Ofcom may consider if Kremlin-backed channel fit to broadcast in UK
Theresa May has faced calls for the Government to take action against RT, formerly Russia Today.
Ofcom will consider whether a Kremlin-backed television channel should broadcast in the UK if Russian involvement is proven in the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The regulator said it had written to RT, formerly Russia Today, on Tuesday to explain that evidence of unlawful state interference would affect whether it was deemed “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting licence.
Theresa May faced repeated calls for the Government to take action against RT in the Commons on Monday, after telling MPs it was “highly likely” Russia was behind the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Ofcom said in a statement: “As the independent UK broadcasting regulator, Ofcom has an ongoing duty to be satisfied that broadcast licensees remain fit and proper to hold their licences.
“We have today written to ANO TV Novosti, holder of RT’s UK broadcast licences, which is financed from the budget of the Russian Federation.
“This letter explained that, should the UK investigating authorities determine that there was an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the UK, we would consider this relevant to our ongoing duty to be satisfied that RT is fit and proper.
“The letter to RT said that we would carry out our independent fit and proper assessment on an expedited basis, and we would write to RT again shortly setting out details of our process.”
RT said it disagreed with Ofcom’s position, adding it was “conflating its role as a broadcasting regulator with matters of state”.
I have written to head of Ofcom, asking if it intends to withdraw broadcasting licence from Russia Today, Putin’s voice in Britain. We aren’t so weak as a country that we shd allow fascist lies and propaganda to pour out from the Kremlin while its agents murder on our streets— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) March 13, 2018
MPs had voiced concern about the Russian news channel in the House of Commons, following a statement by Mrs May on the spy poisoning.
Labour former minister Chris Bryant said: “Can we just stop Russia Today just broadcasting its propaganda in this country?”
Labour MP Stephen Doughty added: “On Russia Today, can I urge the Prime Minister to speak with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to look at reviewing Russia Today’s broadcasting licence, and to speak to the House authorities about blocking their broadcasts in this building itself.
“Why should we be watching their propaganda in this Parliament?”
Mrs May replied: “We will look at the response from the Russian state, but I will come to this House at the earliest opportunity to look at the range of measures which could be necessary.
“I think in relation to the House authorities, as you will be aware, that would not be a matter for me but the House authorities.”
Labour peer Lord Adonis also tweeted: “I have written to head of Ofcom, asking if it intends to withdraw broadcasting licence from Russia Today, Putin’s voice in Britain.
“We aren’t so weak as a country that we shd allow fascist lies and propaganda to pour out from the Kremlin while its agents murder on our streets.”
RT said in a statement: “We disagree with the position taken by Ofcom; our broadcasting has in no way changed this week, from any other week and continues to adhere to all standards.
“By linking RT to unrelated matters, Ofcom is conflating its role as a broadcasting regulator with matters of state.
“RT remains a valuable voice in the UK news landscape, covering vital yet neglected stories and voices, including those of the many MPs and other UK public figures who have been shut out of public discourse by the mainstream media.”
Ofcom said it would consider the implications for RT’s broadcast licenses after Mrs May makes a further statement about the Salisbury attack on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister has set a deadline of midnight on Tuesday for the Russians to provide a credible explanation as to why deadly Novichok was used on UK soil.