29 September, 2015
Due impartiality and news: Ofcom reprimands RT
On 21 September 2015, UK regulator Ofcom has ruled that three episodes of RT's programming were in breach of Ofcom's Broadcasting Code. The rulings published in the watchdog’s latest bulletin concern two episodes of a now-defunct commentary show The TruthSeeker and a documentary based on eyewitness accounts given to RT by people who suffered during hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
The first breach concerned a documentary called Ukraine’s Refugees which didn’t generate a single complaint in the UK, but was investigated by Ofcom on its own initiative. In its decision the watchdog said the programme violated its code’s impartiality clause because it didn’t sufficiently represent the position of the Ukrainian government. The documentary unambiguously stated that Kiev “denied all charges of crimes against civilians”, allegations of which were voiced by witnesses interviewed for the film.
In another decision issued the same day, Ofcom ruled that some elements of the programme in question were "materially misleading". BBC had been accused of "staging" a chemical weapons attack for a news report, and digitally altering the words spoken by an interviewee. In reaction to these allegations, BBC complained to Ofcom, saying the "incredibly serious" allegations struck "at the heart" of its obligations to accuracy and impartiality. According to the regulator, BBC had been treated "unfairly" by The Truthseeker, as it was not given an opportunity to address the allegations before the programme was broadcast.
Another episode of The Truthseeker was also found to be in "serious breach" of the broadcasting code. This episode, titled Genocide of Eastern Ukraine, contained claims that the Ukrainian government was deliberately bombing civilians in the east of the country, had murdered and tortured journalists and carried out other barbarian acts. Ukrainian army forces were accused of "ethnic cleansing" and were compared to the Nazis in World War Two. The programme had "little or no counterbalance or objectivity", Ofcom ruled. As a result of the complaints, TV Novosti cancelled The Truthseeker and removed all previous episodes from its website.
In another unrelated standards case, Ofcom found Fox News, part of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox media empire, breached the code when one of its contributors claimed that Birmingham had become a city “where non-Muslims just simply don’t go”.
RT (formerly Russia Today) is a global news and current affairs channel funded by the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation. RT holds Ofcom licences for two separate services: RT Europe and RT UK. Reacting to Ofcom's conclusion that RT had breached the regulator's code in four cases, editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said she was "shocked and disappointed in Ofcom's decision”. The rulings require RT to broadcast corrections detailing the findings.
Previously, in issues 266 (Nov 2014) and 277 (April 2015) of its Broadcast Bulletin, Ofcom found RT in breach for not ensuring due impartiality in some of its news coverage of the events in Ukraine in 2014.
Source: Ofcom website