Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has slammed Russian state broadcaster RT, describing it as the country’s “weapon of disinformation”.
Addressing an audience in Ethiopia, Hunt launched a searing attack on the channel, formerly known as Russia Today, over its coverage of the Salisbury novichok poisonings last year.
“After the Russian state carried out a chemical attack in the British city of Salisbury last year, the Kremlin came up with over 40 separate narratives to explain that incident,” he said. “Their weapons of disinformation tried to broadcast those narratives to the world.”
The comments, which came in a speech to mark World Press Freedom Day, mark a ramping up of the UK’s rhetoric against the broadcaster.
Regulator Ofcom has previously censured the channel over breaches of impartiality rules and has said it is considering imposing sanctions.
“Channels like RT want their viewers to believe that truth is relative and the facts will always fit the Kremlin’s official narrative,” Hunt said.
“The best defence against those who deliberately sow lies are independent, trusted news outlets,” he added.
But Hunt declined to comment on whether RT should be shut down, saying it was a matter for Ofcom.
Russia has previously rejected allegations of impartiality against RT, and the country’s media regulator has launched a probe into the BBC’s World Service and internet sites in retaliation.
Hunt used the speech to promote the values of a free press, which he said is “quite simply the first secure basis” for global prosperity.
“Media freedom is not a ‘Western’ value, still less a colonial-style imposition, but instead a force for progress from which everyone benefits,” he said.
The foreign secretary has unveiled plans to make media freedom a “priority” for 2019, and has nominated celebrity human rights lawyer Amal Clooney as his special envoy.