Russia report: Labour calls for review of news agency licence

Russia report: Labour calls for review of news agency licence

Russia Today van Image copyright Getty Images

Labour has urged Ofcom to review the licence of Russian news agency RT in the light of "troubling revelations" in the Russia report, published this week.

The Intelligence and Security Committee report said there was evidence of "serious distortions" in RT coverage.

In a letter to the media regulator, shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens also pointed to a court ruling which said RT's reporting had caused "harm".

RT suggested Labour were putting "political pressure" on Ofcom.

The broadcaster's deputy editor-in-chief Anna Belkina said the regulator was "supposed to be an entirely independent regulator".

Writing to the chief executive of Ofcom Melanie Dawes, Ms Stevens said the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report "spells out the role that RT plays in the spread of disinformation and attempts at broader political influence overseas, by Russia".

She asked Ofcom to "urgently" review RT's licence.

Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, Ms Stevens said Labour was "committed to a free press and media plurality, but RT is the opposite of that". She added that the company had breached Ofcom's code more than 20 times since it began airing in the UK.

Ms Belkina said the regulator had not found any issues with their broadcasting in more than two years.

RT, formally known as Russia Today, began broadcasting internationally in 2005 promising a "more balanced picture" of Russia.

The Russian state-owned news agency provides services in English, Arabic and Spanish and is available in more than 100 countries.

'Actual and potential harm'

In 2018 Ofcom fined the network £200,000 for breaching TV impartiality rules in seven programmes discussing the Salisbury Novichok attacks.

The regulator said RT had failed to give due weight to a wide range of voices on a matter of political controversy and called the breaches "a serious failure of compliance".

RT attempted to challenge the fine at the High Court arguing the penalty was "a disproportionate interference with RT's right to freedom of expression".

However their case was dismissed with Lord Justice Dingemans ruling that there was "both actual and potential harm" in the broadcaster's coverage.

Labour's letter to Ofcom comes in the week a long-delayed report on Russian activity in the UK was published.

The Intelligence and Security Committee said the UK was "clearly a target" for disinformation campaigns and suggested there was evidence of "serious distortions in the coverage provided by Russian state-owned international broadcasters such as RT".

The group of MPs accused the government of failing to sufficiently defend democratic discourse in the UK, arguing that it had become a "hot potato", which no one organisation or department wanted to take the lead in tackling.

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Media captionKeir Starmer questions Boris Johnson on the Russia report in parliament

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer raised the issue of RT's licence at prime minister's questions on Wednesday, asking Boris Johnson if it should be reviewed.

In response the prime minister accused Sir Keir of failing to protest when former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared on Russia Today.

Sir Keir replied that none of the Labour front bench had appeared on RT since he became leader.

Meanwhile Conservative former Scottish Secretary David Mundell criticised ex-SNP leader Alex Salmond's decision to host a show on the network as "absolutely shameful" and called on more SNP representatives to condemn him for the move.

A spokesman for the SNP said party leader Nicola Sturgeon had "made her views clear".

Responding to Mr Salmond's programme in 2017, Ms Sturgeon said she would have advised against RT, "the choice of channel would not have been my choice", she said at the time.

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