RT, the former Russia Today news channel, managed to breach Ofcom regulations four times in a single week back in early March over its allegedly biased coverage of the Ukrainian crisis. Ofcom considered that as news programming, the content in question raised issues warranting investigation under its key rule that: “News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality”.
Ofcom has issued RT with a formal warning, including consideration of a statutory sanction, which usually means a heavy fine.
TV Novosti (the official UK licence holder of the RT channel) argued that it was fair to present news and views from a Russian perspective not least during fast-breaking news coverage. The broadcaster also argued that BBC News had carried a very similar headline during one of its transmissions.
Ofcom, in a 40-page examination and ruling, said that RT is a service that reports the news from a Russian viewpoint. “RT is of course free to do this, provided it complies with the Code”. However, it also found that certain RT transmissions had failed adequately to reflect the viewpoint of the interim Ukrainian Government. “Therefore, the Licensee had not ensured that it had included an appropriately wide range of significant views and give those views due weight, as required by Rule 5.12 of the Code.”
”Ofcom emphasises that there is no requirement on broadcasters to provide an alternative viewpoint on all news stories or issues in the news, or to do so in all individual news items or programmes. It is also legitimate for news on a licensed service to be presented in broad terms from the viewpoint of a particular nation-state. We recognise that TV Novosti, providing a service with a Russian background, will want to present the news from a Russian perspective. However, all news must be presented with due impartiality: that is with impartiality adequate or appropriate to the subject and nature of the programme. In particular, when reporting on matters of major political or industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy in news programmes, broadcasters must ensure that they reflect an appropriately wide range of significant views and give those views due weight. Presenting news stories with due impartiality in news programmes very much depends on editorial discretion being exercised appropriately in all the circumstances.”
Ofcom, in its conclusion, ruled that RT/TV Novosti, had failed to preserve due impartiality as required by Section Five of the Code and the four news bulletins detailed in this finding therefore breached Rules 5.1, 5.11 and 5.12 of the Code.”
“As a result of the current case, we are putting TV Novosti on notice that any future breaches of the due impartiality rules may result in further regulatory action, including consideration of a statutory sanction,” warned Ofcom.
Margarita Simonyan, RT’s Editor-in-Chief, said the broadcaster accepted 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,” she confirmed.
“It has always been, and remains, RT’s goal to deliver insightful, comprehensive and impartial reporting on events around the globe. RT International’s coverage of the Maidan protests and the crisis in Ukraine has been positively recognised by RT’s industry peers and audience. It was nominated for the Monte Carlo Television Festival Award for best 24-hour newscast, and earlier in November received high commendation from the jury of the Association of International Broadcasters (AIB). Britain’s own Express newspaper noted in March that RT ‘has become a favoured destination for those seeking an alternative view’ on the events in Ukraine,” she noted.