Reporter James Kirchick, a supposed “leading voice on gay politics,” was kicked off Russia Today Wednesday after using his time to condemn both Russia’s law banning “gay propaganda” and the television network for not properly reporting on it. The other panelists countered that the network has discussed the law, which is true, but much of the coverage has been used to justify it. Here are five tactics the network has used to defend the “gay propaganda” law:
Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws Aren’t As Bad As Other Countries’
One of the deflections Russia Today‘s (RT) contributors often point out is that many other countries have extreme laws criminalizing homosexuality, whereas Russia’s law does not technically make it a crime to be gay. Of course, most of those other countries are small commonwealth states, not world powers hosting international events.
Another comparison is to Section 28, which was a law in the United Kingdom until 2003 banning local governments and schools from promoting homosexuality. In this clip, Ben Harris-Quinney tells viewers that Section 28 was “almost exactly the same” as Russia’s law:
Not only was that law limited to officials, it also carried no criminal offense. In fact, no prosecution was ever brought under that law. In contrast, many LGBT activists in Russia have already been arrested and fined for promoting “gay propaganda,” including four Dutch tourists who were also deported.
The Law Simply Protects Minors
RT likes to emphasize that the law is designed to protect minors, as if that intention alone makes it okay. Consider this clip from earlier this month, in which the reporter says, “The LGBT Community in the West is furious with the passing of a new Russian law banning gay propaganda to minors, a detail almost never mentioned”:
But RT never explains why children need to be protected from “gay propaganda” nor what that even accomplishes. Indeed, children are simply being used as a prop to justify a nation-wide censorship law.
Russia Is The Victim Of Xenophobia
Borrowing a tactic from U.S. anti-gay conservatives, RT attempts to play the victim, downplaying the principled arguments against the law and claiming that LGBT activists are simply anti-Russia. In this clip, journalist Neil Clark suggests that there is “Russia-phobia among the Western elite. They look down at Russia; they patronize them. This idea that Russian people are homophobic, they’re racist — it’s nonsense. It’s not true.” Watch it:
This is an obvious strawman that distracts from the fact that the law — and its enforcement — are explicitly and intentionally anti-gay. Whether a majority of Russians supports the law doesn’t justify its merits.
The Situation Just Isn’t That Bad In Russia
Another claim RT makes is that the law just isn’t that bad — that Western media has blown things out of proportion and that the law is not that oppressive. In this clip, which features the panel used to rebut Kirchick’s claims about the network’s coverage, RT’s own Martyn Andrews defends his home country by pointing out, “I constantly as a journalist here go on about gay rights in Russia, and on this channel and I’ve spoken on various networks around the world about this. I’ve not been penalized or fined at all. I’m just trying to give people at home the reality of the situation here.” Watch it (Andrews’ comments begin around 9:00):
The two perceptions are not mutually exclusive. The law against “gay propaganda” essentially institutes a nation-wide “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Gay people can remain happy and healthy if they keep their mouths shut, but that doesn’t change the fact that every gay rights celebration or pride festival in Russia has ended in violence and arrests. Of course, RT’s coverage rarely includes any visuals of gay rights protesters being beaten by Russian Orthodox Christian counter-protesters nor being carried away by police.
The International Olympic Committee Says Not To Worry
While many big international events will be held in Russia in the coming months and years, the 2014 Olympic Games are garnering the most attention. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has promised athletes that they will not be impacted by the law, even though Russian officials have said that the law will apply to everybody who visits the country. RT eagerly highlights IOC’s statements, pointing out that it doesn’t matter if the law is anti-gay, because no visitors will be affected.
In this “Facts and Myths” page about the law on RT’s website, it points out that foreigners will be punished under the law, but that there will be an exception made for the Olympics. There is no guarantee this is true, and it certainly doesn’t extend to other visitors, nor other events like the Miss Universe competition, the World Dog Show, or the World Cup.
Kirchick may not have been accurate when he said that Russia Today hasn’t covered the law, but his point about the nature of its coverage is valid. Watch him use his airtime in a segment that was supposed to be about Bradley Manning to object to RT’s propaganda:
According to Kirchick, not only was he cut off the air, but the network also revoked his car service, telling the taxi he was riding in to dump him on the side of the highway.