Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, has written to Ofcom urging it to keep the situation with Russia Today — the Russian state-controlled international television network — “very carefully under review”, given the crisis unfolding in Ukraine at the hands of the Kremlin.
At PMQs, Keir Starmer also called for the government to ask Ofcom to review RT’s license.
He accused the broadcaster of pumping out pro-Vladimir Putin “propaganda”.
But Dr Colin Alexander, an expert in political communications from Nottingham Trent University, said to Express.co.uk: “The situation is much more complex than RT just pumping out pro-Russia/pro-Putin propaganda.”
But there is a worrying ramification if RT lost its broadcast license in the UK that Mr Putin would then expunge the BBC or other British broadcasters.
Dr Alexander said he would not be surprised if the BBC World Service or BBC Russia service “was banned from broadcasting within Russia.”
Last December, RT was taken off air in Germany and its YouTube channel was banned. Russia then swiftly closed the Moscow office of Deutsche Welle, the German public service broadcaster, and ended the accreditation of its journalists.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked whether he believed its broadcast should be reviewed, he said this was a matter for the regulator.
He said: “We live in a country that believes in free speech. I think it’s important that we should leave it up to Ofcom rather than to politicians to decide which media organisations to ban – that’s what Russia does.”
Since Russia ordered his military to enter Ukraine, RT’s coverage of the situation has been overwhelmingly from a pro-Russian perspective.
But Dr Alexander says: “One of the key battles in times of conflict is control of the information space and, in today’s digitally instantaneous world, that battlefield is potentially global.
“Whether one prevents RT from broadcasting or not, doesn’t really make that much difference, it’s the symbolic act of doing it but it doesn’t actually change the media landscape that much.
“I think RT would be delighted if they could distort the whole national debate, but I don’t think that any news channel in the UK has that ability to override the system in that way.”
RT has spoken on the potential ban, they said British politicians appear to be trying to meddle in the affairs of a regulator, risking its independence.
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Anna Belkina, RT’s deputy editor in chief, told Reuters: “The UK culture minister is now clearly directly interfering in institutions touted as supposedly wholly free from political pressure and influence.”
Ms Dorries said in her letter that she was concerned RT would seek to spread “harmful disinformation” about the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also welcomed the call to ban RT and said she was “appalled” Alex Salmond, her predecessor as First Minister, still hosted a weekly chat show on the channel.
But many think RT is less of a concern than the sanctions the UK is imposing — which have been deemed weaker than those announced by the US and EU.
Patrick McFadden, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said to Sky News on Thursday morning: “The decision to sanction three people looks even more pathetic today as it did yesterday.”
Dr Alexander says we have to cast a critical eye over things around the world, but when it comes to Russia then perhaps there’s “a bit more caution and a realisation that we don’t bite the hand that feeds us.”