Freeview can now remove placeholders for the Russian news channel, which has been off the air since earlier this month.
Ofcom has today revoked RT’s licence to broadcast in the UK, with immediate effect. However the move by the UK regulator has become a legal technicality after a drawn out investigation.
The news channel has been unable to broadcast in the UK since the beginning of the month after EU sanctions resulted in feeds of the channel supplied to UK platform operators being turned off.
Satellite operators, uplink providers and others in the distribution chain based in EU countries were ordered to stop passing through the channel’s signal. EU sanctions specificially also included the UK version of the channel, which was distributed by a Luxembourg-owned satellite used for Sky UK and Freesat.
Not ‘fit and proper’ to hold licence
Ofcom revoked the licence on the basis that it did not consider RT’s licensee, ANO TV Novosti, fit and proper to hold a UK broadcast licence.
Today’s decision comes amid 29 ongoing investigations by Ofcom into the due impartiality of RT’s news and current affairs coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In this context, Ofcom also launched a separate investigation to determine whether ANO TV Novosti is fit and proper to retain its licence to broadcast.
This investigation has taken account of a number of factors, including RT’s relationship with the Russian Federation. It has recognised that RT is funded by the Russian state, which has recently invaded a neighbouring sovereign country. Ofcom also noted new laws in Russia which effectively criminalise any independent journalism that departs from the Russian state’s own news narrative, in particular in relation to the invasion of Ukraine. As a result, Ofcom considered it appeared impossible for RT to comply with UK due impartiality rules.
Why did RT remain listed on Freeview?
Since RT’s feeds were taken off air as a result of EU sanctions, Freeview continued to list the channel.
On Freeview, viewers attempting to access RT SD or HD were greeted by a message saying the channel was “unavailable”.
Freeview channel listing rules gives broadcasters a grace period if they can’t broadcast for a temporary period. Section 9 of the rules allows a broadcaster up to 12 weeks before they lose their channel slot. Technically, RT may have tried to find an alternative EU-free way of delivering a feed to Freeview during this time.
Now that Ofcom has revoked the licence, section 10 of the rules comes into play. RT can now be removed from the EPG more quickly.
Within 4 hours of Ofcom’s announcement, technical changes to remove the Freeview listing had begun.
Sky has no such grace periods. As soon as RT was unable to supply a signal, it was removed from the channel list.
The whole episode shows the ultimate control the EU has over which channels are able to reach the UK. Especially as Sky and Freesat rely on an EU-based satellite operator. And since last year, the UK no longer has direct influence over such decisions.