Ofcom opens three new investigations into Kremlin backed RT over 'impartiality'

Regulator reviewing programmes covering Syrian war, Ukraine and fracking

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Monday 21 May 2018 16:11 BST
11 Ofcom investigations are now underway into Russia Today programmes
11 Ofcom investigations are now underway into Russia Today programmes

The broadcasting watchdog has opened three new investigations into a Kremlin backed TV channel over “impartiality” on issues including the wars in Syria and Ukraine.

It brings the number of ongoing Ofcom probes into RT, formerly Russia Today, to 11.

“We have opened three further investigations into the due impartiality of news and current affairs programmes broadcast on RT,” a spokesperson said.

Among the programmes being investigated is an edition of the Crosstalk current affairs programme broadcast on 20 April. The regulator said it was assessing whether a segment on US foreign policy in Syria was “sufficiently balanced”.

The show’s presenter asked whether Washington was deliberately trying to partition the country or “stick it to Iran and Russia”, while calling massacres using chemical weapons “false-flag operations”.

Two editions of RT’s main news bulletins are also being reviewed. One, broadcast on 26 April, is being investigated for balance over allegations levelled against the Ukrainian government, including its position on Nazism.

Another, on 4 May, will be assessed over its presentation of Britain’s treatment of anti-fracking activists.

A spokesperson for RT said: “We note the new investigations by Ofcom, and will work with the regulator through its processes.”

Ofcom previously announced that it would consider whether the channel should broadcast in the UK if Russian involvement was proven in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

The regulator said it had written to RT to explain that evidence of unlawful state interference would affect whether it was deemed “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting licence.

In April, it announced a wave of new investigations into the channel, which is owned by Russian state media arm TV Novosti, over impartiality.

Then, the watchdog said that since the Salisbury nerve agent attack, it had "observed a significant increase in the number of programmes" on the channel that should be investigated.

Two shows hosted by former MP George Galloway are being investigated, alongside news and current affairs programmes covering topics including chemical weapons attacks in Syria and the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who died in 2006 after he was poisoned with Polonium.

“Until recently, TV Novosti’s overall compliance record has not been materially out of line with other broadcasters,” an Ofcom spokesperson said at the time.

“However, since the events in Salisbury, we have observed a significant increase in the number of programmes on the RT service that warrant investigation as potential breaches of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.”

RT has an average audience of 3,400 viewers at any given point during the day and an average weekly reach of one per cent of UK adults, according to Ofcom figures.

Owner TV Novosti has been disciplined for 15 breaches of the broadcasting code since 2012, which Ofcom said was not an unusually high number, but most related to Russia’s foreign policy in programmes on the wars in Ukraine, Syria and Ukraine.

The UK has accused Russia of proposing “contradictory and changing fantasies” to deny involvement in the attack on Mr Skripal, amid heightened tensions over wars in Syria and Ukraine, alleged election interference and cyber attacks.

Peter Wilson, Britain’s permanent representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said a “brazen disinformation campaign” was underway last month.

“They have sought to confuse, distract and brazenly misrepresent facts, despite the thorough, independent OPCW report,” that confirmed novichok nerve agent was used, he said.

Ofcom’s code states that all news must be reported “with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality”, and that “undue prominence” must not be given to a particular side on matters of controversy.

It said it would announce the outcome of investigations as soon as possible and consider all relevant new evidence alongside RT’s future conduct.

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