Russia Today

When so-called news services churn out propaganda, just pull the plug.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Israel and the Western media have always needed each other.

Journalists need access to Israel itself, its newsmakers, official statements, media events and so on.

Israel needs the news services too, to get its message out to their audiences and provide the necessary facts, context and counterbalance.

Call it a relationship of one hand washing the other.

Now in an extraordinary turn of events, the European Union banned Russia’s state-run media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik.

RT is a TV channel while Sputnik is radio. Both are geared to foreign audiences and have slick news sites and considerable reach on social media. RT alone has a combined 10 million followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Describing RT and Sputnik as the “Kremlin’s media machine,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday that they and their subsidiaries “will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union.”

Von der Leyen didn’t specify the measures. Presumably, they will include:

• Revoking the work visas of foreign reporters and the press credentials of their local staffers.

• Not responding to their queries or interview requests.

• Cancelling or not renewing contracts with satellite operators that beam RT broadcasts to millions of viewers in Europe, North America the Arab world and Far East.

Those are the kinds of measures that Israel has taken — or considered — in a small handful of instances.

Thanks to Israel’s free press and open society, an outsize number of foreign journalists base themselves in the Jewish state. The Foreign Press Association, which assists journalists and represents their interests, has 480 members. That figure doesn’t include Israeli and Palestinian journalists, photographers, cameramen, producers, “fixers” and other support staff.

While pro-Israel media watchdogs call out biased journalism, the nuclear option lies in the hands of Israel’s Government Press Office. Foreign reporters cannot legally work in Israel without GPO accreditation.

One incident that comes to mind involved Israel’s battle against Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-owned international news channel.

In 2017, the GPO briefly revoked the press credentials of Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Elias Karram in 2017. The move against Karram came after a video surfaced of him saying that journalists like himself sided with the Palestinians as part of their “resistance” to Israel.

Karram wasn’t accused of being a member of terror groups. But his comments suggested a willingness to spin facts according to Palestinian needs. Karram claimed he was referring to Palestinian journalists in general and not himself. As an Arab Israeli from Nazareth, he could not have been deported or lost his work permit, but his press credentials were stake.

The controversy came amid an effort by then Communication Minister Ayoub Kara trying to close Al Jazeera’s offices and pull the plug on their satellite transmissions over coverage of Temple Mount violence which he described as inciting.

In the end, the GPO reinstated Karram’s media credentials based on what it said was the recommendation of security officials, and said it would monitor Karram’s work for six months and that was the end of affair. Al Jazeera still has a Jerusalem bureau.

More famously, Israel boycotted BBC News for several months in 2003. Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon barred the BBC from covering his visit to London that year.

In both instances, Israel’s critics accused the GPO of moving against press freedom.

Of course, press freedom applies to genuine journalists reporting in the public interest.

But Sputnik and Russia Today — and Al Jazeera for that matter — aren’t engaged in real “journalism.” They are owned and operated by countries that don’t respect free press, free speech or public dissent. There’s no real accountability for their reports, which is why it takes dramatic action to stop their propaganda.

Their coverage is not meant to enlighten international viewers, or provide balance. Rather, they weaponize news.

Europe, to its credit, finally woke up.