UK media regulator Ofcom said on July 18 that the Russian media company RT failed to maintain proper impartiality in its coverage of the war in Ukraine’s Donbas industrial region. In response to the findings, RT said: “The logic of these decisions reflects that which guided them many months after Ofcom revoked RT’s licence: this is a trial after a conviction.”
This is not the first conflict between the British media regulator and the Russian media company.
In 2019, Ofcom fined RT £200,000 for failing to follow proper rules in its coverage of Britain’s response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury. The programs mostly dealt with the main issues of political controversy and current public policy, as well as the UK government’s response to the war in Syria.
“Our investigation found that RT failed to maintain adequate impartiality in seven news and current affairs programmes between March 17 and April 26, 2018,” according to the official statement issued by Ofcom.
The regulator revoked the license of the Russian TV channel RT to broadcast in Great Britain on March 18, 2022, just weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.
The regulator justified the step by saying that RT is financed by the state of Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and destroyed independent journalism.
Ofcom stressed it was not satisfied that RT had complied with impartiality rules in the UK Broadcasting Code.
“We also note new laws in Russia that effectively criminalize any independent journalism that deviates from Russian state news narratives, especially regarding the invasion of Ukraine,” the statement added.
The Kremlin immediately reacted to the revocation of the license on the same day, March 18.
“This is continuation of the madness that is happening in America and Europe – this is anti-Russian madness. This is another step that severely restricts freedom of speech,” Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The British government also imposed a travel ban and froze the assets of RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. It also accused RT of being a tool of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign.
The owners of Facebook Meta (FB.O) and Google (GOOGL.O) have banned Russian state media outlets from receiving money for advertising on their platforms. RT’s Facebook page is no longer available for viewing in the UK.
In turn, Russia blocked access to the websites of several foreign news organizations, including the BBC. Anna Belkina, deputy editor of RT, claimed this was for spreading false information about the war. Bloomberg News also temporarily suspended the work of its journalists in Russia, citing the new media law.
Subsequently, the watchdog launched 29 investigations into RT following complaints from viewers and its own monitoring of the channel. This related to coverage of the war in Ukraine in late February and early March of this year.
“Ofcom considers these breaches to have been serious and repeated, and we intend to review them for legal sanctions,” said the regulator, which suspended RT’s license in March.
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