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RT to face Ofcom "fit and proper" test

Ofcom has written to the operators of RT UK, outlining its stance ahead of an expected review of its broadcast licences.

Following a statement issued by the broadcast regulator on Monday evening, Ofcom has confirmed it has written to ANO TV Novosti, the legal entity behind RT UK, about how the ongoing wider tensions between the UK and Russia will feed into Ofcom's investigation, which will feature a test to determine if the owners are "fit and proper" to hold a UK broadcasting licence. RT has since confirmed receipt of the letter.

Ofcom said:
"We have today written to ANO TV Novosti, holder of RT’s UK broadcast licences, which is financed from the budget of the Russian Federation. This letter explained that, should the UK investigating authorities determine that there was an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the UK, we would consider this relevant to our ongoing duty to be satisfied that RT is fit and proper."

The Prime Minister is due to make a further statement on Wednesday, after which Ofcom will consider the implications. It confirmed it would make an independent fit and proper assessment on an expedited basis, writing to RT again shortly setting out details of its process.

RT said: "It is regrettable to see us so quickly proposed to be sacrificed as a political pawn."
So far, RT UK has been found guilty of breaching the UK broadcast code on a number of occasions, and has already been threatened with sanctions. In 2015, it reported that the BBC had staged a chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime in Syria. Ofcom found the reported misled viewers. In 2016, RT was found guilty of failing to observe due impartiality in a discussion show, where it transmitted comments biased against America and the West without providing a counterbalance.

Free speech activists are campaigning for the channel to remain on air in the UK.

Unlike on the internet and in newspapers, where free speech can mean saying what you want to, when you want to, UK television and radio broadcasters are bound by much stricter rules and have to give airtime to opposing views. When a broadcaster becomes involved in a news story, such as the BBC on a number of occasions, the affected broadcaster has to take extra steps to ensure impartiality. In the BBC's case, this has meant that some presenters who are part of the story are not allowed to present the news themselves, and that a variety of opinions, including those critical to management are broadcast. Reporting of such stories is often done in the third person, as if it was a separate organisation.  UK broadcasting rules are also strict when it comes to elections, with mainstream channels obligated to provide airtime to a variety of representatives from across the political spectrum - much as it annoys some viewers that Nigel Farage is on Question Time again... On election day itself, coverage has to be fairly muted until 10pm - something that both RT and Fox News (while it was still broadcast on Sky) had trouble complying with. Now that Russia is in the news, all eyes are on how RT's coverage differentiates from the Kremlin line and how it provides a platform for opinions on both sides of the argument and if RT's managerial stance affects on-screen reporting.

On the one hand, RT has many supporters in the UK, with many of its viewers often supporting causes that they consider have been forgotten or neglected by mainstream media outlets. On the other hand, critics say RT is biased in its coverage of organisations that want to undermine the UK or that promote interests that align with the Kremlin's interests.