A show hosted by George Galloway on Russian media that sought to deflect blame for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal away from the Kremlin, has been ruled in breach of UK broadcasting rules.
The Sputnik show, aired on RT on 17 March, is just one of seven that regulator Ofcom has said failed to preserve due impartiality over a six-week period earlier this year.
During the 25-minute broadcast, Galloway alongside his wife, Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, interviewed former Kremlin advisor, Alexander Nekrassov. All three suggested how unlikely it was that Russian President Vladimir Putin would order the assassination of Skripal.
Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by a deadly military-grade nerve agent in March. Extensive evidence has been presented of the identities, military records and links to the Russian government of the two suspects in the Skripal affair, and European arrest warrants have been issued.
In one section, Galloway said:
“So President Putin is such a genius that just days before his Presidential election and just 100 days before Russia hosts the World Cup, he tries to kill two Russians, one of whom lives in Moscow and could have been strangled there for nothing with her own scarf; the other of whom could have been killed in a Russian prison or at any time since or later, using a weapon known to have been invented by Russia, in England, in public, in broad daylight, for no purpose yet even speculated upon. Pure genius”
Ofcom guidelines dictate that:
“In dealing with matters of major political and industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy an appropriately wide range of significant views must be included and given due weight in each programme or in clearly linked and timely programmes.
“Views and facts must not be mispresented.”
In its ruling, Ofcom said the seven breaches “represent a serious failure of compliance with our broadcasting rules”.
It added: “Our investigations found that RT failed to maintain due impartiality in seven news and current affairs programmes over a six-week period.
“We have told RT that we are minded to consider imposing a statutory sanction for these breaches. The broadcaster now has the opportunity to make representations to us, which we will consider before proceeding further.”
When defending the broadcasts, RT effectively argued it should not be seen as impartial because its viewers know it is “avowedly Russian”.
It said: “RT has a relatively small UK audience and is avowedly Russian and broadcasting an alternative viewpoint.
“Audiences will not be ambushed by views aired on RT, and will not lack the context in which to evaluate them. RT is not a British broadcaster. Audiences do not expect its broadcasts to resemble those of British national broadcasters. Viewers turn to RT with the expectation that they will receive a Russian viewpoint.”
Galloway has long been a critic of the UK government whilst consistently praising and defending Putin, once calling him the “most effective leader in the world today”.
In 2014 it was revealed Galloway, whilst still serving as an MP, had earned £65,000 in just six months from his appearances on dubious state-run news channels such as Kremlin-backed RT and from LBP TV, a channel run out of the offices of Press TV, an Iranian channel which is now banned by Ofcom.
The shows found to be in breach of rules by Ofcom are:
- Sputnik, RT, 17 March 2018, 19:30;
- News, RT, 18 March 2018, 08:00;
- 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; and
- News, RT, 26 April 2018, 08:00.
Three other shows were found not in breach of due impartiality rules.
Ofcom recently found that an edition of The Alex Salmond Show on the channel breached broadcasting rules for presenting messages as having come from viewers when they were from production staff.
RT said in a statement on Thursday: “RT is extremely disappointed by Ofcom’s conclusions in what were almost all self-initiated investigations into RT by the regulator. We operate under rules outlined by the regulator, and always strive to abide by them.
“It appears Ofcom has failed to fully take on-board what we said in response to its investigations and, in particular, has not paid due regard to the rights of a broadcaster and the audience. We are reviewing the findings Ofcom has put forward and will decide shortly the nature of our next steps.”
DCMS Secretary of State Jeremy Wright said: ”RT’s mask as an impartial news provider is clearly slipping. We know some foreign regimes will use any vehicle at their disposal to sow discord in the West.
“It is vital that as a society we remain vigilant to the spread of harmful disinformation and Ofcom has strong powers to tackle it where it occurs in broadcast news.”