Labour MPs should not appear on Russia Today, says John McDonnell

Shadow chancellor says colleagues should shun Kremlin-funded channel after Skripal attack

John McDonnell has said Labour MPs should no longer appear on RT, formerly Russia Today, in the wake of the nerve agent attack on the former spy Sergei Skripal.

The shadow chancellor is one of a number of MPs, both Labour and Conservative, who have appeared on the Kremlin-funded channel in the past but on Sunday he said he would not do so again and would urge his party colleagues to follow suit.

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, has said it is too early to say who is responsible for the attack on Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, but with fingers pointing at the Kremlin, UK politicians are coming under increasing pressure to stand up to Russia.

Asked on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show whether one way of doing that was to stop appearing on RT, McDonnell said: “I think that’s right now and that’s what I’ll be doing … because what we’re seeing from Russia Today at times goes beyond objective journalism.”

RT, which interviewed Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 when he was campaigning for the Labour leadership, has long been denounced as a propaganda tool of the Russian state, but McDonnell said there had previously been legitimate reasons to appear on its shows.

Asked whether all Labour MPs should refrain from accepting invitations from the broadcaster, he said: “I have been looking overnight at some of what’s happening in terms of the change in coverage on Russian television in particular and I think we have to step back now.

“I can understand why people have [appeared on RT] up until now because we have treated it like every other television station. We tried to be fair with them and as long as they abide by journalistic standards that are objective that’s fine but it looks as if they have gone beyond that line, so yes, we will have that discussion.”

In October last year the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said it was “an absolute scandal” that Labour MPs had given interviews to RT, seemingly ignorant that some of his Conservative colleagues had also done so.

Analysis of the Commons register of interests published in November showed that over the previous 24 months at least 10 MPs were paid for appearing on RT, receiving up to £1,000 an hour.

The Labour MPs David Lammy and Rosie Duffield were among those named, as were the Tory MPs David Davies, Mike Freer, Johnny Mercer and Nigel Evans. McDonnell and Corbyn were not on the list.

McDonnell’s deputy, Peter Dowd, said he has appeared on RT on a number of occasions, including in a programme broadcast at the start of last week.

“In light of the events … of course we will undertake a review of what we do in regards to these, as you will always do in these sorts of circumstances,” he told Sky’s Sunday with Paterson.

“But I have to emphasise that what I try to do is to come on to television programmes like this and answer the questions that are put to me.”


Haroon Siddique

The GuardianTramp

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