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File photo of the RT logo on an iPhone screen. Alamy Stock Photo

Russian state-controlled news channel RT removed from Irish screens; Russia blocks Twitter and Facebook

The EU banned broadcasts of the channel on Wednesday as part of a package of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

LAST UPDATE | 4 Mar 2022

RUSSIAN STATE-CONTROLLED news channel RT has been banned from broadcasting in Ireland.

It comes after an EU ban on broadcasts of RT, formerly Russia Today, and Sputnik as part of a package of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came into effect on Wednesday.

“Today, we are taking an important step against Putin’s manipulation operation and turning off the tap for Russian state-controlled media in the EU,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in Russia, the country’s media regulator has “restricted access” to Twitter and blocked Facebook.

According to Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies, access to Twitter was restricted on the basis of a request of the Prosecutor General from 24 February — the day Russia’s invasion began.

Earlier today, the regulator, Roskomnadzor, said it was blocking Facebook in Russia over several cases of “discrimination” towards state media.

EU ban

The EU announced an immediate ban on RT and Sputnik’s signals via satellite, cable, apps or the internet and a suspension of their licences in the EU, while also banning RT’s subsidiary channels broadcasting in English, German, French and Spanish.

A spokesperson for The Department of Foreign Affairs told The Journal: “EU sanctions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, already the most extensive ever, continue to be expanded. These include the banning of Russian media outlets disseminating disinformation in the EU.”

Eir has announced that it has removed the channel from its network.

“Eir has removed the channel RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and RT Documentaries from its TV service,” a spokesperson told The Journal.

“Eir has also made calls and texts to Ukraine free of charge for its customers and eir customers in Ukraine can avail of free roaming to contact family and friends in Ireland,” the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for Virgin Media Television also confirmed to The Journal that it no longer carries the channel, but did not say when it had been removed. 

A spokesperson for Sky Ireland told The Journal that the channel has not been on the platform “for some time”, so no action was needed. 

RT’s coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been found to be biased since the invasion began.

The channel has reported the Kremlin’s unsubstantiated claims of a “genocide” of Russian speakers in Ukraine, and repeated it’s assertion that its goals were “demilitarisation and denazification” in the country. 

On Sunday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen first announced that the news channels would be banned in the EU.

“We will ban the Kremlin’s media machine in the EU. The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, and their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war,” she said.

“We are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe,” von der Leyen added, without providing further details.

Ofcom investigations

In the UK, Culture Minister Nadine Dorries told parliament yesterday that the channel has been taken off air completely. 

“I was very glad to see yesterday that the channel is now officially off air on British televisions after it was shut down on Sky, Freeview and Freesat,” she said.

It comes after UK media regulator Ofcom said on Wednesday that it had opened 27 investigations into the “impartiality” of news programmes aired on the channel.

The regulator first announced its probe on Monday, saying it had seen “a significant increase” in the number of potential breaches on RT news programmes after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It said it had observed a significant increase in the number of programmes on the RT service that warrant investigation under the UK’s Broadcasting Code.

“When dealing with major matters such as the crisis in the Ukraine, all Ofcom licensees must comply with the special impartiality requirements in our Code. These rules require broadcasters to take additional steps to preserve due impartiality – namely by including and giving due weight to a wide range of significant views,” the regulator said in a statement.

“These investigations – which relate to 15 editions of the hourly News programme broadcast on RT on 27 February 2022 between 05:00 and 19:00 inclusive – will be expedited, given the severity and urgency of the current crisis. We expect full cooperation from RT.”

A statement to The Journal on behalf of RT Deputy Editor-in-Chief Anna Belkina said that neither von der Leyen nor UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had shared “a single grain of evidence” that RT’s reporting was inaccurate.

The statement went on to criticise the channel’s barring from what she described as Europe’s “supposedly free media environment”.

She added that the “collective western establishment seems to be terrified of a mere presence of any outside voice for the fear of losing their historically captive audience”.

Social media ban 

Tech companies Microsoft, YouTube, TikTok, and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, have each also announced that they have moved to block RT in Europe.

The outlet’s accounts will no longer be accessible to users in Europe through those companies’ social media platforms.

Google has also removed the mobile apps for RT and Sputnik from its app store in Europe.

A spokesperson for Google told The Journal: “Consistent with the work we’ve described to reduce recommendations, pause monetization, and limit the reach of Russian state-funded media, mobile apps for Russian news channels RT and Sputnik are no longer available on the Play Store across Europe. Our teams continue to monitor the situation around the clock to take swift action.”

Apple has also confirmed that the news apps are no longer available for download outside of Russia and has paused sales of its products in the country. 

Twitter said earlier it would put warnings on tweets sharing links to Russian state-affiliated media.

Twitter’s head of site integrity, Yoel Roth, wrote that the platform has been seeing more than 45,000 tweets per day that are sharing links to the outlets.

“Our product should make it easy to understand who’s behind the content you see, and what their motivations and intentions are,” he added.

In addition to adding labels that identify the sources of links, Roth said the platform was also “taking steps to significantly reduce the circulation of this content on Twitter.”

Twitter and Facebook had both been hit with access restrictions in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine and had become “largely unusable,” said web monitoring group NetBlocks.

Additional reporting by © AFP 2022

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