Adverts for Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT that tell London commuters to watch to “find out who we are planning to hack next” show it is the Russian government’s “mouthpiece”, Labour has said.
Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson called on broadcast regulator Ofcom to investigate RT, formerly known as Russia Today, over the advert running on the bus and Tube network, saying it is “not funny” and “caused significant alarm”.
The advert refers to allegations that Russia used hacking to manipulate the outcomes of elections in the West, including in the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s victory.
“This has caused significant alarm in light of the fact the Russian state has been linked to a series of cyberattacks across the world,” Watson wrote in his letter to Ofcom chief executive Sharon White, seen by HuffPost UK.
“I appreciate the RT advert in question may have been intended as ironic or humorous but it isn’t funny.
“At a time when there are grave international and domestic concerns following hacking by the Russian state, this provocative advert is a tacit admission that RT is the mouthpiece of that state.”
Watson’s intervention comes after Boris Johnson condemned Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, for appearing on the channel for interview, despite the fact many Tories, including his own father, had done the same.
The hacking advert is one of a series of provocative ads running on London buses and on the Tube, in which the channel mocks accusations of bias and cites them as a reason to watch it.
RT has relished the publicity the ads have given it, saying Labour peer Lord Adonis was “triggered” when he said displaying them on London public transport was “very wrong” as RT was “state propaganda”.
The adverts are due to run for four weeks and a Transport for London spokeswoman said they “comply with our advertising policy”.
Ofcom has no oversight of adverts but Watson urged them to investigate as the hacking reference “raise concerns relating the principles of impartiality and editorial independence”.
An Ofcom spokesman said: “We have received Mr Watson’s letter and we’ll respond shortly.”
RT has repeatedly been accused of biased reporting in Russia’s favour, particularly over stories such as Ukraine and Syria.
Ofcom sanctioned the channel in 2015 for a programme that had “little or no counterbalance or objectivity” when it accused the Ukrainian Government of massacring civilians in its fight against Russian-backed rebels.
Though RT says it is editorially independent, it is funded by the Russian government.
Vladimir Putin has said the channel “cannot help but reflect the Russian government’s official position”.
The Advertising Standards Agency told HuffPost it had received a complaint, which accused the advert of being “offensive as it likely to cause fear or distress (by suggesting a foreign power can disrupt a democratic system)”.
A spokesman added it was still being assessed to see whether there was grounds for an investigation.
RT told HuffPost the ad campaign “was fully approved by all UK vendors”.
“We are glad that so many in the UK are engaging with our advertising,” a spokeswoman added.