Russian government-owned news channel RT has gone off air in the UK following EU sanctions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On Wednesday the EU announced that Kremlin-backed RT and sister news agency and radio channel Sputnik would be banned across the bloc in response to “toxic and harmful disinformation” they had spread about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
While the UK is not part of those EU sanctions, Sky receives its broadcasts of RT from a satellite operator based in Luxembourg which is subject to the EU’s decision.
Freeview and Freesat also both removed RT’s channel from their services on Wednesday, although they have not provided their own explanation.
Announcing that RT had gone off-air, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “RT is no longer available on British TVs. [The] channel is now down across Sky, Freeview and Freesat. The Russian dictator will now find it harder to spread his disinformation and lies.”
Dorries previously called on Ofcom to review the operation of RT, formerly known as Russia Today, which she said was “demonstrably part of Russia’s global disinformation campaign” and had sought to “exploit and undermine” the UK’s media landscape.
She warned against an outright ban on the channel however, warning it may lead to Russian reprisals against BBC services in Russia.
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday, Dorries said Putin “must not be allowed to exploit our open and free media to spread poisonous propaganda into British homes”.
She added: “And that is why I wrote to Ofcom last week urging them to examine any potential breaches of the broadcasting code.
“Ofcom has since opened 27 investigations into RT, and they are now reviewing whether to revoke RT’s licence entirely.
“In the meantime, those investigations have been taken over by events and I was very glad to see yesterday that the channel is now officially off air on British televisions, after it shut down on Sky, Freeview and Freesat.”
The latest data has shown a huge uptick in the number of Russians turning to the BBC for independent information about Ukraine. English-language visitors from Russia rose 252% to 423,000 last week, while the BBC’s Russian news website more than tripled its year-to-date weekly average to reach 10.7m people.
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 news channel has also faced bans on its online content from several tech giants. Facebook announced on Monday that it was restricting access to RT pages across Europe. The move was followed quickly by Youtube, which similarly banned all RT channels on its site across the continent.
At least five RT journalists have publicly left their jobs since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, while others have reportedly privately chosen to leave the station. Most recently RT presenter Kevin Owen, who worked for the channel for more than 15 years, resigned “on principle”.
The channel initially framed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation”. On Tuesday, it began referring to it as a “war”, with sources telling the Guardian this was due to staff discomfort.
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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