LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s media regulator Ofcom said Russian broadcaster RT could lose its UK license if Theresa May’s government determines that Moscow was behind the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in England this month.
RT, or Russia Today, is a round-the-clock news network that is funded by Vladimir Putin’s government. With tensions growing between London and Moscow over the attack on Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, some lawmakers have said RT should be blocked in Britain.
Ofcom, which enforces the broadcasting code in Britain, has an ongoing duty to check that holders of licenses are “fit and proper”. It said on Tuesday any ruling that Russia had acted unlawfully against Britain over the poisoning would be taken into consideration when assessing the network.
RT, which runs eight TV channels including RT UK broadcast from London, said it disagreed with the position taken by Ofcom.
“Our broadcasting has in no way changed this week from any other week and continues to adhere to all standards,” it said in a statement.
“By linking RT to unrelated matters, Ofcom is conflating its role as a broadcasting regulator with matters of state.”
RT says it broadcasts news with an edge for viewers who want to “question more”. Available in more than 100 countries, it says it covers stories overlooked by the mainstream media and provides alternative perspectives on current affairs, including giving a Russian viewpoint.
Britain has given Putin until midnight on Tuesday to explain how a nerve agent developed by the former Soviet Union was used to strike down the father and daughter.
May will brief parliament on the situation on Wednesday and Ofcom said it would consider the implications for RT’s broadcast licenses after that.
In a letter to ANO TV Novosti, the holder of RT’s UK broadcast licenses, Ofcom said it would carry out an independent “fit and proper” assessment and would write to RT again shortly to set out the details of the process.
“This letter explained that, should the UK investigating authorities determine that there was an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the UK, we would consider this relevant to our ongoing duty to be satisfied that RT is fit and proper,” Ofcom said.
(Reporting by Kate Holton and Paul Sandle; editing by Stephen Addison)