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March 18, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:05am

Ofcom revokes RT UK broadcast licence, declaring channel not ‘fit and proper’ to air in UK

By Charlotte Tobitt

Update 18 March 2022: Ofcom has revoked RT’s UK broadcast licence.

The telecoms regulator said it did so after determining the channel’s licensee, ANO TV Novosti, was not “fit and proper to hold a UK broadcast licence”.

The licence for the Russian state-funded channel has been revoked “with immediate effect”.

Ofcom had previously said it opened 27 investigations into RT since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

On Friday, the regulator said that number had grown to 29 ongoing investigations, and that it had also concluded a separate investigation “to determine whether ANO TV Novosti is fit and proper to retain its licence to broadcast.”

That investigation took into account, it said, “that RT is funded by the Russian state, which has recently invaded a neighbouring sovereign country” and “new laws in Russia which effectively criminalise any independent journalism that departs from the Russian state’s own news narrative”.

These factors mean “it appears impossible for RT to comply with the due impartiality rules” and “we cannot be satisfied that RT can be a responsible broadcaster in the current circumstances”.

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RT is already off air in the UK as a result of action taken by the EU. Ofcom said it “take[s] seriously the importance of maintaining audiences’ trust and public confidence in the UK’s broadcasting regulatory regime.”

Ofcom chief executive Melanie Dawes said: “Freedom of expression is something we guard fiercely in this country, and the bar for action on broadcasters is rightly set very high. Following an independent regulatory process, we have today found that RT is not fit and proper to hold a licence in the UK.”

Update 3 March 2022: Ofcom has now opened a total of 27 investigations into RT, which is now unavailable on Sky, Freesat and Freeview in the UK.

It has added 12 investigations further to the 15 it earlier opened into news programming that ran throughout Sunday 27 February in relation to the invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement, Ofcom said on Wednesday: “We are very concerned by the volume of programmes on RT that are raising potential issues under the Broadcasting Code, and as we progress our investigations we are considering whether RT should retain a UK licence.”

The Kremlin-backed channel is separately off-air after satellite feeds based in Europe were removed due to sanctions on Russia announced by the European Union.

Original story 28 February 2022: UK broadcast regulator Ofcom has opened 15 new investigations into the due impartiality of RT’s news programming.

The new investigations relate to 15 editions of the Kremlin-funded channel’s hourly News programme between 5am and 7pm on Sunday – as Russian forces advanced into Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv.

Ofcom has not said exactly what content or words are under investigation, but said they will be “expedited, given the severity and urgency of the current crisis”.

Ofcom opened its investigations hours before Google said it would block Youtube channels related to RT and Sputnik across Europe, including in the UK, “due to the ongoing war in Ukraine”.

“It’ll take time for our systems to fully ramp up,” Google said. “Our teams continue to monitor the situation around the clock to take swift action.”

In the week leading up to Tuesday 22 February, the latest data Ofcom has made available, 30 complaints were made to the regulator about RT. Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Thursday and multiple RT journalists have subsequently quit the channel.

Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said: “Given the scale and gravity of the crisis in Ukraine, audiences expect to be able to trust and rely on duly impartial broadcast news.

“When reporting on an armed conflict, we recognise it can be difficult for broadcasters to verify information and events, but it is imperative that they make every effort to do so. They must also explain clearly to audiences where there is uncertainty or where events are disputed.

“Supporting a fair and free media is central to Ofcom’s work. We take this responsibility – and our duty to protect audiences and uphold trust in news – extremely seriously. Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of our approach and fundamental to our democracy.

“Given the serious ongoing situation in Ukraine, we will be concluding our investigations into RT as a matter of urgency.”

Ofcom says due impartiality should be achieved by “including and giving due weight to a wide range of significant views”.

Speaking at the Ukrainian Cathedral of the Holy Family on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused RT of  “peddling” material that is “doing a lot of damage to the truth”.

He called for Ofcom to look at if it is “infringing the rules of this country”.

Johnson said: “We have a principle in this country that we don’t allow politicians to ban this or that media organisation, and that’s the way we do it, and I think we’re better for that.

“But I’ve got to tell you that I think the stuff that RT is peddling at the moment is doing a lot of damage to the truth, and I think it’s important that Ofcom should look at it and make up its mind about whether that organisation is infringing the rules of this country.”

When it was put to him that it sounded like he would ban it if he had the power to do so, Johnson said: “Yes, but the difference between us and Russia is that the power is not with me, and that’s the right thing.

“And that, you know, is partly what we’re fighting for.”

Last week Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries told Ofcom to review the operation of RT, previously known as Russia Today, which she said was “demonstrably part of Russia’s global disinformation campaign”.

In her letter to Ofcom, Dorries said certain states sought to “exploit and undermine” the UK’s media landscape.

She said RT’s editor-in-chief had “made clear in the past” that the station supported the Kremlin’s aims, by calling the broadcaster an “information weapon” of the Russian state.

Dawes said in response that the regulator had “already stepped up our oversight of coverage of these events by broadcasters in the UK”.

She said while broadcasters can cover issues from a “particular perspective” as long as balance is achieved, that “it would not be acceptable for any of our licensees to broadcast one-sided propaganda”.

The European Union has blocked RT and Sputnik from airing, while Facebook is restricting access to its pages in the region.

Anna Belkina, deputy editor-in-chief of RT, said in a statement on Tuesday: “What we have witnessed over the last few days, be it comments from the President of the EU Commission or from the UK PM Boris Johnson, or from social media or broadcast and digital distribution platforms, is that none of them had pointed to a single example, a single grain of evidence that what RT has reported over these days, and continues to report, is not true.

“Instead, what they have said is that the honest information that RT brings to its audience is simply not allowed in the supposedly free media environment. When it comes to the Russian voice, or just a different perspective, it is not allowed to exist in the free media space.

“This collective ‘establishment’ seems to be terrified of a mere presence of any outside voice for the fear of losing their historically captive audience, if that audience encounters a different perspective. Yet what they fail to realise is that it is their own echo chamber that seeds the public mistrust that they have so long lamented. They will reap what they sow.”

Picture: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

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