Monday 20 August 2018

Kremlin-backed TV channel sparks new Ofcom investigations

The regulator said it was investigating ‘the due impartiality of news and current affairs programmes on the RT news channel’, formerly Russia Today.

Soldiers during an operation to remove a contaminated police car from the Accident and Emergency entrance at Salisbury District Hospital in Wiltshire (Corporal Pete Brown/British Army)
Soldiers during an operation to remove a contaminated police car from the Accident and Emergency entrance at Salisbury District Hospital in Wiltshire (Corporal Pete Brown/British Army)

By Sherna Noah, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has opened seven new investigations, following the Salisbury poisoning case, into a Kremlin-backed TV channel.

The regulator said that it was investigating “the due impartiality of news and current affairs programmes on the RT news channel”, formerly Russia Today.

It said that since the Salisbury poisoning case, it has “observed a significant increase in the number of programmes” on the channel that should be investigated.

“Until recently, TV Novosti’s overall compliance record has not been materially out of line with other broadcasters,” Ofcom said of the company that broadcasts RT.

“However, since the events in Salisbury, we have observed a significant increase in the number of programmes on the RT service that warrant investigation as potential breaches of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

“We will announce the outcome of these investigations as soon as possible,” it said.

The broadcasts all relate to the Salisbury incident or the chemical weapons attack in Syria and subsequent military action.

Two of the investigations are into a programme called Sputnik, hosted by George Galloway.

Ofcom previously announced it would consider whether the TV channel should broadcast in the UK if Russian involvement was proven in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

And MPs voiced concern in the House of Commons about the Russian news channel.

The regulator previously said it had written to RT to explain that evidence of unlawful state interference would affect whether it was deemed “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting licence.

Prime Minister Theresa May previously faced repeated calls for the Government to take action against RT in the Commons.

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?”

The investigations form part of an Ofcom update, published on Wednesday, into the licences held by TV Novosti.

The regulator said: “In relation to our fit and proper duty, we will consider all relevant new evidence, including the outcome of these investigations and the future conduct of the licensee.”

RT said in a statement: “We are pleased to see that Ofcom has acknowledged RT’s compliance record has been in line with other broadcasters – putting to bed any of the salacious political statements and challenges made against our channel.

“Our editorial approach has not changed since the events in Salisbury, and we will be directly addressing this matter with the regulator.”

Ofcom also confirmed it is investigating “audience tweets” in The Alex Salmond Show on RT, which it said it had “provisionally found were not from audience members”.

The watchdog is examining the first episode of the former Scottish first minister’s show to discover whether it broke accuracy rules.

A spokesman for Slàinte Media, which makes the programme, said: “Ofcom are still in the process of investigating a single complaint about “viewers” tweets in the very first edition of The Alex Salmond show from last November.

“However, it has never been Slainte Media’s contention that the tweets, emails or messages from the first show were from viewers or audience members of that first show given, by definition, the very first edition of a pre-recorded show (unlike every single Alex Salmond Show since that time) could not possibly present any messages or reaction from those viewers. This point is not in dispute.

“There have been no complaints about the content of any show since. Until Ofcom complete their procedures their rules prevent us from disclosing further details.”

Press Association

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