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Ofcom asked to review operation of Kremlin-backed news channel Russia Today

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the broadcaster was part of Russia’s disinformation campaign.

23 February 2022

Ofcom has been told by the Culture Secretary to review the operation of the Kremlin-backed Russia Today (RT) news channel in the UK.

Writing to the regulator, Nadine Dorries said RT was “demonstrably part of Russia’s global disinformation campaign”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed in the Commons that Ms Dorries had taken the step.

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”.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London. (House of Commons/PA)

However, Tory MP for High Peak Robert Largan said he would be “cautious” about banning the channel.

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, Ms 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.

She 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”.

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.

“It remains essential that Ofcom keeps the situation very carefully under review in such sensitive times and takes action where necessary.”

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News: “I think it is certainly true that (RT) is spouting propaganda on behalf of the Kremlin. One of the things the Kremlin does is use disinformation to try and sow discord in the West, and Russia Today is clearly part of that.

“It is an independent decision of Ofcom about licensing broadcasters.”

Alba Party annual conference
Alex Salmond delivers his leaders speech during the first annual conference for the Alba Party. (Jane Barlow/PA)

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.”

After Prime Minister’s Questions, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford asked whether Mr Johnson would correct comments he made over former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who has been under pressure over his show on RT.

Mr Salmond is no longer an SNP member but Mr Johnson, in response to Mr Blackford’s criticism of the UK’s sanctions against the Kremlin, said his “indignation is, I’m afraid, a bit much coming from somebody whose very own Alex Salmond is a leading presenter on… as far as I know… on Russia Today, which the Leader of the Opposition has just called on this country to ban”.

Raising a point of order, Mr Blackford said: “Alex Salmond has got nothing to do with the Scottish National Party.”

He added: “The SNP has made it quite clear that no parliamentarian is permitted to appear on RT.”

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