The Ukraine conflict has plunged the world into a geopolitical crisis, and its effects on Western media institutions are increasingly concerning to advocates of a free press. The press in the US and most of Europe parrot the opinions of a ruling elite and oversees a public discourse that is often unhinged from the real world. It openly discredits or censors anything that counters the dominant narrative about Ukraine, however factual. It has become nearly impossible to question the virtues of Ukraine’s government and military. How did this happen? Why is a position on the war in Ukraine the litmus test for who gets to have a voice and who does not?
No one, including the most bullish supporters of Ukraine, expect the nation’s war with Russia to end soon. The fighting has been reduced to artillery duels across hundreds of miles of front lines and creeping advances and retreats. Ukraine, like Afghanistan, will bleed for a very long time. This is by design. On August 24, the Biden administration announced yet another massive military aid package to Ukraine worth nearly $3 billion. It will take months, and in some cases years, for this military equipment to reach Ukraine. In another sign that Washington assumes the conflict will be a long war of attrition it will give a name to the U.S. military assistance mission in Ukraine and make it a separate command overseen by a two- or three-star general.
Violence is the most basic and blunt form of press censorship. To kill or imprison a journalist is to silence the public’s source of news. To date, 33 journalists around the world have been killed this year and another 494 are currently imprisoned, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Put another way, thus far in 2022, on average, once per week somewhere in the world a journalist is killed for reporting the news. Sometimes these cases make headlines, as was true in October 2018 when Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist who reported for the Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, was murdered by agents of the Saudi government, and in May 2022 when Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed—almost certainly by Israeli soldiers—in the occupied West Bank while reporting for Al Jazeera.
Under Ukrainian government pressure, major US media outlet CBS News censored a documentary that it produced that exposed corruption in Ukraine. The report estimated that, of the tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons that Western governments have sent to help Ukraine wage a proxy war against Russia, just around 30% have actually made it to the frontlines. People involved in the Ukraine arms ratline told CBS in the documentary that there was significant corruption, due to “powerlords” and “oligarchs,” and that much of the military equipment was being siphoned off or sold on the “black market,” in what was a kind of “black hole.” CBS News published these revelations on August 4 in a joint article and video titled “Why military aid to Ukraine doesn’t always get to the front lines: ‘Like 30% of it reaches its final destination.’”
The US government employs many strategies to try to justify its intervention in the internal affairs and violation of the sovereignty of foreign nations. Chief among these deceptive tactics is Washington’s weaponization of accusations that its adversaries violate the freedom of expression. This is quite ironic, given that the United States is the world’s leading violator of press freedoms, according to any consistent definition of the term. And unlike the countries that Washington claims supposedly repress the freedom of expression within their borders, US government censorship of independent media outlets and suppression of alternative voices is global, hurting people across the planet. The Joe Biden administration has in particular gone to great lengths to depict itself as a defender of civil liberties.
The “Center for Countering Disinformation,” established in 2021 under Volodymyr Zelensky and headed by former lawyer Polina Lysenko, sits within the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine. Its stated aim is to detect and counter “propaganda” and “destructive disinformation” and to prevent the “manipulation of public opinion.” On July 14th it published on its website a list of politicians, academics, activists that are “promoting Russian propaganda” — including several high-profile Western intellectuals and politicians. Republican Senator Rand Paul, former Democrat Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, military and geopolitical analyst Edward N. Luttwak, realist political scientist John Mearsheimer and heterodox journalist Glenn Greenwald were all included on the list. The list does not explain what the consequences are for anyone mentioned.
Since 2016, US government-backed censorship of websites, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, and PayPal accounts has escalated alarmingly. Washington targets those who counter the narratives that the government and big business media feed us, whether it be about US intervention and attempted overthrow of other governments, Covid, or stories of Russian interference. With the war in Ukraine, the immense propaganda power of the US government and corporate media has been directed against Russia and intensified on an overwhelming scale.
The Establishment’s war against independent media took an even darker turn with revelations by The GrayZone on Thursday that the British government and private disinformation “experts” discussed how to damage The GrayZone’s credibility and funding, while raising suspicions about Consortium News. The Gray Zone is the main target discussed in leaked emails between Paul Mason, a British journalist now running for Parliament, and Amil Khan, a former Reuters Middle East correspondent embedded with jihadists, who later helped spread the notion of moderate terrorists in Syria. He now runs a counter-disinformation firm called Valent Projects. The emails were leaked anonymously to The GrayZone and were authenticated through their metadata, GrayZone reporter Kit Klarenberg, who co-authored the piece with GrayZone editor Max Blumenthal, told Consortium News.
The past month has seen blows against freedom of speech for independent news outlets and, indeed, for all Americans. I’m not being hyperbolic here. There are real threats to our freedom of speech against which we ought to mobilize. First, the Biden administration named something called a “Disinformation Governance Board,” housed in the Department of Homeland Security, whose job will supposedly be to “standardize the treatment of disinformation by the agencies it oversees.” That means that the government will be the final arbiter of what disinformation is. It will decide what we can and can’t read. At least that’s the plan. (It is now on hold after an angry backlash.)
The cold-blooded killing of Shireen Abu Akleh earlier this month has made headlines around the world. An Israeli soldier shot the veteran Al-Jazeera journalist in the head while she was reporting on their raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin. Shireen’s niece Lina first heard of the news from her father, who phoned her early in the morning to tell her she was injured. Today, Watchdog host Lowkey speaks to Lina Abu Akleh about her aunt’s work, legacy, and the ongoing war against the press.
Twice in the month of April Barack Obama spoke about “disinformation.” First at the University of Chicago and then at Stanford University he claimed that democracy is at risk because of social media. Democracy is certainly at risk but not because of anyone’s tweets. His words were really meant to frighten Americans into accepting censorship should anyone dare to present a narrative that differs from the state’s. Of course, that isn’t what Obama said. He spoke of Trump’s claims of election fraud and racist posts and all sorts of things that liberals would support. But neither Trump nor anyone else on the right was his target. The left are his targets and the need to silence the public about Ukraine was the reason for his renewed efforts to address an issue concocted by the democratic establishment.
The attacks on protesters came after authorities in the German capital banned a Jewish group from holding a vigil in memory of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al Jazeera correspondent assassinated last week, with all evidence pointing at Israel being responsible. “The gathering in memory of Abu Akleh had been organized by Jüdische Stimme, a Jewish group that supports Palestinian rights,” Al Jazeera reported. “But police told the group that the event – planned to take place on Friday evening – fell under the ban on protests in the run-up to Nakba Day.” Every year on 15 May, which this year fell on Sunday, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba – their 1948 ethnic cleansing from their homeland by Zionist militias, before and after Israel was founded.
“These accounts were following the exact same people that were tweeting about Palestine, but from France or Francophone accounts that work on Palestine,” Razek said of her new followers. The advocacy director of Rābet, the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy’s digital platform, became wary of the issue after Abier Khateb, a grants manager at Open Society Foundations, reported mass followings as well. Razek told MintPress News that she began individually reporting each account as fake but kept her own account open — lest she let the alleged bots win. But after a few days, Razek made her profile private. At the peak of the mass following, Razek had accumulated 400 fake followers.
Elon Musk successfully won his bid to purchase Twitter on April 25th just days after a rally in New York City chanted “Azov” to express support for Ukraine. While these events appear unrelated on the surface, they represent key examples of the road to hell paved by U.S. imperialism’s dominant ideology: liberalism. Liberalism is often viewed as the most progressive political ideology of the prevailing social order in the West. In actuality, liberalism is the driving ideological force of capitalist and imperialist expansionism. Liberal ideology is characterized by the fetishization of racism, individualism, and the political preconditions necessary for the expansion of capitalism. Once a kick-starter for the explosive growth of capital, liberalism has devolved into an ideology that defends the rule of the rich at any and all cost.