Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has judged TV station Russia Today to be guilty of biased reporting, and has warned it will face tough sanctions following any future failures to provide impartiality.
Russia Today, which is funded by the Russian federal government, failed to provide balanced reporting on the on the Ukraine crisis in March, according to Ofcom.
The regulator said that “any further breaches in due impartiality laws may result in further regulatory action, including consideration of a statutory sanction” on licensee TV Novosti.
A statutory sanction could potentially include a fine or even a revocation of licence.
Ofcom’s investigation centred on four broadcasts made on March 1, 3, 5 and 6 earlier this year after it received complaints objecting to critical references being made about the then interim Ukrainian government.
RT’s guests and presenters had made many critical comments of the interim Ukrainian government across the broadcasts but Ofcom said the Ukrainian government's’ viewpoint had not been adequately reflected.
Ofcom found “one brief” example of the view of the Ukrainian government being represented but said this was not “sufficient to balance the many other viewpoints within these news bulletins criticising (some seriously so), or in opposition to, the interim Ukrainian Government and its policies and actions.”
In response, TV Novosti argued that RT “treats the issue of due impartiality with the utmost seriousness”, and that its aims include “'challenging established views so as to support and stimulate well-informed debate' and 'promoting alternative views and new perspectives.'”
However, Ofcom found TV Novosti to be in breach of rules 5.1, 5.11 and 5.12 of the 2003 Communications Act.
The rules set out an obligation to report news with due impartiality, and to provide an appropriate wide range of significant views on matters of political controversy.
Ofcom’s final ruling stated:
We recognise that TV Novosti, providing a service with a Russian background, will want to present the news from a Russian perspective.However, all news must be presented with due impartiality: that is with impartiality adequate or appropriate to the subject and nature of the programme.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.
According to an Ofcom report published in June, the proportion of UK adults who used RT for their news halved in 2014 from two to one per cent.