The Russian state-backed television channel RT is set to disappear from Sky TV in the UK within the next 24 hours, irrespective of the outcome of an investigation by the media regulator Ofcom into its coverage of the war in Ukraine.
The plug will be pulled as a result of EU sanctions, which will target the company used to broadcast RT across the continent.
Sky receives its RT broadcast from a satellite operator based in Luxembourg, which will be instructed to remove the news channel formerly known as Russia Today, as soon as the EU sanctions are officially approved on Tuesday night.
RT’s broadcast slot on Sky will initially be blank but the channel will eventually be removed from its programme guide altogether. Representatives of British broadcast platforms Freesat and Freeview were initially unclear as to whether the decision to block the satellite signal would also result in RT vanishing from their platforms.
Ofcom is currently investigating RT for 15 potential breaches of the broadcasting code on impartiality in relation to its Ukraine coverage. However, there is unlikely to be an update on this process for several days and any decision on potentially revoking RT’s licence could take longer.
Despite substantial political pressure to ban the channel in the UK, the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has warned of the risk of banning RT, which has a small audience in Britain.
She told the House of Commons: “The reality is that if we ban RT in the United Kingdom, that is likely to lead to channels like the BBC being banned in Russia. What we want is the Russian population to hear the truth about what Vladimir Putin is doing, so there’s a very careful judgment to be made.”
In a separate decision, YouTube has already blocked RT’s streams from being accessed across Europe, including in the UK, cutting one of its main routes to the western public.
RT has lost several members of staff from its English-language service in recent days, after intense criticism of its coverage. The channel initially framed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” but on Tuesday it began referring to it as a “war”, with sources suggesting this was due to staff discomfort.
An spokesperson for SES, which operates the satellite, said: “We have been working very closely with the [Luxembourg] government on a European-coordinated approach that would enable the European Union to swiftly adopt a regulation that would allow global operators like ourselves to suspend specific Russian channels promptly and with certainty.”