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EU ban on media outlets violates press freedom

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2022-03-04 07:30
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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Sunday that the European Union will ban Russian TV channels such as Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting and publishing in the European Union. She called the news outlets "Kremlin's media machine" and said "we are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe".

But the ban, which the EU imposed on Tuesday, violates the freedom of the press which the EU claims to advocate.

I am not trying to grade news outlets or take sides. But the fact that RT and Sputnik have been broadcasting in Europe and other parts of the world for many years shows they have been accepted, at least to some extent, by local viewers.

In the United States, cable networks such as Fox News and CNN have sometimes accused each other of spreading disinformation, but neither has called for proscribing the other.

Listening to or reading reports and opinions broadcast or published by different media outlets is like attending a seminar with a panel of experts with different views, which is far more thought-provoking than one with panelists repeating identical views, which is sadly the case with many TV channels such as CNN these days.

During my years in the US, I watched both CNN and Fox News not because I agreed with their interpretations of news and the state of global affairs. I did so because I like to listen to different views and make my own judgment. I also watched international broadcasters such as BBC, Al Jazeera, RT, DW, France 24, TRT, NHK and China's CGTN. Listening to wide-ranging views is far more educational than watching channels that you always agree with.

English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, known for her works on French philosopher Voltaire, famously said: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". That is the principle of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

And that's why the EU should protect Russian news media's right to broadcast and interpret news from their own perspective, especially when mainstream US and European media covering global and regional conflicts don't give a balanced view and thus risk misleading their public.

As a journalist, I believe listening to both sides or multiple sides to a dispute keeps you better informed, irrespective of whether you take sides or not.

Now that the EU has imposed the ban on RT and Sputnik, Russia is likely to respond in kind. That means some EU news channels may have to go off the air in Russia, and lose the opportunity to inform the Russian public about their views and interpretations of news.

While the move to target news media-or the messenger-may be unprecedented for EU leaders, former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo triggered a tit-for-tat on news media between the US and China a couple of years ago.

The two governments finally agreed in November to ease the restrictions on the access to journalists in each other's country before a virtual meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden. Yet Pompeo's absurd policy is yet to be fully reversed despite some initial progress.

It is bad for Chinese and US journalists, who have become collateral damage of such tit-for-tat on the news media. It is bad for the two countries at a time when they need to understand each other better, something the news media can play a big role in facilitating.

That applies to the EU too. Once you start a tit-for-tat on news media, it's likely to last a long time and not easy to reverse. Moreover, by banning RT and Sputnik, the EU is depriving the European public of the right to know and access information from different sources, apart from infringing upon the freedom of the press, which it said it holds dear.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.

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