Britain’s communications regulator has revoked the licence of Russian state broadcaster RT “with immediate effect” amid investigations of its coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The regulator, Ofcom, said in a statement on Friday that it did not consider RT’s licensee, ANO TV Novosti, to be “fit and proper” to hold a UK broadcast licence.
Ofcom said Friday’s decision followed 29 ongoing investigations into the impartiality of RT’s news and current affairs coverage of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The regulator said it noted new laws in Russia which “effectively criminalise any independent journalism that departs from the Russian state’s own news narrative”, particularly in relation to the invasion of Ukraine.
It added: “We consider that, given these constraints, it appears impossible for RT to comply with the due impartiality rules of our broadcasting code in the circumstances.”
“We have concluded that we cannot be satisfied that RT can be a responsible broadcaster in the current circumstances. Ofcom is therefore revoking RT’s licence to broadcast with immediate effect,” the regulator said.
Ofcom Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes said: “Freedom of expression is something we guard fiercely in this country, and the bar for action on broadcasters is rightly set very high. Following an independent regulatory process, we have today found that RT is not fit and proper to hold a licence in the UK.”
The RT news website is currently still up and running.
The broadcaster reacted by accusing the regulator of being nothing but a tool of the British government.
“Ofcom has shown the UK public, and the regulatory community internationally, that despite a well-constructed facade of independence, it is nothing more than a tool of government, bending to its media-suppressing will,” Anna Belkina, RT’s deputy editor in chief, told Reuters news agency.
“By ignoring RT’s completely clean record of four consecutive years and stating purely political reasons tied directly to the situation in Ukraine and yet completely unassociated to RT’s operations, structure, management or editorial output, Ofcom has falsely judged RT to not be ‘fit and proper’ and in doing so robbed the UK public of access to information,” she said.
“This is a continuation of the madness which is going on in America and Europe – it is anti-Russian madness,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday. “This is yet another step that crudely limits freedom of speech.”
The pro-Kremlin channel has been taken off the air in the UK in recent weeks following the European Union’s action, because satellite companies based in Europe provide the RT feed to British platforms. But Ofcom had not revoked its licence until Friday.
Ofcom has previously fined RT 200,000 pounds ($263,000) for past due impartiality breaches.
The licence ban will prompt fears of reprisals by the Kremlin against British broadcasters still operating in Russia, including the BBC and Sky News.
RT, which launched its dedicated UK channel in 2014, has been consistently accused of parroting Russian government propaganda.
British politicians and other public figures have faced criticism for appearing on the network.
Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond announced last month he was suspending his show on RT after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.
At the same time, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament that Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries had asked Ofcom to review the channel’s broadcasting licence.
In a letter to the regulator, she urged the agency to take “timely and transparent” action against RT, which she warned seeks to spread “harmful disinformation”.