By John Plunkett, The Guardian, Nov. 10, 2014
Russia Today has been threatened with statutory sanctions by UK media regulator Ofcom after the Kremlin-backed news channel breached broadcasting regulations on impartiality with its coverage of the Ukraine crisis.
Russia Today, or RT, was summoned to a meeting with Ofcom after it was found guilty of breaching the code governing UK broadcasters in a ruling published on Monday. The regulator flagged up four separate reports, all broadcast in March this year, all dealing with the situation in Ukraine.
Ofcom said it recognised that RT, which is funded by the Russian government and launched a UK version last month, would “want to present the news from a Russian perspective”. But it said all news must be presented with “due impartiality … in particular, when reporting on matters of major political controversy”.
It follows three previous breaches of impartiality rules, and Ofcom called for a meeting with the broadcaster to “discuss compliance with regard to its due impartiality”. It said it had put the channel “on notice that any future breaches of the due impartiality rules may result in further regulatory action, including consideration of a statutory sanction”. A statutory sanction may include a fine or, at its most extreme, withdrawal of its broadcasting licence.
An Ofcom spokesperson said: “Ofcom has strict rules to protect audiences. If broadcasters break our rules we take swift, robust action.
“Since RT started broadcasting in the UK nine years ago, Ofcom has recorded breaches of the rules on ten occasions covering various issues, ranging from the amount of advertising, to due impartiality and graphic images.
“We have put RT on notice as a result of this breach and if RT breaches our due impartiality rules again we will consider taking further regulatory action, such as imposing a sanction.”
RT launched a dedicated UK TV channel on 30 October, RT UK with five hours of programmes a day made out of its new London studios. The news channel had previously broadcast its international channel in the UK, to which today’s Ofcom judgement relates.
A key weapon in Vladimir Putin’s efforts to expand Russia’s soft power, RT is expected to receive about £250m from the Russian government next year, up nearly 30% on its funding in 2014.
On a visit to its studios last year the Russian president told staff that he expected it to be “unbiased” but also to “break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams”.
Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, said: “We accept the decision of Ofcom to have held, in effect, that a government’s viewpoint must always be reflected and given due weight when it is criticised in the reporting of major political controversies.
“We look forward to Ofcom applying today’s ruling impartially to all broadcasters reporting on any government, irrespective of its political leaning.
“Broadcasters under UK jurisdiction do not always reflect the viewpoint of governments perceived as politically opposed to European and/or US political establishments.
“This ruling means that this will have to change, at least for those broadcasters regulated by Ofcom, if double standards are to be avoided. We shall continue to abide by the requirements of Ofcom in all RT broadcasts.”
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