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November 15, 2012

Ofcom rules against Russia Today over Syria conflict report

By William Turvill

Ofcom has ruled that a government-owned Russian television station breached the broadcasting code in its coverage of the conflict in Syria.

Russia Today (RT), which broadcasts on Sky in the UK, was found to have breached guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.

A report of the armed conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition rebel forces broadcast on the morning of 12 July received one complaint in the UK.

The complainant alleged that an interviewee’s assertion that a massacre was due “to the rebels and not the government” was not challenged sufficiently.

In a report on its decision Ofcom noted: “At approximately 10:10, the news presenter introduced a clip from a pre-recorded ‘down the line’ interview with the editor of Pan-African News Wire, Abayomi Azikiwe.

“This clip lasted for about one and a half minutes and for the duration of this content he spoke direct to camera and was uninterrupted.”

Azikiwe claimed that the opposition had rejected former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s initial peace plan that was “endorsed by the Syrian Government”, and said backers of the Syrian opposition resisted efforts to find a “political solution to this crisis”.

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He also claimed the rebels refused offers of a ceasefire and gave the government “no choice” but to fight.

After promising a “different angle”, the news presenter introduced a report about a boycott of Syrian television by other Arab countries ten minutes later.

The presenter said: “Dramatic pictures from Syria have been streaming to our TVs for 16 months now, but there’s a different kind of drama unfolding behind the camera.

“Some opposition-supporting Arab nations have banned Syrian programmes and movies, but their producers say it has only hardened their resolve.”

In the report, which lasted nearly four minutes, the reporter said: “Gulf countries, which had traditionally helped fund [Syrian productions], withdrew from production leaving a huge financial gap, and matters were made worse when the Arab League called for a boycott of Syrian satellite channels.”

The report then featured interviews with two actors claiming the Arab nations opposing their Government “want to fight everything good in Syria” and “wanted to destroy not just our country, but all that’s good in our country”.

Russia Today’s licensee TV Novosti claimed there was “no need to challenge” Azikiwe’s viewpoint and that the second part of the bulletin was an example of RT’s practice of “sometimes juxtapos[ing] ‘raw’ news with documentary material which goes beyond the headlines to explore other ‘angles’ of a major issue”.

This is the second time in two months that Ofcom has found RT in breach of Rule 5.1 covering impartiality.

The last occasion related to its coverage of Libya in February.

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