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View from There

Old fart — lonely heart
Anth Ginn

As a bitter and twisted old fart, typical of my generation, I spend lots of time sitting in front of daytime TV, ranting and raving at the news. I’m oblivious of the fact that the faces on the screen can’t hear me. Senility started sooner than I expected. Besides, even if they’re deaf to my rants of wisdom, piercing questions, and general babble through the glass window, it’s worth swearing out loud at the news, for the therapeutic effects alone.

One of the pieces of technology that has made it into my 1960s, warped, psychedelic, analogue world, is the digi-box. This wonderful, cheap, little machine is plugged between the TV and the aerial, and gives me access to a couple of dozen free TV channels, increasing the available channels from five to thirty. Every week or so sees another mysterious channel appears on the menu. Many of them do nothing but sell junk. After midnight, several channels show sleazy soft porn ads for expensive telephone lines offering comfort for the lonely. The little plastic box that provides access to this fascinating world, regularly updates itself, and automatically adds new channels when it feels like it.

A few weeks ago I noticed two new channels had nestled in next to Sky News, RT and Al Jazeera. RT is the acronym for Russia Today, Al Jazeera is a bloke who works in Rihad. RT is on air 24 hours a day, Al Jazeera didn’t get home from work until 6 oclock every evening, so I found myself watching RT most of the time.

After years of BBC News 24 and Sky, RT is a breath of fresh air. It provides a much more balanced view of events both in the UK and around the world. For example, if you’d watched the coverage of the massive demonstration in London, on March 26th, RT would have told you there were about 250,000 people taking part. The BBC said the demonstration was attended by two old hippies with a dog on a string. Sky said the march consisted of a solitary dog with a piece of string around its neck, the owners having retired to the pub. Similarly, in Libya the BBC reports that the civilian damage consists of a broken teapot and spilt jug of milk, Sky tells us the teapot lid was merely cracked and the milk was spilt at least ten minutes before the cruise missile exploded. RT informs us of hundreds of civilian casualties.

As someone who grew up in the cold war, believing everything that came out of Russia was soviet propaganda, void of factual content, it’s a surprise to see that the tables have been turned, and the news from Moscow is now more reliable than the news from London.

My shift in viewing habits has been noticed in Washington, where Hillary Clinton recently mentioned RT, “The Russians have opened up an English language network. I’ve seen it a couple of times and it’s quite instructive.” She claims the US is losing the information war, adding that the private US media was not up to the job, and was being killed by stations like Al Jazeera and RT. “You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials … the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.”

RT has also introduced us to the ex-stockbroker turned revolutionary of the airwaves, Max Keiser and his half hour news programme, “The Kaiser Report”. Max is fast becoming a cult hero in the UK with his ascerbic attacks on the “criminal bankers”, who are “counterfeiting billions of dollars and calling it quantitative easing”. The BBC wouldn’t even let Max in to use the bathroom, let alone broadcast his twice weekly TV programme.

RT has other benefits, besides its more balanced approach to the news, and Max’s stock market tips, I’m learning about the new Russia. The tractor factories seem to have been replaced by gold and silver workshops, full of artisans creating delicate ornaments and jewelry. Most young men drive Mercedes, (or was it, “want to drive Mercedes”?) and most young women are models in expensive fur coats. The food looks much better than I ever imagined and I’ve discovered that Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are the greatest writers in the world.

RT also has a strong presence on the web. One of the features of is the “Meet Friends”, section, where, “you can meet smart, funny, educated, crazy and loveable Russians”. You simply fill in your profile, upload some photos and state what kind of person you’re looking for. Once you’ve found someone you’re interested in, you get acquainted.

This is how I met Natasha, who works in a steel factory in Omsk. Now I know what you’re thinking, “He’s sixty one, she’s twenty two. I know where this is going.” In fact, this was my wife’s reaction when I told her I was going on a cultural exchange to Omsk’s Dostoyevsky Museum of Literature and the Vrubel Museum of Fine Arts. Natasha would merely be my cultural guide and interpreter.

Russia is such a romantic country, and after a few days going round the museums, and visiting the Pushkin state library, well, one thing led to another. To cut a long story short, I think my wife was glad to see the back of me. She’s also been on RTs “Meet Friends” and is in touch with a young silversmith in Petersburg. RT has awakened a strong attraction to Mother Russia for her too.

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