The UK’s communications watchdog said that, since the events in Salisbury, there has been a “significant increase” in the number of programmes on the RT service that “warrant investigation” as potential breaches of the Ofcom broadcasting code.
The programmes on RT, formerly known as Russia Today, which is owned by TV Novosti, include a show hosted by former MP George Galloway.
Ofcom said in its report that, as TV Novosti is financed by the Russian Federation, it considers the organisation to be “ultimately controlled” by the Kremlin.
Ofcom said that, until recently, TV Novosti’s “overall compliance record has not been materially out of line with other broadcasters”.
But this had changed after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned last month with Novichok, a military grade nerve agent developed by Russia.
The Government has said that its analysis by military experts at Porton Down laboratory showed they were affected by Novichok.
Last week the international chemical weapons watchdog backed Britain’s findings on the type of chemical used in the attack, but the Kremlin disputes the claims.
The Ofcom report states:
We have today opened seven new investigations into the due impartiality of RT news and current affairs programmes. In accordance with our normal procedures, we will make the outcome of these investigations public as soon as possible. Until recently, TV Novosti’s overall compliance record had not been materially out of line with other broadcasters. However, since the events in Salisbury, we have observed a significant increase in the number of programmes on the RT service that we consider warrant investigation as potential breaches of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. In relation to our fit and proper duty, we will consider all relevant new evidence, including the outcome of these investigations and the future conduct of the licensee.
The following programmes are under investigation:
Two episodes of Galloway’s show Sputnik are being investigated, as are two news programmes.
World’s Apart With Oksana Boyko will be looked into, as will two episodes of RT’s flagship programme Crosstalk, hosted by Peter Lavelle.
Ofcom said that RT has an average audience of 3,400 viewers at any given point during the day and an average weekly reach of 540,000 adults.
Following the nerve agent attack, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that Labour MPs should no longer appear on RT.
When asked just days after the poisoning whether he would stop appearing on RT, the Labour MP said: “I think that’s right now and that’s what I’ll be doing... because what we’re seeing from Russia Today at times goes beyond objective journalism.”
He added: “I can understand why people have [appeared on RT] up until now because we have treated it like every other television station. We tried to be fair with them and as long as they abide by journalistic standards that are objective that’s fine but it looks as if they have gone beyond that line, so yes, we will have that discussion.”
A spokesperson for RT said in a statement: “We are pleased to see that Ofcom has acknowledged RT’s compliance record has been in line with other broadcasters – putting to bed any of the salacious political statements and challenges made against our channel.
“Our editorial approach has not changed since the events in Salisbury, and we will be directly addressing this matter with the regulator.”