The EU says it will ban Moscow-based news channel RT and radio station Sputnik. Meanwhile UK regulator Ofcom launches 15 investigations into RT’s output.
Both services are accused of spreading “toxic and harmful disinformation”. But RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan has already indicated the broadcaster will attempt to circumvent any ban. The broadcaster says events in Ukraine are being used as an excuse to ‘get rid’ of RT.
During the past week, calls have been made to Ofcom to strip RT of its UK broadcast licence. Ofcom confirms it has launches 15 investigations into RT’s news output for failing to adhere to UK broadcasting rules on due impartiality.
The investigations are based on just 14 hours worth of RT’s output, broadcast between 05:00 and 19:00 on Sunday 27th February.
This could result in RT losing its right to broadcast on Freeview, Sky and Freesat. It does not currently broadcast on Virgin Media.
However, an EU ban on RT could affect RT’s ability to broadcast to the UK before then. This depends on whether measures to ban the channel extend to stopping EU-based satellite operators from carrying the channel. RT UK is broadcast on a satellite belonging to Luxembourg-based SES. It’s this feed that is used to include RT on both Sky UK and Freesat channel lists.
Why can’t Sky and Freesat remove RT?
Unless regulatory action stops RT UK, Sky and Freesat are not in a position to automatically remove the channel. This is because both operators are required to be fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory when it comes to listing a channel. For example, as long as RT continues to make payments and meets the minimum requirements for a slot on Sky, it can’t be removed without regulatory intervention.
Why can’t Freeview remove RT?
Similar principles apply to Freeview. Although RT could continue broadcasting terrestrially even if satellite distribution is curtailed by the EU.
RT UK has a separate licence to broadcast on digital terrestrial television (Freeview). This is due to Ofcom’s policy for having two different types of broadcast licence – one for cable, satellite and online services and one for terrestrial TV.
RT will only be removed if it fails to make payments to the multiplex operator, does not meet minimum technical requirements or if Ofcom revokes the licence.
In a separate development, RT’s HD channel on Freeview is carried on a multiplex that is due to close this year. This will also affect other channels using the multiplex COM7, including Quest HD and Freesports. That’s because the frequency assigned to COM7 is being cleared for 5G services. COM7’s frequencies were awarded to EE last year by Ofcom. This would leave RT as a SD-only channel. Unless it is removed by Ofcom before then.