Rec­i­proc­ity on the ra­dio dial

Sput­nik is broad­cast­ing in D.C., but Moscow muz­zles U.S.-funded me­dia

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - TOM TOLES

PRES­I­DENT VLADIMIR PUTIN is a fresh con­vert to the prin­ci­ple of rec­i­proc­ity in his deal­ings with the United States. He ought to take it a step fur­ther. On Fri­day, the Rus­sian leader, irked at a sanc­tions bill that sailed through Congress, con­fis­cated two Amer­i­can diplo­matic prop­er­ties in Rus­sia and or­dered the ex­pul­sion of diplo­mats and other staff from the U.S. Em­bassy in Moscow. The moves matched sanc­tions that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama slapped on the Krem­lin in re­sponse to Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

As long he’s into rec­i­proc­ity, Mr. Putin might take no­tice that while Moscow con­tin­ues to banish U.S. in­ter­na­tional news out­lets from Rus­sian air­waves, Krem­lin-funded mouth­pieces such as Sput­nik ra­dio have en­joyed a field day in the United States, tak­ing ad­van­tage of Amer­ica’s open so­ci­ety to sow mis­in­for­ma­tion and dis­trust.

As re­ported by The Post’s Justin Wm. Moyer, Sput­nik, Moscow’s main ra­dio pro­pa­ganda out­let, has taken over a band­width on the Dis­trict’s ra­dio dial, 105.5 FM, for­merly oc­cu­pied by a blue­grass sta­tion, and be­gan air­ing broad­casts July 1 from of­fices in down­town Wash­ing­ton, three blocks from the White House.

Mean­while, there has been no change in Rus­sia’s decade-long ban­ish­ment of U.S. govern­ment-funded out­lets air­ing pro­grams on Rus­sian tele­vi­sion air­waves, or Rus­sian-lan­guage broad­casts from Voice of Amer­ica and Ra­dio Free Europe/Ra­dio Lib­erty, which were banned by a 2012 law.

Mr. Trump should also take no­tice. Speak­ing to re­porters aboard Air Force One re­cently, he said, “To me, the word re­cip­ro­cal is a beau­ti­ful word.” As it hap­pens, he was talk­ing about in­ter­na­tional trade, an area in which he thinks Amer­i­cans get a bad deal.

Yet in the realm of U.S.-Rus­sian in­ter­na­tional news, rec­i­proc­ity seems ab­sent from Mr. Trump’s radar. A 24/7 Rus­sian-lan­guage tele­vi­sion ven­ture pro­duced by Voice of Amer­ica and Ra­dio Free Europe/Ra­dio Lib­erty, called Cur­rent Time, has been up and run­ning for sev­eral months, pro­duc­ing high­qual­ity news, but is avail­able only on­line.

The asym­me­try is a prob­lem. Mr. Putin’s govern­ment, in­tent on un­der­min­ing lib­eral democ­ra­cies by cast­ing doubt on the very no­tion of truth, and sow­ing divi­sion and doubt about ba­sic Western in­sti­tu­tions, has be­come in­creas­ingly adept at weaponiz­ing in­for­ma­tion. U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have called at­ten­tion to Moscow’s fake news cam­paign, as have U.S. al­lies in Europe.

English-lan­guage shows on Sput­nik and, sec­on­dar­ily, RT — the Krem­lin’s not-much-watched but widely avail­able English lan­guage tele­vi­sion mouth­piece — fea­ture use­ful Amer­i­can dupes and oth­ers who need no in­struc­tion from Moscow to re­in­force the nar­ra­tive, al­ready cur­rent on the ex­treme left and right of Western pol­i­tics, that U.S. cap­i­tal­ism, elec­tions, in­sti­tu­tions and me­dia are cor­rupt. They trade in moral equiv­a­lence, elid­ing the plain fact that the Rus­sian govern­ment — cyn­i­cal, bru­tal and heed­less of demo­cratic norms — pur­sues in­ter­ests and sub­scribes to values an­ti­thet­i­cal to those prized by most Amer­i­cans.

The wild dis­par­ity in ac­cess ac­corded by Moscow and Wash­ing­ton to each other’s gov­ern­mentspon­sored me­dia out­lets is un­sus­tain­able. If Mr. Trump is a cham­pion of rec­i­proc­ity, as he as­serts, then U.S. diplo­mats should de­mand re­cip­ro­cal treat­ment for Voice of Amer­ica and Ra­dio Free Europe/Ra­dio Lib­erty. And if Mr. Putin has em­braced rec­i­proc­ity, he should be pre­pared to live by it.

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