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Ofcom: RT in breach of due impartiality rules

July 18, 2022

By Colin Mann

UK broadcast regulator Ofcom has found that RT’s news and current affairs coverage in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine breached due impartiality rules on 29 occasions in four days.

When dealing with major matters such as wars or areas of conflict (in these cases, specifically the ongoing conflict in the Donbas region), all Ofcom licensees must comply with the special impartiality requirements in its Broadcasting Code. These rules require broadcasters to take additional steps to preserve due impartiality – namely by including and giving due weight to a wide range of significant views.

News programmes must be able to report on controversial issues and take a position on those issues, even if that position is highly critical. But due impartiality requirements in broadcasting are particularly important in situations where events are changing quickly and potentially harmful disinformation is available online.

Ofcom launched 29 investigations into RT following complaints from viewers and Ofcom’s own monitoring of the channel. Its investigations looked at the due impartiality of 15 RT News bulletins on February 27th 2022, 12 on March 1st 2022, and one on March 2nd 2022 as well as the documentary Donbass Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow which was repeated across March 1st and 2nd 2022.

In each case, Ofcom found that RT’s coverage failed to preserve due impartiality in relation to the conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Ofcom considers that these breaches were serious and repeated, and it is minded to consider them for the imposition of a statutory sanction.

RT is no longer broadcasting in the UK. On March 18th 2022, Ofcom revoked RT’s broadcast licence on the basis that it did not consider RT’s licensee, ANO TV Novosti, fit and proper to hold it.

Responding to the Ofcom decisions, RT said: “The logic of these decisions mirrors the one guiding their delivery many months after Ofcom’s revocation of RT’s license: it is a trial after a conviction and RT is guilty of being Russian and daring to voice a point of view and show facts unacceptable to the British political and media establishments.”

Regarding the possibility of statutory sanctions, RT said: “We are very curious about how creative Ofcom is going to try to get with these potential sanctions: make RT broadcast their decision on a channel that no longer broadcasts in the UK or Europe? Fine a sanctioned company from which they are forbidden to receive money according to UK law under which they operate? Maybe, even revoke our broadcast license? Let’s get out the popcorn.”

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