In 2001, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II used the occasion of the annual “Queen’s Speech” to unveil a new statutory proposal to regulate all media operating in her realm, one provision of which was the creation of the “Office of Communications” (Ofcom) to monitor and punish television outlets which exhibit “bias.” In 2008, the BBC heralded the Queen’s Speech as “one of the high points of the parliamentary calendar, unrivalled in its spectacle and tradition,” as the monarch “delivers the speech from the grand throne in the House of Lords.” The press monitor’s Twitter account boasts: “We keep an eye on the UK’s telecoms, television, radio and postal industries to make sure they’re doing the best for all of us.”
Ofcom has rarely punished establishment British media outlets for “bias” even though the British media is notoriously and slavishly loyal to the state and other British political and financial elites. Just last week, Guardian editor Seumus Milne noted: “as one academic study after another has demonstrated . . . . from the coverage of wars to economics, [the BBC] has a pro-government, elite and corporate anchor. The BBC is full of Conservatives and former New Labour apparatchiks with almost identical views about politics, business and the world.” Indeed, of all the countless media outlets around the world covering NSA reporting over the last 18 months, the BBC has easily been the worst: the most overtly biased in favor of mass surveillance and official claims. Ofcom’s authority over BBC is limited, but plenty of British media outlets — certainly most of its largest ones — are driven by these same biases.
During my first week writing at the Guardian, a long-time observer (and one-time member) of the British media warned me about the extreme group think bias of U.K. journalists, and I quoted that warning in the context of describing their extreme and deeply personal animus toward WikiLeaks: “Nothing delights British former lefties more than an opportunity to defend power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle.” Needless to say, none of that extreme, power-serving media bias — including the avalanche of deceit and lies much of the British media peddled to sell Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq — has ever provoked any punishment from Ofcom.
By rather stark contrast, Ofcom has repeatedly threatened the Russian-state television outlet RT with revocation of its license. Last November, that outlet launched a British-specific, London-based version of its network, but previously had been broadcasting its standard English-speaking programming in the U.K. At the time of its launch, the Guardian noted that RT “is facing six separate investigations by media regulator Ofcom.”
That investigative history included a finding last fall whereby the network was “threatened with statutory sanctions by  Ofcom after the Kremlin-backed news channel breached broadcasting regulations on impartiality with its coverage of the Ukraine crisis.” RT executives were “summoned to a meeting with Ofcom after it was found guilty of breaching the code governing UK broadcasters” and told they could face revocation of their license if these breaches of “impartiality rules” continued.
Today, Ofcom announced a new “bias” investigation into RT. The offense this time, according to the Guardian, is the broadcasting of “anti-western comments in a late-night discussion on Ukraine.” Specifically, “the programme is understood to have featured a number of anti-Western views in the discussion between the presenter and three studio guests.”
Unfortunately, RT told the Intercept this morning that it was barred by Ofcom regulations even from commenting on this new investigation. Not only are they being threatened for the crime of airing “anti-western views,” but they are prohibited by law from publicly discussing these threats.
That RT is “biased” is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far at all. It is expressly funded by the Russian government to present a Russian viewpoint of the world. But all media outlets composed of and run by human beings are “biased,” and that certainly includes the leading British outlets, which rail against Russia (and every other perceived adversary of the West) at least as much as RT defends it.
All of this underscores the propagandistic purpose of touting “media objectivity” versus “bias.” The former simply does not exist. Revealingly, it is British journalists themselves who are most vocal in demanding that Her Majesty’s Government bar RT from broadcasting on “bias” grounds: fathom how authoritarian a society must be if it gets its journalists to play the leading role in demanding that the state ban (or imprison) journalists it dislikes. So notably, the most vocal among the anti-RT crowd on the ground that it spreads lies and propaganda — such as Nick Cohen and Oliver Kamm — were also the most aggressive peddlers of the pro-U.K.-government conspiracy theories and lies that led to the Iraq War.
That people like this, with their histories of pro-government propaganda, are the ones demanding punishment of RT for “bias” tells you all you need to know about what is really at play here. What’s really driving this is illustrated by the edict issued today by one of the High Priests of U.S. Foreign Policy, Brookings President and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott:
This is about nothing more than ensuring that Western citizens are not exposed to the side of The Enemy. Notably, Ofcom previously revoked the license of PressTV, the state-run television agency of Iran, after first fining it £100,000 for an interview with an imprisoned journalist which was said to be coerced. Western countries love to depict citizens of their long list of adversaries as being propagandized — whether it be China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Syria, Venezuela, Ecuador, etc. etc. — even as they themselves work in all sorts of ways to ban their own citizens from exposure to those adversaries’ views, such as when a U.S. court imprisoned a Muslim American for years for the “crime” of including a Hezbollah channel in the cable TV package he sold in Brooklyn (of course, these purported concerns about propaganda and a free press magically and tellingly disappear when the suppression is done by regimes compliant with the U.S. and its allies).
Purporting to compel media “objectivity” is always about imposing a very specific and subjective agenda masquerading as impartiality. The chair of Ofcom is Colette Bowe, who was previously the chief information officer at the Department of Trade and Industry as well as a board member of Morgan Stanley and Electra Private Equity. She is also “a former executive chairman of Fleming Fund Management, chief executive of the Personal Investment Authority, and a director of the Securities and Investment Board.” Does anyone believe her concept of “objectivity” and “impartiality” will be anything other than the prevailing conventional wisdom and orthodoxies of the British elite?
The U.K. Government loves to lecture the world about infringements of liberty generally and press freedom specifically. It does so as it threatens to revoke the broadcasting license of a media outlet for broadcasting “anti-western” views and other perspectives at odds with the U.K. Government, all while shielding (and venerating) the equally virulent biases from pro-state television in the U.K. That is the classic hallmark of how a government propagandizes its citizens: ensuring that they hear only those views of which the government approves and which serve its interests and agenda.