Russian news channel RT fined by Ofcom for breaching impartiality rules

PUBLISHED: 11:33 26 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:38 26 July 2019

George Galloway, who hosted one of the RT programmes found to be in breach of Ofcom rules. Picture: Ken Mears

George Galloway, who hosted one of the RT programmes found to be in breach of Ofcom rules. Picture: Ken Mears

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Ofcom has fined Russian news channel RT for a "serious breach" of impartiality rules in seven of its news and current affairs programmes.

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The broadcasting watchdog fined the channel £200,000 for seven programmes that aired between March and May 2018. The programmes - editions of Sputnik, Crosstalk, and RT News - were broadcast in the wake of the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury and attracted several public complaints.

The programmes scrutinised by Ofcom handled issues such as the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, US military decisions on Syria, the Ukrainian government's position on Nazism.

Ofcom rules say that programmes dealing with major political controversies should have particularly high standards of due accuracy and impartiality, and must include an appropriately broad range of viewpoints.

The broadcasting regulator said that RT's breaches represented serious and repeated failures of compliance with rules, and that they were particularly concerned by the frequency of its rule-breaking over a relatively short period of time.

One of the programmes found to be in breach included discussions of Brexit, such as a theory that the Skripal poisonings were a "badly-prepared provocation" that benefitted the political worldview of Remainers. Ofcom found that in the discussion, some opinions had been presented as fact, and the range of viewpoints presented on the topic was too narrow.

Broadcast on March 17 and presented by former MP George Galloway with his wife Gayatri, the show hosted former Russian secret service officer Alexander Nekrassov.

Nekrassov dismissed the Skripal poisoning as a "badly-prepared provocation".

The official position of the UK government is that Russia was responsible for the attack, although the Russian government denies this.

As part of his argument, Nekrassov went on to insinuate that it is in the interest of Remainers to "tarnish Russia" with an accusation of responsibility for the attacks. "Brexit was presented by the Remainers as something that Russia helped to achieve," he said. "So, tarnishing Russia, tarnishes Brexit automatically - maybe not directly but indirectly. This whole attack on Russia is an attack on Brexit because Russia supposedly was the main instigator."

Galloway, who leads the eurosceptic Respect party, egged him on in this theory and several others related to the poisoning.

RT is a global news and current affairs channel funded by the Federal Agency for Press and Media Communications of the Russian Federation. Made for UK audiences, it says its mission is "to make available an alternative pointof view on world events, especially Russia-related ones".

An Ofcom spokeswoman said: "RT's failings were a serious breach of our due impartiality rules, which protect public trust in news and other programmes."

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