U.K. Agency Probes Russian News Channel After Poisoning

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K.’s media watchdog is investigating whether the Kremlin-backed RT news channel was biased in its coverage after the poisoning of a former spy in the British city of Salisbury.

Ofcom is investigating seven specific reports by RT that might have violated U.K. rules requiring impartiality from broadcasters, the agency said in a statement Wednesday. Ofcom is monitoring the Russian state-funded channel “intensively,” it said. Last month, Ofcom said it has a duty to ensure that all broadcast licensees are suited to hold a license and that it was considering the implications for RT in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning.

The U.K. government called the poisoning an unlawful use of force by Russia, which led to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from more than 20 countries. Ofcom has the power to revoke broadcasting licenses of organizations that it considers not “fit and proper” to hold them and serious, repeated or ongoing breaches of standards can cause the regulator to take that step.

Salisbury poisoning

Ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal were found unconscious last month in Salisbury, south England, after coming into contact with what has been identified as a nerve agent by police and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Russia insists it had nothing to do with the incident.

Although Yulia Skripal is “still suffering with the effects of the nerve agent,” according to a statement, she was discharged from hospital last week. The Russian Embassy in London cast doubt on the statement. Her father remains seriously ill.

The Russian state-funded broadcaster’s compliance level was previously “not unusual,” but the number of potential breaches has risen in the aftermath of the incident last month, Ofcom said.

In an emailed statement, RT denied any changes to its editorial approach since the Salisbury incident and said it would be addressing the issue directly with Ofcom.

“We are pleased to see that Ofcom has acknowledged RT’s compliance record has been in line with other broadcasters –- putting to bed any of the salacious political statements and challenges made against our channel,” RT said.

RT, licensed under the name TV Novosti, had breached rules 15 times since May 2012, which Ofcom said was “not an unusually high number” for companies of this type. RT’s previous compliance breaches have tended to be regarding coverage of Russian foreign policy, mostly in 2014, said Ofcom.

The shows under investigation feature coverage of the Salisbury poisoning as well as Western intervention in Syria and U.K. party politics. One program, Sputnik, is hosted by former U.K. lawmaker George Galloway, who was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 after it found him guilty of bringing the party into disrepute.

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