British media regulator Ofcom announced today its decision to impose a £200,000 fine on RT for what it referred to as serious failures to comply with broadcasting rules. Ofcom’s investigation found that RT “failed to preserve due impartiality” in seven news and current affairs programmes between March 17 and April 26, 2018. In its statement, the regulator voiced concern over the frequency of rule-breaking over a relatively short period of time.
It is worth noting that the fine was not imposed by court order, although the legitimacy of the regulator’s claims against the television network should be ascertained under judicial review. The amount of the fine is also questionable, since it substantially exceeds fines imposed on other media outlets for hate speech and incitement to violence, while RT faces the subjective charge of insufficient impartiality.
Accusations of this kind are even more surprising considering that the national media in the UK regularly distort facts and intentionally mislead without any objections from Ofcom. For example, on July 15, 2019 police in Italy released a report on the detention of Italian extremists. The original statement says that “the Turin headquarters had under their surveillance people connected to extreme right political movements who fought in Donbass against pro-independence activists.” On July 16, the text was corrected to read “had taken part in the armed conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region”. Nevertheless, in their coverage of the report Western news agencies and media outlets, including UK’s Reuters, The Guardian and BBC presented the news story as a raid on radicals who took part in hostilities “alongside Russia-backed separatist forces.”
BBC-2 has recently aired a documentary titled “Russia with Simon Reeve” telling the story of a trip by British journalists to Russia’s Far East, timed to coincide with the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Professional shots of Russian nature and interviews with Russian nationals intermingle with anti-Russian political clichés long used by the British channel and reprehensible statements about alleged “harassment and detentions” of the film crew by Russian law-enforcement agencies. However, the British journalists forgot to mention that the group’s cameraman lacked the proper accreditation required of journalists working on Russian territory. The crew was also fined for unauthorised use of a drone.
Just a few days ago, Will Grant, also a BBC reporter, distorted statements by the Russian President regarding cooperation with Latin America, only to explain later that his misunderstanding of Vladimir Putin’s words was probably the fault of interpreters.
For some reason, Ofcom has not looked into systemic misinformation in the British media.
Once again British authorities are doing all they can to impose restrictions on Russian media in the UK. They have now used financial levers, which is in keeping with the anti-Russia campaign unleashed by Great Britain to date. We view Ofcom’s decision as an act of outright censorship.
We look forward to hearing the legal assessment of the media regulator’s decision from the High Level Panel of Legal Experts that was established recently and is co-chaired by Foreign Office Special Envoy on Media Freedom Amal Clooney. The creation of this panel was announced at the Global Conference to Defend Media Freedom that took place in London on July 10 and 11, 2019, and that RT was barred from.
We will continue to closely monitor these developments, and British media operating in Russia should be ready to face the fallout from official London’s actions.