Britain’s media watchdog on Friday fined Russia’s state-funded RT broadcaster £200,000 for “serious failures” in its coverage of last year’s Salisbury nerve agent poisoning and the Syria conflict.
RT immediately denounced the penalty as “astonishing.”
The international broadcaster is seeking a judicial review against the investigation at London’s High Court.
Ofcom said RT failed to follow Britain’s impartiality laws in seven news and current affair programs that aired between March 17 and April 26 of 2018.
The £200,000 ($250,000, 225,000 euro) fine was levied on RT’s parent company TV-Novosti – a non-profit organization founded by Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency.
“Taken together, these breaches represent serious and repeated failures of compliance of our rules,” Ofcom said in a statement.
“The programs were mostly in relation to major matters of political controversy and current public policy – namely the U.K. government’s response to the events in Salsbury, and the Syrians conflict.”
Ofcom initially found RT in breach of Britain’s strict media rules last December.
The global broadcaster – available in English in the United States and Europe as well as Arabic in the Middle East – immediately appealed.
The Russian broadcaster said it was “very wrong” for Ofcom to issue the fine while the case was still under judicial review.
A spokesman told AFP that RT contests “the very legitimacy” of the December breach decision – as well as the size of Friday’s penalty.
“Cases that involved hate speech and incitement to violence have been subject to substantially lower fines,” the RT spokesman said.
“It is astonishing that, in contrast, Ofcom sees RT’s programs … as worthy of greater sanction than programs containing hate speech and incitement to violence.”
Salisbury and Douma
The poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a Soviet-era nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury in March 2018 prompted London to severe diplomatic relations with Moscow.
It also set off the largest-ever wave of diplomatic expulsions between Moscow and Western allies in the runup to the 2018 Russia World Cup.
Moscow denies involvement despite CCTV footage capturing two men U.K. authorities identify as Russian military intelligence officers walking near Skripal’s home on the day of the attack.
Russian-state funded RT has repeatedly mocked UK broadcasting impartiality rules. This Ofcom fine is right and appropriate. The regulator needs to make clear that Kremlin-sponsored propaganda has no place here. https://t.co/CXYZARvItW
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) July 26, 2019
The Skripals fell into comas that lasted days and have since gone into hiding.
The December judgment found that one of RT’s programs “focused overwhelmingly on expressing doubt over the U.K. government’s position that the Russian government bore any responsibility for the (Salisbury) incident.”
Ofcom ruled that RT failed to give “due weight” to “an appropriately wide range of significant views.”
The program on Syria disputed President Bashar al-Assad soldiers’ responsibility for the April 2018 Douma gas attack in which the OPCW global chemical weapons watchdog said more than 40 died.
The Russian foreign ministry and the Kremlin issued no immediate response to Friday’s fine.
The RT spokesman said the broadcaster was “duly considering further legal options.”
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