Broadcaster Russia Today could be forced off UK TV over spy poisoning crisis
March 13, 2018 | 9:56 PM
by Reuters
A police officer stands at a cordon placed around a payment machine covered by a tent in a supermarket car park near to where former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned in Salisbury, Britain, March 13, 2018. Photo - Reuters/Henry Nicholls

London: Britain's media regulator said Russia Today could lose its licence to broadcast in the UK if Prime Minister Theresa May's government determines that Moscow was behind a chemical attack on a former Russian double agent in England this month.

As the crisis in relations between London and Moscow escalated over the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman warned that not a single British media outlet would work in Russia if its state-owned network was banned in Britain. Russia Today, or RT, is a round-the-clock news network that is funded by Vladimir Putin's government to broadcast news with an edge for viewers who want to "question more".

Some British lawmakers have said it should be blocked after the poisoning. Ofcom, which enforces the broadcasting code in Britain, has an ongoing duty to check that holders of licences 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."

Available in more than 100 countries, RT says it covers stories overlooked by the mainstream media and provides alternative perspectives on current affairs, including giving a Russian viewpoint.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry, was quoted by the state-run RIA news agency as saying: "Not a single British media outlet will work in our country if they shut down Russia Today (RT)".

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 licences after that. In a letter to ANO TV Novosti, the holder of RT's UK broadcast licences, 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.

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