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Daphna Whitmore: The best we can do is oppose both state and corporate censorship, seek out factual sources, be alert to the propaganda from all sides, and then make up our own minds.
Daphna Whitmore
Contributing Writer
March 15th, 2022

OPINION: It was Napoleon who pioneered the use of mass propaganda and censorship in war. He produced self-flattering battlefield bulletins which were published in newspapers throughout France. Having seen the power of the press he then imposed censorship to stop “the manifestation of ideas which trouble the peace of the state, its interests and good order”. 

All wars use political ideology as a weapon. The enemy “spreads propaganda” while our side “informs and educates”. 

In Russia there is a “fake news law” with a 15 year jail term for acts such as calling the Ukraine invasion a “war”. Much of Russia’s independent media have closed down, unable to operate under such repressive conditions.

To avoid falling foul of the law the Chinese-owned platform Tiktok has suspended videos from Russia. In addition, Facebook and Instagram have been blocked by Putin’s censors, leaving some Russian lifestyle influencers quite distraught. 

Meanwhile in the West it is more likely to be the tech giants and media corporations doing the censoring, rather than the state. 

Sky TV in New Zealand has taken the Russian television channel RT off air. Sky TV deciding that we cannot watch RT is pretty outrageous, and every bit as crude as the propaganda on the banned channel. For a time it was possible to watch RT on Youtube, but that platform has also blocked all Russian state sponsored media.  

State censorship is abhorrent, but in a liberal democracy there is at least the option of throwing out a government at election time. The autocrats in Silicon Valley and the virtue-signalling corporations are not so easy to shake off.

There is also selective censoring going on, such as Facebook announcing a break in its ban on posts that call for violence. It is making an exception and allowing posts calling for attacks on Russian forces.

 With very little first hand reporting it is hard to be sure what is happening on the ground in Ukraine. In the early days of the war there were reports that emerged which were shown to be false. Some war scenes turned out to be clips from a Star Wars movie, some were from video games, and some were from earlier wars in other countries.  

Given the amount of disinformation circulating the need for professional, reputable, and independent media outlets is greater than ever. Mainstream media have credibility issues having indulged in clickbaiting and sensationalism, when what is needed is for them to do old school reporting of facts.

Even if the media were in better shape we would not be free of disinformation. Twenty years ago the New York Times spread the fabrication that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which became the pretext for the invasion of Iraq. 

To work around all the machinations of wartime propaganda is difficult. The best we can do is oppose both state and corporate censorship, seek out factual sources, be alert to the propaganda from all sides, and then make up our own minds.


Daphna Whitmore is a long time activist for left wing causes. She is an advocate for workers’ rights, women’s equality and free speech. She is an editor of the blog Redline.