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Tue, 19 January 2021

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Labour demands Ofcom review of Russia Today after watchdog report on Kremlin influence

Labour demands Ofcom review of Russia Today after watchdog report on Kremlin influence

Russia Today advertising is displayed on public transport. (PA)

3 min read

Labour are calling on broadcast regulator Ofcom to review Russia Today’s license in the wake of a hard-hitting parliamentary report on the Kremlin’s influence in the UK.

Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens has written to Ofcom chief Melanie Dawes to accuse the channel of spreading “disinformation". 

And she is demanding a meeting with the regulator to set out Labour’s “concerns” about the broadcaster following the wide-ranging Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russia. RT branded the move “unusual and improper”.

The move comes after Boris Johnson took a PMQs swipe at Labour, whose former leader Jeremy Corbyn has in the past praised RT as “more objective” in its coverage and appeared as a guest while he was a backbench MP. 

The ISC’s report said both state-owned RT and broadcaster Sputnik had displayed “serious distortions” and a “preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU” stories in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum.

In her letter to the Ofcom boss, Ms Stevens says: “I am writing to you in light of the troubling revelations in the Russia report about the role of RT and Sputnik in spreading Kremlin-backed disinformation in the UK.” 

Referring to a £200,000 fine previously levied by Ofcom against the station, the Labour frontbencher adds: “When RT lost its High Court challenge to Ofcom’s fine, Lord Justice Dingemans said in his ruling that biased reporting of the Novichok attack in Salisbury at the hands of the Russian state caused ‘actual and potential harm’.

“That damning judgment has now been reinforced by the long-delayed ISC report that exposes the role RT plays in the much wider issue with of Russian influence.”

Ms Stevens said: “I am writing to request that Ofcom urgently reviews RT’s licence in light of this report and to request a meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss my concerns about the broadcaster. 

Hitting back in its own reporting on the move, RT said: “Ofcom is a supposedly independent regulatory agency tasked with ensuring impartial reporting by media outlets operating in the UK, and this kind of pressure from a political party is highly unusual and improper.”

The decision to target RT comes after a clash this week between Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer over the station.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, the Conservative leader said his Labour opposite had failed to challenge Mr Corbyn “for appearing on Russia Today” as a backbench MP.

The Prime Minister said of Sir Keir: “He protested neither against the former Leader of the Opposition’s stance on Salisbury nor against his willingness to take money from Russia Today. The right hon. and learned Gentleman flip-flops from day to day.”

But the Labour leader shot back: “In case the Prime Minister has not noticed, the Labour party is under new management. 

“No frontbencher of this party has appeared on Russia Today since I have been leading this party.”

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