Following a ruling by UK media regulator Ofcom about programming on the English-language international broadcaster RT, the Moscow-based channel is to seek a judicial review. A statement by the broadcaster said: “Ofcom investigated ten RT programmes, and decided that seven were in breach; we firmly believe that none were [sic] in breach. RT is left with no choice other than to seek judicial review of the matter.”
Ofcom published the findings of its investigations on 20 December 2018, covering programmes broadcast in the aftermath of the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in early 2018. Ofcom’s report said:
This document sets out Ofcom’s Decisions in relation to the above ten programmes, which were broadcast on RT over a period of approximately seven weeks between 17 March 2018 and 4 May 2018, in the wake of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March 2018.
The licence for the RT service is held by Autonomous Non-profit Organisation TV-Novosti (“TV Novosti” or “the Licensee”). Ofcom was alerted to these programmes by a combination of complaints from viewers and Ofcom’s own monitoring.
Ofcom considered that the programmes raised issues warranting investigation under the due impartiality rules set out in Section Five of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code (“the Code”). As required under our published procedures, we wrote to the Licensee on 18 April 2018 and 14 May 2018, requesting its comments under the relevant rules of the Code.
TV Novosti provided its written representations on 6 and 20 June 2018. Ofcom prepared Preliminary Views in relation to each of the ten programmes, which we sent to the Licensee on 13 September 2018. The Licensee provided its written representations on 22 November 2018 and its oral representations on 5 December 2018.
In accordance with our published procedures, having watched all the programmes and taken careful account of all the relevant information, including the individual facts of each case and the various representations made by TV Novosti, Ofcom has decided that the following programmes are in breach of the Code for the reasons set out in full in each corresponding decision:
• Sputnik, RT, 17 March 2018, 19:30;
• Sputnik, RT, 7 April 2018, 19:30;
• Crosstalk, RT, 13 April 2018, 20:30;
• Crosstalk, RT, 16 April 2018, 20:30;
• Crosstalk, RT, 20 April 2018, 08:30;
• News, RT, 18 March 2018, 08:00; and
• News, RT, 26 April 2018, 08:00.
In addition, and for the reasons set out in full in each case, we have decided that the following three programmes are not in breach of the Code:
• Worlds Apart, RT, 1 April 2018, 23:30;
• News, RT, 30 March 2018, 18:00; and
• News, RT, 4 May 2018, 08:00.
At the Preliminary View stage, Ofcom considered that one (News, 30 March 2018) of the ten programmes was not in breach of Section Five of the Code. However, following careful consideration of the Licensee’s written and oral representations, we decided that a further two programmes (Worlds Apart, 1 April 2018 and News, 4 May 2018) were also not in breach of Section Five of the Code.
RT’s statement continues:
“Ofcom required that RT devote yet more of its time to presenting the same mainstream viewpoints of other broadcasters, instead of delivering the alternative perspectives our viewers have come to rely on. These alternative viewpoints are essential to a well-informed public debate.
“In doing so, the regulator breached a key right of broadcasters, and more importantly of audiences. We are now placing the matter in the hands of the courts.”