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Kremlin-backed RT brands call for Ofcom review ‘hypocritical’ in swipe at BBC

Culure Secretary Nadine Dorries asked Ofcom to review the operation of the channel.

23 February 2022

News channel RT has suggested that Ofcom would need to look at the BBC too if the regulator is to take the Kremlin-backed broadcaster to task over “state sponsorship”.

Ofcom has been told by the Culture Secretary to review the operation of RT – previously known as Russia Today – which she said was “demonstrably part of Russia’s global disinformation campaign”.

But RT has responded, accusing the Government of a “hypocritical” stance after ministers criticised China’s decision to ban the BBC World Service last year.

It comes after Tory MP for High Peak Robert Largan warned that he would be “cautious” about banning RT due to potential reprisals against the BBC.

He said on Twitter: “Putin would respond by banning the BBC in Russia, which actually cuts through his propaganda to millions.”

He suggested RT was mostly ignored by those in the UK.

In her letter to Ofcom, Nadine Dorries said certain states sought to “exploit and undermine” the UK’s media landscape.

She said RT’s editor-in-chief had “made clear in the past” that the station supported the Kremlin’s aims, by calling the broadcaster an “information weapon” of the Russian state.

Ms Dorries said: “It is essential that the UK looks to limit Russia’s ability to spread their propaganda at home.

“I have concerns that broadcasters such as RT, whom Ofcom have found to have repeatedly breached the Broadcasting Code in the past, will also look to spread harmful disinformation about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine here in the UK.”

She said this was “something RT has previously done in its biased reporting of the Salisbury poisonings and the conflict in Syria”.

Ukraine – Russian tensions
The letter sent by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to Ofcom to review the operation of the RT news channel in the UK (DCMS/PA)

Ms Dorries said that although it was a matter for Ofcom to rule on, due to the regulator’s independence, she welcomed comments suggesting complaints were being taken seriously, and said: “I call on you to ensure your actions are timely and transparent to reassure the British public.”

In a response, Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes told Ms Dorries the regulator had “already stepped up our oversight of coverage of these events by broadcasters in the UK”.

She said while broadcasters can cover issues from a “particular perspective” as long as balance is achieved, that “it would not be acceptable for any of our licensees to broadcast one-sided propaganda”.

The move was branded “hypocritical” by RT reporter Shadia Edwards-Dashti.

Speaking on the news channel, she said it was “simply not good enough for the Government” that Ofcom was keeping an eye on RT and instead “the Government wants to see this channel taken off air”.

She said it was a “slippery slope, specifically about freedom of speech”, and added: “Is this an issue of state sponsorship? Because if it is an issue of state sponsorship, then we have to look at the BBC – that too is sponsored by the state.”

She said: “Just to mention, last year when China banned the BBC World Service, that was early last year in 2021, the UK Government slammed that move as an unacceptable curtailing of media freedom.

“They were the headlines at the time, so it does seem somewhat hypocritical at this point.”

Downing Street said Ofcom had been asked to keep a “watchful eye” on RT.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was Ofcom’s role to regulate the media and “that’s not something we would want to see politicians decide”.

Asked whether Boris Johnson would advise his father not to appear again on the channel, the spokesman said: “Obviously that’s a matter for individuals who appear to make that decision.”

In the Commons, in response to a call from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for RT to be taken to task, Mr Johnson said: “We live in a democracy, Mr Speaker, and we live in a country that believes in free speech and I think it’s important that we should leave it up to Ofcom rather than to politicians to decide which media organisations to ban.

“That’s what Russia does.”

Sir Keir said RT was President Vladimir Putin’s “personal propaganda tool” which spread “lies and disinformation”, and added: “I can see no reason why it should be allowed to continue to broadcast in this country.”

Sir Keir said he was “very glad to hear that that review is now happening”.

A Labour spokesperson later said it had been the party’s policy “for a number of years” that their MPs did not appear on the channel, and any that did “certainly have never done so supported by the Labour Party or facilitated by the Labour press office or anything like that”.

Asked if a “quiet word” was had with any Labour MPs who did appear, he said: “I think it depends on the individual.”

He added: “I think there’s a pretty clear view on the position towards Russia Today and you’ve seen other countries like Germany take action on it.”

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News: “I think it is certainly true that (RT) is spouting propaganda on behalf of the Kremlin.”

In response to Sir Keir’s accusations on Tuesday, RT deputy editor-in-chief Anna Belkina said: “Always a joy to see Western and particularly British politicians finally drop their hypocritical disguise in favour of open interference in institutions they touted as supposedly totally independent and wholly free from political pressure and interference.”

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