‘Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt will on Thursday declare the Russian government-owned TV station RT to be a “weapon of disinformation” in a speech to mark World Press Freedom Day.
The comments, to an audience in Ethiopia, mark an escalation of a British ministerial assault on the standards of the Russian broadcaster, originally known as Russia Today, which had faced repeated investigations into its output by the media regulator Ofcom.
“After the Russian state carried out a chemical attack in the British city of Salisbury last year, the Kremlin came up with over 40 separate narratives to explain that incident,” he is expected to say in Addis Ababa.
“Their weapons of disinformation tried to broadcast them to the world. The best defence against those who deliberately sow lies are independent, trusted news outlets.”
The foreign secretary said it remained a matter for Ofcom to independently decide whether the station should be closed down. At the end of last year RT was found guilty of seven breaches of the British broadcasting code in relation to programmes broadcast in the aftermath of the Salisbury novichok poisoning.
A spokesperson for the media regulator reaffirmed its independence and said it has yet to decide on a punishment, which could include fining the network or removing its licence to broadcast in the UK, although the latter option is considered highly unlikely.
Hunt’s comments could exacerbate the high-stakes dispute. Russia has retaliated by opening an investigation into the BBC’s right to operate its Russian service out of Moscow, while RT is seeking a judicial review of the Ofcom decision in the British courts.’