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EU and Britain to ban State-backed Russian channels RT and Sputnik

The European Union and Britain have moved to ban State-backed Russian channels RT and Sputnik as Western tension continues to grow over the conflict in Ukraine. The EU announced at the end of last week that it will ban the Russian state-backed channels RT and Sputnik in an unprecedented move against the Russian media.

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, took aim at Russia’s “toxic and harmful disinformation”, stating: “Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union. So we are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe.”

On 23rd February, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries asked Ofcom to review news channel RT’s licence to broadcast in the UK. 

Johnson criticised RT for “peddling” material that is “damaging the truth” and called for Ofcom to look at whether it is “infringing the rules of this country”. Yesterday, reports revealed that the regulator had launched 15 investigations into “due impartiality” of RT news programmes following Johnson’s criticism. 

Separately, the parent company of Facebook, Meta, said it will restrict access to RT and Sputnik on its platforms across the European Union. The company said it had received requests from a number of governments and the EU to take steps in relation to Russian state-controlled media on its platforms.

While the crackdown on the two prominent Russian media outlets has won praise from some, the action has raised concerns about freedom of speech and freedom of information.

Irish Journalist Bryan MacDonald, who works for RT (formerly Russia Today) was among those to question the decision, saying he believed such a move would have implications for freedom of speech. He also said that the action would be “an extraordinary own goal” for the UK, because Russia would respond by shutting down the BBC’s “popular” Russian service.

Others said the decision would only weaken the UK and the EU’s own moral authority. Konstantin Kisin, a Russian-British comedian, podcaster, writer and social commentator who has written frequently on tech censorship, cautioned the British Government against banning Russian propaganda channels in the West.

“We believe in freedom of speech in the West. We don’t compromise on it. That’s what makes us different from the Russian regime,” Kisin said.

A Syrian-British journalist said that the move to ban Russian media outlets including RT only served to “validate” the work of such channels and showed that the West is “desperate to control the narrative”.

“If RT is banned then the beeb [BBC] needs outright dismantling,” one user said, whilst many pointed out the ‘hypocrisy’ of the West talking about Russian censorship yet moving to censor media platforms.

“Add to that every western countries have banned RT and SPUTNIK in order to gag the russian version of events…. Which is against the western idea of free speech itself if there is one,” another tweet read.

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