled neo-Nazi”. Furthermore, these claims “threaten to marginalize the Ukrainian community and delegitimize them as Canadian citizens.”
It is a documented fact that neo-Nazi groups have a large presence in Ukraine and in some cases are integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard. Zelensky may not be a neo-Nazi but it is perfectly true that he courts them. One of these cases involves the infamous Azov Battalion, who openly wear Nazi insignia and have a history of attacking and even torturing anti-fascists, LGBTQ people, and Roma people.
Is it a “conspiracy” to say that the Canadian government “harbours” these fascists? In fact, the Canadian government knowingly provided funds and training to the Azov Battalion, and even sent government officials to meet with and take photos with them in 2018! Now the CRTC is banning media outlets that report on the appalling connections between Canadian imperialism and the Ukrainian far right. Is this not a lie by omission? What else can one call this but “propaganda”?
Equally duplicitous is the lie, repeated by the media in all NATO countries, that the Russian attack on Ukraine was “unprovoked.” In reality, NATO has spent the last thirty years aggressively pushing eastward to bring the former Soviet republics under their control, pulling them away from Russia’s sphere of influence. Political analysts have said for years that this would make a response from Putin inevitable. Now the Ukrainian people are being made to bear the consequences of NATO’s imperialist meddling.
The reality is that NATO knowingly created the conditions for the conflict and even benefits from it, as its members have financial interests in Ukraine that they must protect. To do this they are prepared to fight to the last drop of someone else’s blood. Meanwhile, the media raises a hypocritical hue and cry about Ukraine. The truth is that they are cynically using the Ukrainians in the same way they did with the Albanians in Kosovo. The average worker rightly sympathizes with the Ukrainian masses who did not ask for this war. But their sympathies are also being extorted by the Western profiteers, who are aided and abetted at every step by the media.
The nature of the media under capitalism
It goes without saying that Marxists are opposed to Russian imperialism and Russian intervention in Ukraine. Therefore, we also do not support Russia Today. But an objective appraisal of the situation shows that RT is a news channel that isn’t that different from the Canadian corporate media. It airs general interest shows, including a science-themed talk show hosted by William Shatner (yes, they even banned Will Shatner! A Canadian!) and even some left-wing programming.
It is obvious to everyone that RT carries programming that favours Russian imperialism. But it is not true that RT is pure Putin propaganda. In the case of the chemical weapons allegations, RT was actually more even-handed than the Western media. But even if it was true that RT was exclusively Putin propaganda, the Canadian corporate media is NATO propaganda! If you’re out there banning propaganda, you should ban yourselves!
There is an old saying that says, “he who pays the piper chooses the tune.” Canada and Russia are both capitalist countries. Despite certain secondary political differences, both share an important fundamental element, which is the private ownership of property. These economic relations are in turn sanctioned and enforced by the capitalist state. In Russia, RT is funded by the Russian government which governs in the interests of the Russian oligarchs (i.e. wealthy capitalists). In Canada, with the exception of the “state-funded” CBC, the media is directly controlled by the Canadian “oligarchs”—billionaires like Jim Pattison or the Thomson family—who hide behind journalistic “objectivity” to put forward a viewpoint which, nine times out of 10, faithfully reflects the interests of Canadian capitalism. Even the “public” CBC derives a significant portion of its funding from advertising and from public-private partnerships like the Canadian Media Fund, which are funded by the corporate media. This means that it is ultimately beholden to the same interests, albeit through less direct means.
If there are differences between Russia and Canada, it is only in the fact that Canadian capitalism has had the luxury of 150 years to develop and perfect the “democratic” forms that cover up the true nature of capitalist ownership. This is the real explanation for the role of the state and the CRTC. When Trudeau first called for the investigation, he said “it is important that what separates us from countries like Russia is that this decision is in the hands of independent regulators, not in the hands of politicians.” But the current chair of the CRTC is Ian Scott—former vice president of Telus, who once described himself as a “personal friend” of the CEO of Bell! Here “independence” merely signifies the independence of the CRTC from the Canadians they are alleged to represent. The corporate media and the state are in reality entirely dependent on one another.
The prostration of the media to the dictates of Canadian imperialism is not an accident. It is the only possible outcome under capitalism. This is true of every capitalist country, not just Canada or Russia. Therefore, we actually agree with the CRTC that RT’s programming is not in the “public interest”—we simply say, this is true of all capitalist media!
We need a workers’ press!
As long as the capitalist class has control over the “means of communication”—the mass media, the schools, the pulpit, and so on—it will use these tools to broadcast its own interests, its own ideology, and its own aims. This is true for all issues that matter to workers, not just war. How many capitalist press organizations publish favourable content about strike actions or union drives? What about mass movements and revolution? On the contrary: all workers who have ever spent time on a picket line or at an anti-imperialist demonstration know that the media will greet them with silence in the best case, and outright hostility in the worst case.
This is why the working class needs its own press that tells the truth about world affairs from the perspective of working class people. And not only this. An independent, revolutionary working class media is not simply a vehicle for reporting facts, but is an indispensable tool for mass organization. Such a press organ would be at the forefront of the struggle to build a genuine antiwar movement in Canada, independent from the NATO warmongers, which could in turn fan the flames of the antiwar movement in Russia, and be aimed at the ultimate overthrow of the bloodthirsty imperialists at home and abroad.
In the immediate future, building this vital organ is the essential task of Fightback and La Riposte socialiste in Canada. In this effort we are joined by our comrades in dozens of other countries around the world, including Ukraine and Russia, where the International Marxist Tendency is building an independent, Marxist media that will play a decisive role in the class struggles to come.
Subscribe today to help us build the Marxist press!