Russian state-backed news channel RT has had its licence to broadcast in the UK revoked “with immediate effect” by media regulator Ofcom.
The watchdog said RT’s parent body ANO TV Novosti was not “fit and proper to hold a UK broadcast licence”.
RT’s coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been under investigation by Ofcom, and the channel had already disappeared from UK screens.
RT, formerly named Russia Today, called Ofcom “a tool of the government”.
The channel became unavailable on all UK broadcast platforms earlier this month as a result of a ban imposed by the European Union.
Although the UK is no longer in the EU, the bloc applied sanctions to satellite companies in Luxembourg and France, which provided the RT feed to Sky, Freesat and Freeview.RT has also been blocked on YouTube but its website is still available in the UK.
UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who has described the channel as “Putin’s polluting propaganda machine”, said: “I welcome Ofcom’s decision and it’s right that our independent regulator has taken action against RT.
“The outlets’ lies and propaganda, where victims are cast as the aggressors and the brutality of Russia’s actions are concealed, have absolutely no place on our screens.”
RT is a state broadcaster. It is funded by and principally – its critics would argue – serves the Russian state. This is different to a public broadcaster, which is funded by and serves the public.
TV Novosti, the institution that controls RT, is funded by the Kremlin. Under Ofcom rules, TV channels can be owned by foreign states, but they must not be controlled by political bodies. This is what did for CGTN, the Chinese network. Ofcom believes the clear absence of due accuracy and due impartiality on RT, and its ultimate control by a political body, violates our regulatory code.
Should liberal democracies ban state propaganda? Such moves may be ineffective: RT is still available online. They may be counter-productive: Ofcom accepts retaliation against the BBC is possible. And if the West is fighting a war for liberal democracy, free speech – while not unconditional – cannot be jettisoned lightly.
Against all that must be weighed the harm of allowing lies to proliferate, and the importance of signalling control over our own public domain.
Ofcom has done its job. But what do the rest of us want that job to be?
In recent weeks, Ofcom has launched 29 investigations into the “due impartiality of RT’s news and current affairs coverage” of the invasion of Ukraine.
On Friday, Ofcom said its investigation took account of factors including:
- RT’s relationship with the Russian Federation – Ofcom said RT is funded by the Russian state, which has recently invaded a neighbouring sovereign country
- New laws in Russia which effectively criminalise any independent journalism that departs from the Russian state’s own news narrative, in particular in relation to the invasion of Ukraine
“We consider that given these constraints it appears impossible for RT to comply with the due impartiality rules of our Broadcasting Code in the circumstances,” Ofcom’s statement added.
Chief executive Dame 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.”
RT deputy editor-in-chief Anna Belkina said Ofcom had “robbed the UK public of access to information”.
“What we have witnessed over the last few days, be it comments from the President of the EU Commission or from PM Boris Johnson, is that none of them had pointed to 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 what RT brings to its audience is not allowed in their supposedly free media environment. When it comes to the Russian voice, or just a different perspective from theirs, it is simply not allowed to exist.”
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that the country’s media regulator had been asked to review RT’s presence on Canadian airwaves, saying it was “a move consistent with what many allies are doing, they banned it”.