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Ofcom revokes license of Russian broadcaster RT in the UK

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Watchdog Ofcom has revoked the UK license of Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT with immediate effect 9Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)

Ofcom has revoked the UK license of Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT with immediate effect.

The television watchdog said RT’s license holder ANO TV Novosti is “not fit or proper” to hold a license amid 29 ongoing investigations into the “due fairness” of its programs.

A statement issued by the regulator on Friday said: “We consider the volume and potentially serious nature of the issues raised in such a short period to be of serious concern, especially given RT’s compliance record, which has seen the channel fined. £200,000 for previous breaches of due impartiality.

“In this context, we launched a separate investigation to determine whether ANO TV Novosti is in a position to retain its broadcast license.”

Ofcom said the decision to suspend the license came amid ongoing investigations into RT’s news and current affairs coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson also previously calling for a review of Ofcom.

RT is currently off the air in the UK due to sanctions being imposed.

Ofcom said it noted new laws in Russia that “effectively criminalize any independent journalism that deviates from the Russian state’s own news narrative,” particularly in relation to the invasion of Ukraine.

He added: “We consider that, given these limitations, it seems impossible for RT to comply with the due fairness rules of our broadcast code in the circumstances.

“We have concluded that we cannot be satisfied that RT can be a responsible broadcaster under the current circumstances.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously requested an Ofcom review on RT (Leon Neal/PA) (PA Wire)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously requested an Ofcom review on RT (Leon Neal/PA) (PA Wire)

“Therefore Ofcom is revoking RT’s license to broadcast with immediate effect.”

The media watchdog continued: “We take seriously the importance, in our democratic society, of a broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression and the audience’s right to receive information and ideas without undue interference.

“We also take seriously the importance of maintaining audience and public confidence in the UK broadcasting regulatory regime.”

Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said: “Freedom of expression is something we defend fiercely in this country, and the bar for action at broadcasters is very high.

“Following an independent regulatory process, we today find that RT is not eligible or appropriate to be licensed in the UK.

“As a result, we have revoked RT’s broadcast license in the UK.”

RT Deputy Editor-in-Chief Anna Belkina said Ofcom’s decision to suspend the broadcaster’s UK license had “robbed” the British public of access to information.

Ofcom has falsely judged that RT is not ‘fit and proper’ and in doing so has robbed the UK public of access to the information.

Ana Belkina, RT

In a statement, he said: “Ofcom has shown the UK public and the international regulatory community that, despite a well-constructed facade of independence, it is nothing more than a tool of the government, bending to its will to remove media.

“By ignoring RT’s completely clean record of four consecutive years and claiming purely political reasons directly linked to the situation in Ukraine and yet completely unrelated to RT’s operations, structure, management or editorial output, Ofcom has falsely judged that RT is not ‘fit and proper’. ‘ and in doing so robbed the UK public of access to information.”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries welcomed Ofcom’s decision, saying RT’s “lies and propaganda” have “absolutely no place on our screens”.

The cabinet minister previously told MPs that she hoped the TV watchdog’s investigations into “due impartiality” at the Kremlin-backed broadcaster would result in the removal of its license.

In a statement on Twitter, he said: “I welcome @Ofcom’s decision and it is right that our independent regulator has taken action against RT.

“The media’s lies and propaganda, where victims are portrayed as aggressors and the brutality of Russia’s actions are hidden, have no place on our screens.”

Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who hosted his own show on RT, said he made the decision to suspend the show “on the day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

At the time, he said: “I have opposed all illegal invasions from one country to another for the past 30 years, regardless of the countries involved.

“This is an illegal invasion. My action was immediate, decisive and, given how this tragedy has unfolded, final.”

Former Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Damian Collins said Ofcom “made the right decision”.

He tweeted: “RT is under the control of the Russian state and is prevented by Russian law from reporting the truth about (Vladimir) Putin’s brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine.”

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said Labor welcomes Ofcom’s decision to revoke RT’s licence.

She said: “Workers have long called for Russia Today, (Vladimir) Putin’s propaganda factory, to revoke their license. We welcome this decision, even though it should have come much sooner.

“Addressing state disinformation is vital to protecting our security and democracy, yet inexplicably the online safety bill released by the government yesterday makes no mention of this.

“Ministers must strengthen the bill and ensure that state actors trying to undermine our country are threatened.”

The RT news website is still up and running, but its YouTube channel has been removed.

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