Russia Threatens to Block YouTube Over German RT Channels
(Bloomberg) -- Russia threatened to partially or fully cut off access to YouTube unless the video-hosting platform reversed its decision to block two of state-run RT’s German-language channels for violating its terms of service.
Communications watchdog Roskomnadzor issued the warning in a letter to management of the Alphabet Inc. unit. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said authorities are prepared to “compel” the company to observe Russian law.
YouTube said one channel was suspended for violating its policy against posting misinformation about Covid-19. But after RT attempted to use another channel to circumvent the restriction, “both channels were terminated for breaking YouTube terms of service,” the company said in a statement.
Anna Belkina, RT’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief, said, “we apply the highest level of scrutiny to all COVID-related content and never let any controversial views to go unchallenged on any of our platforms.” In comments distributed by RT’s press service, she added that “cross-selling and cross-promotion of channels” is a “common practice employed by many other media outlets on the platform.”
The tensions marked the first time Russian authorities sought to pressure a Western social-media giant for its actions outside the country.
The threat was the latest move by Russian regulators to pressure a Western social network for failing to fulfill their demands. Earlier this month, Apple Inc. and Alphabet’s Google unit caved in to pressure from authorities to remove a protest-voting app from their online stores, following threats of prosecution of local staff. In the spring, Russian regulators slowed access to Twitter, alleging the company failed to respond promptly to demands it take down banned content. The access restrictions were lifted after authorities said Twitter had complied.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the removal of the RT channels “an act of unprecedented information aggression from the videohosting YouTube, committed with the obvious connivance, if not at the insistence of the German side.” It threatened retaliation against German media in Russia as well as YouTube, according to a website statement late Tuesday.
The German government denied any involvement.
“Because there are reports on Russian channels that say otherwise, I want to say absolutely clearly that it’s a decision by YouTube and the federal government and representatives of the federal government have nothing to do with this decision,” Steffen Seibert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman, said Wednesday at a regular government news conference. “Whoever claims that is propagating a conspiracy theory.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.