It’s always entertaining when a morally-reprehensible entity ascends the moral high-ground. Anyone who was around in the mid-90s will recall the memorably inappropriate ‘Back to Basics’ slogan of John Major’s Tory Government, promoted by numerous hypocritical dishonourable members, many of whom were shortly exposed as philanderers and crooks after laying the blame of society’s ills at the door of easy targets lower down the social scale. Fast-forward twenty years or more and we are told NatWest has frozen the British bank accounts of Russia Today, the pro-Putin English language TV channel that is to the Kremlin what Fox News is to the Republican Party.
NatWest is part of the Royal Bank of Scotland group, which is perhaps the archetypal appalling financial institution of our times. Under the stewardship of Fred Goodwin, RBS played a key role in the financial meltdown of 2008 and was one of the banks pulled from the brink by the rescue package masterminded by Gordon Brown’s Chancellor Alistair Darling. However, almost as soon as Goodwin fled into exile news broke that he would continue to earn £703,000 a year in his retirement.
It emerged that had Goodwin been simply fired by RBS instead of taking early retirement, his annual pension would have been the considerably lower amount of £416,000 (and not accessible until he was 60); but had the Government’s rescue package not saved RBS from extinction, then Goodwin’s pension would have been £28,000 a year and not payable until he reached 65; Goodwin had ‘retired’ aged just 50 and cannily exploited the system in his retirement as much as he had during his tenure on the throne. Although his annual pension was subsequently reduced, this only came about after Goodwin had already (allegedly) received a £2.7 million tax-free lump sum.
As if such unsavoury headlines weren’t enough, RBS was later exposed as no more trustworthy post-Goodwin than it had been during his reign; the scandal of RBS’s Global Restructuring Group, which had purported to be a non-profit venture to aid struggling client companies and was recently revealed as another sneaky cash-cow, buying shares, equity and property before selling them on and making a handsome profit, has painted RBS in a further unseemly light. That it has now decided to take a moral stand against a broadcaster with its own questionable moral agenda provokes the same despairing feelings that appear when watching the Trump/Clinton clashes.
Russia Today – or RT as its UK branch prefers to be known – was launched in this country just two years ago this month. The parent company is based in Moscow, though the version British viewers receive is transmitted from studios at Millbank Tower in London. Despite the hostile press Putin’s Russia is subject to in the UK, his regime has many friends within Parliament and RT boasts a weekly show by maverick Lefty agent-provocateur George Galloway as well as the admittedly humorous satirical rants of comedy news reporter Jonathan Pie. Although only transmitting four hours a day from London, the rest of the programming on the channel comprises other English language shows from RT’s overseas outposts, such as RT America, including veteran US political broadcaster Larry King.
From the moment it was launched, RT UK was subject to vociferous criticism from both ends of Fleet Street; The Times referred to it as a ‘den of deceivers’ and The Observer called it a ‘prostitution of journalism’. The fact that the majority of the most popular British newspapers have traditionally served as mouthpieces for the Conservative Party has unsurprisingly evaded being pointed out amidst the condemnation of RT by the UK press.
Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has also levelled criticism at RT for its failure to advocate impartiality where Russia is concerned; even before its British incarnation appeared, Russia Today’s UK correspondent Sara Firth had resigned due to the biased coverage of the MH17 tragedy, and Ofcom promised preemptive sanctions if further breaches of Britain’s broadcasting code occurred once it set up shop in London. It also upheld a complaint by the BBC over an RT accusation that the Corporation had staged a chemical weapons attack in Syria to discredit Russia’s military support of Assad and its insidious presence in the conflict.
One can only assume today’s announcement by NatWest is connected to Russia’s ongoing role in supporting (and participating in) the rape of Syria, though there has been no public explanation from the RBS group. NatWest wrote to RT in London and said ‘We have recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities’, adding it was ‘not prepared to enter into any discussion’. According to RT, the freeze will not be in effect until December, though RT claims the suspension by RBS will also encompass the personal accounts of senior London RT employees.
This latest instalment in the deterioration of relations between Britain and Russia is a curious development, instigated by a company whose own code of conduct is hardly beyond reproach. Perhaps RBS views such a move as a means of cleaning up its image; imposing superficial punishment upon a media outlet for a horrible regime is a strange decision, particularly for a banking institution whose usual attitude towards the general public is one that Putin probably wholeheartedly approves of.
© The Editor