Russian state-backed broadcaster RT's licence revoked in UK 'with immediate effect'

18 March 2022, 08:12 | Updated: 18 March 2022, 09:05

Ofcom has revoked the licence of the Kremlin-backed RT
Ofcom has revoked the licence of the Kremlin-backed RT. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Russian state-backed news channel RT's licence has been revoked in the UK "with immediate effect", the regulator Ofcom has announced.

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The TV watchdog said RT's licensee, ANO TV Novosti, is "not fit and proper" to hold a licence amid 29 ongoing investigations into the "due impartiality" of its programmes.

RT deputy editor-in-chief Anna Belkina has claimed the move has shown the regulator to be "a tool of the [UK] Government".

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She said the regulator "has shown the UK public, and the regulatory community internationally, that despite a well-constructed facade of independence, it is nothing more than a tool of government, bending to its media-suppressing will".

She added: "By ignoring RT's completely clean record of 4 consecutive years and stating purely political reasons tied directly to the situation in Ukraine and yet completely unassociated to RT’s operations, structure, management or editorial output, Ofcom has falsely judged RT to not be 'fit and proper' and in doing so robbed the UK public of access to information."

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A statement released by Ofcom on Friday said: "We consider the volume and potentially serious nature of the issues raised within such a short period to be of great concern - especially given RT's compliance history, which has seen the channel fined £200,000 for previous due impartiality breaches.

"In this context, we launched a separate investigation to determine whether ANO TV Novosti is fit and proper to retain its licence to broadcast."

Ofcom said the decision to suspend the licence came amid ongoing investigations into RT's news and current affairs coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson also having previously called for an Ofcom review.

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

Ofcom said it noted new laws in Russia which "effectively criminalise any independent journalism that departs from the Russian state's own news narrative", particularly in relation to the invasion of Ukraine.

It added: "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.

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

"Ofcom is therefore revoking RT's licence to broadcast with immediate effect."

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The media watchdog went on: "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 audiences' trust and public confidence in the UK's broadcasting regulatory regime."

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Ofcom 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.

"Following an independent regulatory process, we have today found that RT is not fit and proper to hold a licence in the UK.

"As a result we have revoked RT's UK broadcasting licence."

The RT news website is currently still up and running but its YouTube channel has been taken down.