News | Published July 25 2020

Labour calls for review into RT licence

The Labour Party has called upon regulator Ofcom to review the licence of Russian news outlet RT following the publication of the Russia report.

The report compiled by the Intelligence and Security Committee said that there was evidence of “serious distortions in the coverage” of certain events "provided by Russian state-owned broadcasters such as RT".

Labour shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens has penned a letter to the media watchdog calling for a review, saying that the report “spells out the role that RT plays in the spread of disinformation and attempts at broader political influence overseas, by Russia”.

Meanwhile RT has responded by claiming that the party is attempting to put “political pressure” on the regulator, with deputy editor-in-chief Anna Belkina highlighting that Ofcom is meant to function as an “entirely independent” body.

Belkina suggested that Ofcom had not taken any issue with RT’s broadcasting in over two years, while Stevens told the BBC that RT had been found to have breached Ofcom rules on 20 occasions since it began airing.

The network first began broadcasting in 2005, when it was known as Russia Today. The Russian state-owned outlet now airs in over 100 countries.

RT last fell foul of the regulator in 2018 when it was fined £200,000 for breaching impartiality rules in seven of its programmes which discussed the Novichok poisoning incident in Salisbury.

Justifying the move, Ofcom said at the time that RT had failed to give a platform to a wide enough range of voices on a politically controversial issue, which constituted a “serious failure of compliance”.

RT did look to appeal the fine at the High Court having argued that it was a “disproportionate” infringement on its rights to “freedom of expression”. The case was dismissed when it was ruled that there was both “actual and potential harm” in the coverage RT provided.

Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer had raised the prospect of reviewing RT’s licence in the UK during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, to which the PM highlighted Sir Keir’s lack of protest when former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared on the network.

Sir Keir then told the Commons that no member of the Labour front bench had appeared on RT since he assumed leadership of the party.

Meanwhile, there is mounting pressure on former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who has hosted a regular show on the RT network since 2017, to quit the channel.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
July 25 2020

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