Alan Roden, former Communications Director at Scottish Labour, says the UK Labour Press Office should announce a full-scale boycott of Russia Today. This article was first published on Alan’s blog.
“Journalists” at Russia Today don’t like to take no for an answer.
During my time as communications director for Scottish Labour, Putin’s propaganda channel repeatedly got in touch to bid for a politician. There were desperately poor attempts at hiding the ‘RT’ name, sometimes referring only to the specific show or the name of the presenter. When the requests were declined, they would contact MSPs or MPs directly, presumably in the hope the politician wouldn’t realise what they were agreeing to. The offer of money was also available.
Shortly after starting work, I introduced an absolute ban on any dealings with RT. At times, I had to issue weekly reminders to MSPs, just to be on the safe side. To the best of my knowledge, the policy was a success. Certainly no senior Scottish Labour politician appeared on the Kremlin’s mouthpiece during my time in the job. One election candidate unfortunately did so in 2017, but was unaware of the formal ban.
Politicians from other Scottish parties who turned up on RT were also quite limited in number. With one obvious exception, they tended to be backbench MSPs or MPs who were at the very bottom of the list for BBC and STV producers looking for talking heads.
The channel has had more success with UK Labour politicians, however. Peter Dowd is a shadow minister who went on the TV station only last week, and Jeremy Corbyn has appeared on it in the past, as has been widely reported. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has rightly said he will now stop dealing with RT, and urged other Labour MPs to do the same. “I think from what we’re seeing from Russia Today at times it goes beyond objective journalism,” he said.
The party’s Press Office should have taken that opportunity to announce a full-scale boycott, but instead opted for a disappointing fudge. I remain hopeful a firmer stance will be taken soon.
I remain considerably less optimistic that former First Minister Alex Salmond will reconsider his role with RT. He simply ignored the wave of criticism he received for taking the Putin Pound when his show was first announced. His decision infuriated the SNP hierarchy, with Nicola Sturgeon among those to speak out.
I was in the Scottish Parliament’s bar when the news broke, with a group that included SNP MEP Alyn Smith. He provided a quote to the journalists, who asked for confirmation that it was ‘on the record’ three times to make sure.
The quote was: “What the fuck is he thinking?”
If Salmond continues with his show, the next episode of which is scheduled for this Thursday, look out for the fireworks.