UK regulator revokes broadcasting licence of Russian-owned RT, Kremlin calls move 'madness'

UK regulator revokes broadcasting licence of Russian-owned RT, Kremlin calls move 'madness'
A UK TV regulator has revoked the licence of Russia's state-funded television channel RT. Ofcom said the channel was not 'fit and proper' to operate in Britain given its coverage of the invasion of Ukraine.
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'We have concluded that we cannot be satisfied that RT can be a responsible broadcaster,' Ofcom said [source: Getty]

UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom on Friday revoked the licence of Russia's state-funded television channel RT, in the latest international repercussion for Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.

The move follows a similar ban imposed by the European Union and RT's operations in the United States shutting down earlier this month, as Western nations seek to punish and isolate Russia for its actions.

The Kremlin described Britain's decision to revoke the broadcast licence of RT as "madness".

"Ofcom has today revoked RT's licence to broadcast in the UK, with immediate effect," the regulator said in a statement, adding that the channel was not "fit and proper" to operate in the country.

The pro-Kremlin channel has been off the air in the UK in recent weeks following the EU's action because satellite companies based in Europe provide the RT feed to UK platforms. But its UK licence had remained valid up until Friday.

Ofcom made the decision after launching 29 investigations into the "due impartiality of RT's news and current affairs coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine", they said.

"We consider the volume and potentially serious nature of the issues raised within such a short period to be of great concern," it added, noting the network also had a history of compliance issues.

Ofcom fined RT £200,000 ($263,000, 238,000 euros) in 2019 for "serious failures" in its coverage of nerve agent poisoning in the English city Salisbury and the Syria conflict.

The licence ban will prompt fears of reprisals by the Kremlin against British broadcasters still operating in Russia, including the BBC and Sky News.

Russia's foreign ministry said last month any suspension of RT's licence would be met with retaliatory measures.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle closed its Moscow bureau last month after Russia shut the outlet's local operations to punish Germany for banning a service of a Russian state TV network.

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Responding to Ofcom's decision, RT's deputy editor-in-chief Anna Belkina said the regulator had a "facade of independence" but was "nothing more than a tool of government, bending to its media-suppressing will".

She added it had stated "purely political reasons tied directly to the situation in Ukraine" for its decision, which "robbed the UK public of access to information".

RT, which launched its dedicated UK channel in 2014, has been consistently accused of parroting Russian government propaganda.

British politicians and other public figures have faced criticism for appearing on the network.

Scotland's former first minister Alex Salmond announced last month he was suspending his show on RT after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.

At the same time, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament that Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries had asked Ofcom to review the channel's broadcasting licence.

In a letter to the regulator, she urged the agency to take "timely and transparent" action against RT, which she warned seeks to spread "harmful disinformation".

Detailing its decision, Ofcom said it had weighed various factors, including the network's relationship with the Russian government.

It added the probe "recognised that RT is funded by the Russian state, which has recently invaded a neighbouring sovereign country".

Ofcom also noted new laws in Russia imposed since the invasion of Ukraine "effectively criminalise any independent journalism that departs from the Russian state's own news narrative".

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