Kremlin-backed news channel RT (formerly Russia Today) has been threatened with statutory sanctions by UK media regulator Ofcom after being accused of breaching broadcasting regulations for its biased coverage of the Ukraine crisis.
The channel was summoned to a meeting with Ofcom after the watchdog singled out four separate reports in which RT's coverage on the situation in Ukraine breached the Broadcasting Code.
"[RT] had not ensured that it had included an appropriately wide range of significant views [nor given] those views due weight, as required by Rule 5.12 of the Code," Ofcom's report reads. The report from the media watchdog also flagged up instances in which certain RT transmissions failed to "adequately reflect the viewpoint of the interim Ukrainian government".
Acknowledging that RT, "providing a service with a Russian background, will want to present the news from a Russian perspective," Ofcom warned that it must do so in compliance with the Broadcasting Code.
"All news must be presented with due impartiality; that is with impartiality adequate or appropriate to the subject and nature of the programme," the report reads. "In particular, when reporting on matters of major political or industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy in news programmes, broadcasters must ensure that they reflect an appropriately wide range of significant views and give those views due weight."
As a result of the current case, Ofcom warned that it has put RT "on notice that any future breaches of the due impartiality rules may result in further regulatory action, including consideration of a statutory sanction”.
Ofcom added that "there is no requirement on broadcasters to provide an alternative viewpoint on all news stories or issues in the news."
In a statement, Margarita Simonyan, RT's editor-in-chief, said: “We accept the decision of Ofcom to have held, in effect, that a government’s viewpoint must always be reflected and given due weight when it is criticised in the reporting of major political controversies. We look forward to Ofcom applying today's ruling impartially to all broadcasters reporting on any government, irrespective of its political leaning."
"Broadcasters under UK jurisdiction do not always reflect the viewpoint of governments perceived as politically opposed to European and/or US political establishments," Simonyan's statement continues. "This ruling means that this will have to change, at least for those broadcasters regulated by Ofcom, if double standards are to be avoided. We shall continue to abide by the requirements of Ofcom in all RT broadcasts."
RT, whose slogan is "Question more", has pitched itself as an alternative news source to western media channels since its launch in 2005 but is widely criticised as a propaganda mouthpiece for the Kremlin. Earlier this year, two prominent RT reporters — London correspondent Sara Firth and Washington DC bureau anchor Liz Wahl — resigned due to the biased presentation of events in Ukraine and the MH17 crash. Last week, RT launched its first dedicated British news channel, RT UK, which broadcasts local, regional and national stories from the UK in a bid to "challenge dominant power structures in Britain by broadcasting live and original programming with a progressive UK focus", according to RT's website.