Russia to retaliate against UK media after RT fined for biased coverage of Skripal attack

1 August 2019, 13:47 | Updated: 1 August 2019, 19:55

The Russian communications regulator has announced plans to "respond in kind" after Ofcom fined the Kremlin-funded television channel RT for biased coverage over the Salisbury attack.

Media law in the UK requires broadcasters present news stories in an impartial manner and present both sides of any contentious topic, although this is not a requirement for print and online publications.

Last December, Ofcom ruled that RT broadcast biased material following the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, which the British government accused the Kremlin of orchestrating.

Roskomnadzor responded to the finding by threatening to target the BBC, which broadcasts the BBC World News channel in Russia, and which runs websites in Russian and English that are currently accessible in the country.

Earlier this year, Russian politicians voted through new tight internet controls which could allow state authorities to exercise powerful controls over web content.

Following the fine for RT, the Russian regulator said it would "prepare draft amendments to Russian legislation allowing reciprocal responses to such measures on foreign media in Russia".

"As Roskomnadzor has repeatedly said that in the event of Russian media suffering from prejudiced treatment abroad the principle of reciprocity will apply," it said.

"The objective of the amendments is to bring the rules applying to foreign media operating in Russia in line with British standards," the regulator added.

It is not yet clear what "reciprocal measures" the Russian state would seek to impose. Sky News contacted the Russian embassy in London to enquire about its concerns with British media coverage, but has not yet received a response.

Ofcom also found that in addition to RT's coverage of the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter, the broadcaster failed to meet impartiality standards when reporting on the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

The claim that RT failed to be impartial has been seen as overly polite by some people who accuse the channel of actively spreading propaganda on behalf of the Kremlin.

Earlier this month the Foreign Office refused to provide accreditation to RT and Sputnik to attend its media freedom conference in London because of their "active role in spreading disinformation".

The British government has warned that propaganda was actively being produced by the Russian state and spread through state-owned media.

It said in the recent Online Harms white paper: "The Kremlin has used disinformation to obfuscate and confuse audiences around their illegal annexation of Crimea, intervention in eastern Ukraine and the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which led to the deaths of 298 people including ten UK citizens.

"After the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in March 2018, the Russian state led a concerted disinformation campaign to distract from their culpability.

"This included the use of state media and covert social media accounts to sow over 40 different narratives as to what happened."

The BBC declined to comment on the Roskomnadzor announcement when contacted by Sky News.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office told Sky News: "Decisions on broadcasting regulation are a matter for Ofcom and, as the independent regulator, they must be able to make decisions without interference.

"We urge Russia to respect freedom of the media as a vital component of any democracy."