Ofcom has found RT (formerly Russia Today) broke broadcasting rules by “failing to preserve due impartiality” in seven news and current affairs programmes this year.
The breaches came over a six-week period, from 17 March to 26 April, and include the Sputnik, Crosstalk and News programmes on the Kremlin-backed news channel.
The coverage relates to the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, which took place on 4 March.
Ofcom said: “Taken together, the seven breaches represent a serious failure of compliance with our broadcasting rules. We have told RT that we are minded to consider imposing a statutory sanction.”
RT can now make representations to the broadcast regulator over its decision, which Ofcom has said it will consider before proceeding further.
In its submission to Ofcom, RT said it had a relatively small UK audience and was “avowedly Russian in broadcasting an alternative viewpoint”.
It said viewers watched RT “to receive a better idea of the Russian perspective on current affairs and/or to gain a perspective that differs, often, from the mainstream viewpoint”.
It added: “Audiences will not be ambushed by views aired on RT and will not
lack the context in which to evaluate them.”
The broadcaster argued that it had preserved impartiality across its UK service by broadcasting other significant viewpoints in its news bulletins.
However, Ofcom said it cannot be guaranteed that a person watching one programme will have seen another and that steps must be taken to ensure programmes are “clearly linked” on air.
In a statement, an RT spokesperson said it was “extremely disappointed by Ofcom’s conclusions in what were almost all self-initiated investigations into RT by the regulator”.
They said: “We operate under rules outlined by the regulator, and always strive to abide by them.
“It appears Ofcom has failed to fully take on-board what we said in response to its investigations and, in particular, has not paid due regard to the rights of a broadcaster and the audience.
“We are reviewing the findings Ofcom has put forward and will decide shortly the nature of our next steps.”
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “Russia Today’s mask as an impartial news provider is clearly slipping.
“We know some foreign regimes will use any vehicle at their disposal to sow discord in the West.
“It is vital that as a society we remain vigilant to the spread of harmful disinformation and Ofcom has strong powers to tackle it where it occurs in broadcast news.”
Picture: Reuters/Gleb Garanich